Saturday, April 10, 2010

Groundhog Day of Fear of Iran and its nuclear programme – Part II

Obama administration and Israeli government plans to destroy Iran with sanctions and bombing &ndash

including depleted uranium bunker busters and tactical nuclear weapons


‘Tell every child in the arms of it’s mother

The F-15 is a homicide bomber’

Michael Franti – Yell Fire

An early tactical nuclear weapon designed to be dropped as a bomb from a plane in the 1960s - photos of more recent versions remain hard to come by


In my last post on the Iranian nuclear issue I focused on the risks of the US developing an effective means of defending itself against long range nuclear missiles – and so being able to consider using nuclear weapons on other countries without fear of nuclear counter-attack, as it did against Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

This of course misses out the evidence for the much more immediate risk of deaths from sanctions and air strikes against Iran by the US and Israel (their plans being to use ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons dropped by planes).

Many see the US-Russian strategic nuclear weapons reduction treaty as promoting peace and avoiding the risk of unnecessary wars and deaths –yet it’s also being used as propaganda for sanctions or war on Iran (if it seeks a single nuclear deterrent weapon compared to the reduced complement of over 1,500 each for the US and Russia (1) – (2))

I covered the likely effects of Obama’s plans for “stronger” sanctions on Iran, comparable to those previously enforced against Iraq, in my last post – large numbers of civilian deaths due to hunger and lack of medical supplies. However, as with Iraq sanctions may also be a softening up process for another invasion and ‘regime change’ (3) – (4).

The Obama administration’s new policy on nuclear first strikes has been widely praised, yet it permits nuclear strikes on countries which the US deems to have breached the non-proliferation treaty – like Iran – the exact wording being:

The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”(5)

Of course the US alleges that Iran is not in compliance with the Treaty (though Iran was one of the first countries to sign it).

According to the renowned American journalist Seymour Hersh, Obama’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who served in the same position under Bush, travelled to Europe in 2007 to try to persuade the British government and other NATO allies to back the idea of tactical nuclear air-strikes on Iran, targeting suspected nuclear programme sites (6).

Former CIA counter-terrorism officer Phillip Giraldi told journalists that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had opposed the idea, but that the plan includeda large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons”(6)

Israel has similarly had plans for using tactical nuclear weapons in airstrikes on Iran since at least 2007 (7).

A US tactical nuclear missile in Germany

In March this year President Obama ordered large quantities of bunker buster bombs delivered to the US air base at Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands (8). The Chagos Islands are British dependencies (former colonies) in the Indian Ocean, previously inhabited by the Chagos Islanders, but the US and British militaries forcibly deported them from their homes in the 1950s to make way for the US military, navy and air-force bases.

If the ‘bunker busters’ are anything like the ones the US supplied to Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war they’ll also include Depleted Uranium, dust from which causes high rates of cancers for decades afterwards – and so effectively ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (9) (more on this later).

Diego Garcia was one of the staging posts for the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.

Some see this as preparation for US airstrikes on Iran, others claim the original destination for the bombs was Israel, with Obama sending them to Diego Garcia a sign that he wouldn’t back Israeli airstrikes on Iran (10), (11).

It could mean that Obama plans to make the operation an American one though.

Dan Plesch, the Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at London University, told reporters
They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran...US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours” (12).

A US F117 Nighthawk stealth bomber drops a 'bunker buster bomb' in military tests in Utah

During the 2008 Presidential election Obama made a campaign pledge in a speech to AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee):

I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions... we cannot unconditionally rule out an approach that could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” (13)

In other words it starts with “aggressive principled diplomacy” and then goes on to sanctions, then military action.

Like Bush before him he made clear in his AIPAC speech that the main function of diplomacy is to get international support for “action” against Iran :

Our willingness to pursue diplomacy will make it easier to mobilize others to join our cause. If Iran fails to change course when presented with this choice by the United States

Obama’s description of Iran in his speech could have come from Bush or Cheney :

The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.

The false claims are identical to the ones made by the Bush administration. First that there is definitive proof that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. There isn’t any. Second that if Iran got nuclear weapons it would give them to terrorist groups, which is as ludicrous as Bush administration claims that Saddam would give nuclear weapons to Al Qa’ida or Palestinian terrorist groups if he had them. In fact when Saddam did have WMDs in the form of chemical warheads for his Scud missiles - and was at war with the US in 1991 - he neither used them on other countries nor gave them to terrorist groups, because the first would have been personal and national suicide and the second would have been national suicide by proxy. His only attacks on Israel and Kuwait with scuds used conventional warheads. (14).

The same holds for Iran’s government. It’s current top officials – Supreme Leader Khameini, Guardian Council chairman Rafsanjani and then Revolutionary Guard Officer Ahmadinejad, were all involved in persuading Ayatollah Khomeini (not noted as a great moderate either) to make peace with Iraq in 1988 rather than risk total defeat if the US joined the war directly on the Iraqi side (15) - (16).

If some in Iran’s government want a nuclear weapon it’s almost certainly for the same reason most countries want one – to possess a deterrent in order to deter attack from countries with stronger conventional forces – and to avoid being in the situation Japan faced in 1945 when it couldn’t deter the US attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, massacres of civilians exceeded only by the Holocaust itself, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Michael Axworthy, a former British diplomat who was in Iran many times from the 1970s till 2000 and is an expert on the country’s politics, agrees:

Important Iranian religious leaders have declared that nuclear weapons, and all weapons of mass destruction, are immoral and unacceptable, and this matters. We should take those statements seriously (not least because, during the Iran/Iraq war, Iran refrained from retaliating with chemical weapons when Saddam Hussein used those weapons against Iranian troops, and against civilians. Many Iranian veterans are still suffering the after-effects of those weapons).

The NIE [US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran] concluded last November that Iran had not been pursuing a nuclear weapon program since 2003. But western governments have good reason to believe that at various points they have pursued a nuclear weapon program. The explanation for this apparent contradiction could be that the Iranian leadership has wanted to develop a capability, short of an actual weapon, that would still serve as a deterrent. In other words, to have all the elements ready to produce a weapon if necessary, but not the weapon itself. The only practical value of nuclear weapons is as a deterrent, as is well known.” (17)

Michael Axworthy, a former diplomat and expert on Iran

Ahmadinejad did not say he would “wipe Israel off the map” either. He made the same speech Khomeini had made every year since the Islamic Revolution against the Shah’s dictatorship in 1979, in which he said that he hoped that the “illegal regime which rules over Quods [in Jerusalem] will be erased from the pages of history” (18) – (20).

That is fairly clearly a call for “regime change” rather than a threat of nuclear Holocaust – and Ahmadinejad in interviews with French television channels compared Israel to the former Soviet Union, pointing out that the people of the Soviet Union had overthrown their government and the country no longer exists as a result. Israel and the US, both of which actually have nuclear weapons and actually plan to use them to attack Iran, are never accused of calling for a “nuclear Holocaust” against Iran when they talk of nuclear air strikes or “regime change” (18) – (20).

Even foreign policy hawks like Michael O. Hanlon and former CIA officer and adviser to the US government Bruce Reidel say airstrikes could not stop Iran developing nuclear weapons and would set back support for reformists (though they don’t make the obvious comparison of September 11th boosting the Bush administration and weakening support for progressives in the US for several years) (21).

They don’t point out that air strikes (especially nuclear ones) might well end any divisions in Iranian politics over whether to build a nuclear deterrent or not and ensure that they produce them as a deterrent to further attacks if they weren’t making them before.

Admittedly they go on to call for wider sanctions but “focusing on high-technology goods and weapons transfers”, which sounds less bad than those on Iraq – but then US governments frequently misrepresented how extreme sanctions on Iraq were.

O’Hanlon and Reidel say that “the option of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities...has nonetheless survived the U.S. presidential transition as a last resort should diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to persuade Tehran to put its nuclear programme back under proper restrictions and inspections.”

They also point out that if the US or Israel attacked Iran then Iran could increase training and supplies to America’s opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan – and to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza to target Israel.

If, as seems to be the case, nothing will be accepted by the Israeli government , US Republicans or many right wing Democratic members of congress as evidence that Iran is not trying to develop nuclear weapons, this policy, if followed to it’s logical conclusion, can only result in bombing Iran, just as the Bush administration’s demand that Iraq give up its WMD programmes while refusing to accept the mountain of evidence from UN inspectors and others that it largely had inevitably led to war.

Nor is there any reason to believe, from the past behaviour of the Iranian government, that it would risk a nuclear counter-strike by initiating nuclear war on Israel or any other ally of the US directly or by proxy through terrorist groups, any more than Saddam would have.

If air strikes targeting suspected nuclear facilities go ahead civilian ‘collateral damage’ is guaranteed, both due to missing targets – and more commonly due to wrongly identifying civilian targets as military or nuclear programme facilities. In the 1991 Gulf War the US dropped ‘bunker buster’ bombs like the ones Obama is storing at Diego Garcia. One took out what US commanders believed to be a ‘command and control centre’ that might contain Saddam Hussein. In fact the Al Ameriyeh bunker in Baghdad contained hundreds of civilians, using it as an air raid shelter – and 408 were killed.

A modern 'bunker buster'

Hundreds more cases of civilian deaths due to wrongly identified targets (and even targeting of civilian targets) took place in the Gulf war and continued in ‘patrolling the No-Fly Zones’ between 1991 and 2003, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths caused directly and indirectly by bombing (22) – (24). They continued in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, in the Iraq war and in airstrikes in Afghanistan from October 2001 to present.

If tactical nuclear weapons are used then a legacy of radiation sickness, still births, illnesses, high rates of fatal cancers among infants and deformities may result for decades, as for decades after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and in the years since US and British forces used depleted uranium (DU), napalm and compounds with similar effects and white phosphorus in Iraq from 1991 on (24) – (32).

The most recent examples have come from Fallujah where the rates of birth defects among newborn babies have increased massively since the April and November 2004 assaults by coalition forces employing DU and white phosphorus (33) – (36).

A girl in Fallujah , Iraq , who was born without a left hand - one of the less distressing of the huge number of birth defects among children born there since the 2004 Coalition assaults

Given Obama’s own words and his retention of Gates as Defence Secretary plus another extremely aggressive Israeli government – and their plans for tactical nuclear strikes on Iran - there is much more risk of Iranians being the victims of a nuclear attack than of them initiating one.

As the number 10 petitions website is down for the period of the election i’ve created an international online petition calling for no wide ranging sanctions, military strikes or war on Iran, to be delivered to the US, British and Israeli governments if it gets a decent number of signatures. Please take a moment to sign it if you agree.


 (1) = BBC News 26 Mar 2010 ‘US and Russia announce deal to cut nuclear weapons’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8589385.stm

(2) = BBC News 04 Apr 2010 ‘Global map of nuclear arsenals’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/7979757.stm

(3) = CNN 30 Mar 2010 ‘Obama, Sarkozy discuss Iran sanctions, global economy’,  http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/03/30/obama.sarkozy/index.html

(4) = BBC News 30 Sep 1998 ‘'UN official blasts Iraq sanctions',http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/183499.stm

 (5) = Guardian 06 Apr 2010 ‘Barack Obama's radical review on nuclear weapons reverses Bush policies’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/06/barack-obama-nuclear-weapons-review

(6) = Independent 02 Oct 2007 ‘US plan for air strikes on Iran 'backed by Brown'’,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-plan-for-air-strikes-on-iran-backed-by-brown-395716.html

(7) = Sunday Times 07 Jan 2007 ‘Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1290331.ece

(8) = Sunday Herald 14 Mar 2010 ‘Final destination Iran?’, http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/world-news/final-destination-iran-1.1013151

(9) = Independent 28 Oct 2006 ‘Robert Fisk: Mystery of Israel's secret uranium bomb’,
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-mystery-of-israels-secret-uranium-bomb-421960.html?cmp=ilc-n

(10) = See (8) above

(11) = DEBKAfile 08 Apr 2010 ‘Obama recalls bunker-buster bomb kits to bar Israeli strike on Iran’,http://www.debka.com/article/8665/

(12) = See (8) above

(13) = US National Public Radio 04 Jun 2008 ‘Transcript: Obama's Speech at AIPAC’,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91150432

(14) = Nye , Joseph S. & Smith , Robert K. (1992), ‘After the Storm' , Madison Books , London , 1992 , - pages 211-216 (Nye is a former CIA officer)

(15) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran - Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, Times Books, New York, 2006, hardback edition - pages 170-174

(16) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004), ‘The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005, paperback edition - pages 231-233

(17) = Los Angeles Times 05 Jun 2008 ‘IRAN: Writer says war won't stop nuclear program’, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2008/06/iran-writer-say.html

(18) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran - Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, Times Books, New York, 2006, (hardback edition)

(19) = Guardian Comment Is Free14 Jun 2006, ‘Lost in Translation’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/jun/14/post155

(20) = Iranian Television Broadcasts President Ahmadinezhad's Interview With French TV "Exclusive interview" with Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad by David Pujadas of French TV's TF2 Channel on 22 March 2007 – recorded Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 Sunday, March 25, 2007 (reproduced as second item below article on Professor Juan Cole’s website at http://www.juancole.com/2007/06/ahmadinejad-i-am-not-anti-semitic.html

“(Ahmadinezad) Let me ask you this question: where is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics now? Was it not wiped off (the map)? How was it wiped off? We have a totally humanitarian solution for Palestine. We have said that all the Palestinians should take part in a free referendum so as to end the 60 year old war. The outcome is clear from now. It is because of the same outcome that America and Britain are refusing to yield.

(David Pujadas) Let us clarify everything. Do you really wish to wipe Israel off the face of the earth? Do you have a plan for this job or are you in fact making such a prediction?

(Ahmadinezhad) Look, I told you the solution. I think the people of Palestine also have the right to determine their own fate. Let them choose for themselves, the Christians, the Jews and the Muslims. That is, all the Palestinians who belong to that land can participate in the referendum. I think the outcome of such a referendum is already clear. We saw what happened in last year's elections (when they voted for HAMAS).”

(21) = Financial Times 28 Feb 2010 ‘Do Not Even Think About Bombing Iran’, by Michael E. O'Hanlon, Director of Research and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy  & Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2010/0228_nuclear_iran_strategy_ohanlon_riedel.aspx,
(an editorial for the Financial Times reproduced on the Brookings Institution’s website, as only registered members can read archived FT articles)

(22) = Bennis , Phyllis & Moushabeck  , Michael (Editors) (1992)  ‘Beyond the Storm’  ; Canongate Press , London , 1992, paperback, pages 326 – 355

(23) = Lee , Ian (1991) ‘Continuing Health Costs of the Gulf War’, Medical Educational Trust , London , 1991

(24) = Pilger , John (1998) ‘Hidden Agendas’ Vintage , London , 1998, pages 29-30 ,49-53 ,614

(25) = BBC News Online 30 Jul 1999 ‘Depleted Uranium ‘threatens Balkan cancer epidemic’’,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/408122.stm

(26) = BBC News 27 Aug 1999 ‘Depleted uranium study 'shows clear damage'’,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/431817.stm

(27) = Independent 25 Jan 2000 ‘The evidence lies dying in Basra’,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-evidence-lies-dying-in-basra-727276.html

(28) = Independent 10 Jan 2001 ‘These children had cancer. Now they are dead. I believe they were killed by depleted uranium’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/these-children-had-cancer-now-they-are-dead-i-believe-they-were-killed-by-depleted-uranium-705543.html

(29) = BBC News 18 Mar 2003 ‘US to use depleted uranium’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/2860759.stm

(30) = Independent 25 Mar 2003 ‘Robert Fisk: The shocking truth about 'shock and awe'’,
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-the-shocking-truth-about-shock-and-awe-592285.html?cmp=ilc-n

(31) = BBC News 01 Nov 2006 ‘Depleted uranium risk 'ignored'’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6105726.stm (confirms US and British forces in Iraq still using Depleted Uranium in 2006 despite WHO study finding link with high cancer rates, especially among children)

(32) = Independent On Sunday 10 Aug 2003 ‘US admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq’,
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-admits-it-used-napalm-bombs-in-iraq-589508.html

(33) = BBC News 04 Mar 2010 ‘Falluja doctors report rise in birth defects’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8548707.stm

(34) = CBS News 04 Mar 2010 ‘Docs Blame U.S. Weapons for Fallujah Birth Defects’,http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-6266684-503543.html

(35) = guardian.co.uk 13 Nov 2009 ‘Huge rise in birth defects in Falluja’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/13/falluja-cancer-children-birth-defects

(36) = Today Programme 04 Mar 2010 ‘Child deformities 'increasing' in Falluja’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8548000/8548926.stm

1 comment:

James Nelson said...

good work; have used your posts on this topic as a reference in my last post.