Friday, January 17, 2020

With 176 Killed by Accidental Missile Launch Can Iran Ever be Trusted with Nuclear Weapons?

Danger Lies Ahead for US - Middle East Relations
Shipping News Feature

IRAN – US – MIDDLE EAST – The world watches with bated breath, as so often the case when the politics in the Middle East take yet another downturn. It is now two weeks since a US drone strike permanently ended the career of General Qasem Soleimani, assassinated in Baghdad. The killing resulted in an immediate response from Iran.

There will be few mourners in the West for the late General who has been held responsible for the creation of a string of Shia militia spanning the region between Lebanon and the Yemen. From these have come the deaths of hundreds if not thousands and his death was a direct assault on Iran’s political ego.

Five days after the assassination Iran struck targets in western Iraq and Erbil in the north leaving the world waiting with apprehension, only to learn there had been no casualties, with press reports claiming that the Iranians actually gave notice of the 22 ballistic missiles, likely Shahab-3 or the improved version Ghadr-110, before it was about to launch the weapons.

The main target of this attack was the American Ain al-Assad base and the complete lack of casualties gives some credence to this idea of advance warning, as does a statement at the time from Javid Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, who aping President Trump by resorting to Twitter, said:

“Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defence under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched. We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

If this was an attempt to present a show of strength without doing enough to reap reprisals the whole situation changed just hours later when the Iranians shot down a Ukrainian airliner killing all 176 souls on board, an event it took them three days to own up to, at first saying it was an accident.

In the light of that terrible tragedy, and with overwhelming evidence, Iran at first covered up before admitting it was human error and subsequently arresting several people for apparently mistaking the plane for a US cruise missile. The act has led to widespread protests as the event was seen by many as bringing the country at risk of at least more sanctions and even the possibility of all-out war with the US.

So the question is then what comes next? The easy answer is that, honours even, we can expect a return to the status quo, the two sides growling at each other like tethered dogs. However this would be to ignore the elephant in the room.

The danger at the very heart of this conflict is Iran’s desire to obtain workable nuclear weapons and America’s wish to prevent that. When Trump walked out on the deal so carefully drafted by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in 2015 Iran could legitimately claim that all bets were then off, with the agreement broken by the US.

Presuming the reports of Iran then proceeding with its nuclear programme are correct, the need now is to stop the further enrichment of uranium, a country that can shoot down a civilian plane by accident should surely not be trusted to possess weapons of mass destruction, will go the argument.

However that elephant is not actually Trump’s reticence to admit he was wrong and speedily reinstate the 2015 accord, nor the Iranian leadership’s desire to show it is its own master and entitled to develop whatever technology it wishes. Less than 2,000 kilometres to the south west of Tehran is Jerusalem, and anyone who thinks the Israeli’s will tolerate a nuclear state established in the region should perhaps consult their history books.

We are grateful to Ed Nash, author of ‘Desert Sniper’ and publisher of Military Matters online for the facts included in this article.

Photo: An Iranian made Ghadr 1 version of the Shahab 3 prepares to launch.