After reading the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision Saturday to refer Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
Teheran greeted the resolution with the indignant and combative announcement that it would cease all cooperation with IAEA inspectors. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday: "If this resolution makes you satisfied, go on and issue as many as you want."
He added that as far as he was concerned, the IAEA's decision showed that its members were "stupid" because they "do not understand that the world has changed. They believe that we are still in the Middle Ages, where several people decide and others accept. But this era is over." Iran also announced that it was resuming full uranium enrichment activities.
So much for the hope that referral of Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council would work to deter and moderate the Iranian government.
The fact of the matter is that the IAEA and its member states – first and foremost the US – have given the Iranians three good reasons reason to believe they can feel free to continue apace with the nuclear weapons program.
Almost unbelievably, in spite of the agency's clear evidence that Iran is working to build nuclear bombs, rather than refer the issue of Iran to the Security Council immediately, the IAEA's decision postponed the referral of Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council for five weeks. Aside from this, the fact is that there is close to zero chance that the Security Council will take any meaningful action on the issue next month, or at all.
Immediately after the IAEA's decision was made public, the veto-wielding Chinese government announced that China would oppose any resolution calling for sanctions on Iran. In an interesting choice of words, China's ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, explained that his government opposed sanctions as "a matter of principle."
Aside from the fact that Iran has just received five weeks to enrich as much uranium as it wishes and that China has made clear it will block any sanctions resolution against Iran, there is a the fact that one of Iran's greatest defenders is the man who is charged with submitting the report on Iran to the Security Council.
IAEA CHIEF Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt has spent the better part of the past two and a half years – since information regarding Iran's burgeoning nuclear weapons program first surfaced – actively scuttling every attempt to refer the issue of Iran's non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to the UN Security Council. His defense of Iran has caused him to knowingly and blatantly breach the charter of his own organization. The IAEA charter explicitly stipulates that when there is any evidence that a state signatory to the NPT is behaving in a non-transparent manner regarding its nuclear activities, that state must be referred to the Security Council.
ElBaradei's moves to shield Iran from criticism have been marked with absurdity. In October 2004, for instance, he said that "the jury is still out on whether the mullahs want the bomb." At the same time ElBaradei was making this statement, Muhammed Ghannadi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told the Teheran Times that the Isfahan uranium conversion facility was "70 percent operational right now."
ElBaradei's lenience-bordering-on-collaboration toward Iran is matched only by his animosity toward Israel. Time after time ElBaradei has claimed that it would be hypocritical to censure Iran, or take any actions against it at all, as long as Israel has nuclear capabilities. It is not hard to imagine the type of pressure he exerted on the US over the weekend to accept the offensive, counterproductive and insidious Egyptian clause in the IAEA's decision that makes it the "objective" of the IAEA to render "the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery."
As everyone immediately understood, the purpose of that clause was to equate Israel and its presumptive nuclear arsenal with Iran and its nuclear weapons program.
And so, in light of the fact that this is the man who is empowered to write the report on Iran that will be submitted to the Security Council next month, it can be assumed that ElBaradei will deliver a report filled with loopholes and tendentious explanations, the purpose of which will be to make it as hard as possible to get majority support for taking any action whatsoever against Teheran.
IN AN alarmingly large number of respects the US decision to anchor its entire policy regarding Iran on bringing the issue of Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council mirrors its decision to work with that body on Iraq. In both cases the American attempts to build a coalition of the unwilling at the UN has been a sop to domestic US opinion, which has only grown more divided since the invasion of Iraq, and to European powers, whose main role on the international stage is to weaken the US's ability to wage its war against Islamic fascism. And in both cases the Bush administration's decision to deal with critical issues through the UN framework has been worse than counterproductive.
It is not only that, given China's position, there is no chance of getting a sanctions resolution passed against Teheran and so the US is about to repeat the failure of late 2002, when it could not pass a second resolution on Iraq. Aside from being a preordained failure, by relegating the issue of the Iranian nuclear weapons program to the UN, the US ties its hands and the hands of its allies in two ways.
First, the fact that after two years of dithering the IAEA finally decided to refer the issue to the Security Council entraps the US in a situation where it is possible to make ostensible progress, but impossible to make real progress. This is a dangerous situation. Since the IAEA decision makes people believe that progress is being made when it is not, the US will be unable to justify action outside the UN for the foreseeable future.
Additionally, by operating under the aegis of the UN in yet another fruitless attempt to form a coalition with states that are uninterested in assisting it, the US has barred itself from making any attempt to operate with a coalition of the willing outside the aegis of the UN. Such a coalition, of course, exists, but the US is now constrained from making any move to form it and lead it, busy as it is awaiting a duplicitous and counterproductive report from ElBaradei the Ba'athist next month.
FINALLY, OF course, we come to Israel, the country with the most at stake in preventing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Here we face two problems. First, Israel is today being led by the most incompetent government in its history. The fact that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warmly rather than cynically welcomed the IAEA's decision is just the latest example of the fact that the current government is incapable of standing up for Israel's interests in a matter-of-fact and unapologetic way.
Aside from this, by all counts it will be exceedingly difficult for Israel to strike effectively against Iran's nuclear installations. It will be all but impossible for Israel to do so without at least tacit US assistance in enabling Israeli aircraft to refuel at US bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey. Given the fact that the US has entangled itself in unworkable alliances with the UN, it is hard to foresee a situation where such critical operational assistance would be forthcoming.
From all this we see that far from advancing the cause of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – which it has already announced it will use to annihilate Israel and which will make the US-l
ed war on Islamic radicalism all but impossible to win – the IAEA's resolution has simply boxed the US into a policy that has no chance of succeeding.
There can be no doubt that a radical rethinking of the current policy toward Iran must be conducted immediately.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.