The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency's(IAEA) long awaited, much ballyhooed report on Iran's nuclear activities has been thunderously greeted in North America as conclusive evidence that Iran is working on nuclear weapons.
Tehran has long denied such claims. So, more tellingly, did a 2007 US combined intelligence assessment that rudely pulled out the rug from under the feet of the neocons who were trying to engineer war with Iran.
There's little new in this report, and a lot of déjà vu. We read the old story floating around since 2002 about a mysterious laptop stolen from Iran and passed to US intelligence. It allegedly contains scientific material about explosive compression methods to trigger a nuclear explosion, and designs to shrink nuclear warheads to fit in missile nosecones.
The UN and western powers say this stolen computer's contents conclusively proves Iran has violated the UN's non-proliferation treaty, to which Tehran is a signatory. Israel and its American partisans are raising a hue and cry about an impending nuclear attack on the Jewish state by Iran's "crazy" leaders.
Speaking of crazy, as we saw during last week's debates, Republicans are baying for war against Iran, seemingly heedless of the political, financial or economic risks involved. Israel, they chorus, is in mortal danger.
They don't explain why Iran would risk nuclear evaporation from Israel's mighty air, land and sea-based nuclear forces to launch a few nuclear weapons (which they may not even have, and which may or may not work) at Israel. Suicide is not high on Iran's priority list.
A new element in the UN is the claim that a Russian scientist who supposedly worked on Iranian nuclear weapons explosive technology has defected and revealed all to western intelligence.
But investigative journalists now assert that the scientist may actually have worked in Russia on explosive technology to produce industrial diamonds, not nuclear weapons. This would be very embarrassing for Washington's war party and for media agitating for war against Iran.
Remember "Curveball," the key Iraqi defector whose phony claims were the basis for the US invasion of Iraq? Well, could this Russian scientist turn out to be "Curveballski"?
Last week, Israel launched a new missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead anywhere in Iran and Pakistan. Israel's German-supplied submarines lie off Iran's coast, ready to launch nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, again claimed last week that Iran was about to deploy nuclear weapons and threatened war. But Israel's respected former Mossad intelligence chief, Meir Dagan, warned striking Iran would be a "stupid idea."
In 1992, Natanyahu claimed Iran would have nuclear weapons in 3-5 years. Shimon Peres, now Israel's president, insisted Iran would have nukes by 1999.
In 1995, the New York Times claimed Iran was only 5 years from nuclear weapons. In 1998, US Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld claimed Iran was fielding a nuclear-armed ICBM that could hit the United States.
And so it has gone, a steady drumbeat of false claims.
This war hysteria comes on the heels of US charges of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, a claim laughed at by many Mideast experts.
In fact, it's possible the US FBI mixed up Iranians: the plot's alleged mastermind may not have been a member of Iran's elite military forces at all but of the violently anti-Tehran Marxist People's Mujahidin, which Washington still calls a terrorist organization even though it is now in bed with the pro-Israel Republican hard right and Israel.
The IAEA tried to buttress its shaky claims against Iran by insisting, "nine other nations came to the same conclusion about Tehran's covert nuclear efforts." We heard the exact same refrain from Washington over its false claims about Iraq's non-existent weapons.
In fact, thanks to routine US intelligence sharing programs, faked documents about Iraq's nuclear efforts were fed to other NATO members. Based on such forgeries, some of these nations concluded Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The same process is now happening over Iran's alleged weapons program.
Washington has long worked to make the UN the "soft" arm of US foreign policy. The US is the UN's biggest contributor; it pays 25.8% of the costs of the IAEA and has put its own men in positions of influence. Even so, the latest UN reports hedges conclusions with words like "suggests" and "appears."
If Iran is indeed trying to produce nuclear weapons -- and it has good reasons for wanting them -- why has it taken so long?
Initial work began in the 1970's under the Shah. Ironically, Israel was to supply missiles and nuclear warheads. That's four decades ago. South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, and Switzerland could all produce a nuclear device within six months of making the decision to do so. A decade ago, I saw a plan for a nuclear weapon in Japan's defense ministry.
Two decades ago, the director general of Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, told me that Iran had offered to pay for Pakistan's entire defense budget for ten years in exchange for its nuclear weapons technology. Pakistan, said the ISI chief, refused.
If Iran really wanted nuclear weapons 20 years ago, why on earth has it taken so long to develop a 1940's technology? There's no mystery to making nuclear weapons. Either Iran really ceased work on nuclear arms technology in the early 1990's, as US National Intelligence Estimate says, or else -- my view -- there is a furious, long-going debate inside Iran's ruling party over whether or not to acquire nuclear weapons.
Iran's paramount leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, commander of Iran's armed forces, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, against nuclear weapons.
Even so, in theory, Iran has some pretty strong reasons for wanting nuclear weapons for defensive purposes -- the same reason used by existing nuclear powers.
In 1941, the British Empire and Soviet Union invaded Iran to grab its oil fields, an aggression every bit as wanton and illegal as German's 1939 invasion of Poland. They installed a puppet regime in Tehran.
In 1953, US and British intelligence overthrew Iran's democratic leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, for trying to nationalize the nation's oil and use profits there from for social projects. After the west put Shah Pahlevi back on the peacock throne, the US worked with the notoriously brutal Savak secret police to crush all dissent.
After revolution erupted in 1979, bringing to power an Islamic regime that vowed to devote the nation's oil wealth to social projects, the US and Britain got Saddam Hussein's Iraq to invade Iran. After eight years of bloody trench warfare, in which Iraq was financed and armed by the western powers and their Arab oil allies, Iran suffered at least 500,000 casualties. Iran's western cities were laid waste. Iraq showered poison and burning gas on the Iranians that was supplied by the western powers.
In Baghdad, I found British scientists who had been sent by Her Majesty's government to fabricate germ weapons for Iraq. The germ feeder stocks originated from the United States.
Iran is surrounded by potentially hostile neighbors, all lusting for her vast oil and gas deposits. If France or Britain can have nukes for self-defense, then why not Iran? I'm surprised Iran has not raced to develop nuclear weapons long ago. A few even crude bombs would likely keep outside powers from attacking Iran.
What's so crazy about all this is that Israel has a very large arsenal of nuclear and bio-warfare weapons while Iran remains under intense UN nuclear inspection.
The big nuclear powers -- the US, Russia, China, Britain, France -- are in violation of the 1995 UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty that mandated eliminating all nuclear weapons within five years. The US and Britain are planning to modernize their nuclear forces; the US is helping India build its large nuclear arsenal.
So talk about the nuclear pots calling the Iranian kettle black.
copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011