Iran attempts distraction

By Ze'ev Schiff

Haaretz

Kislev 26, 5765

After the board of directors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently announced that the board welcomed Iran's decision to freeze all activities connected with uranium enrichment, a news item appeared in Tehran quoting official sources who claimed that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had joined forces to develop a military nuclear program.

The Iranian sources claimed that the two countries signed a cooperation agreement in 2003 in which Pakistan committed to assist Saudi Arabia in developing nuclear weapons and rockets. The news item quoted Prof. Abu Mohammad Asgarkhani of the University of Tehran, who said that Iran's ambition to obtain nuclear weapons stemmed from that agreement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

What prompted Iran to issue this piece of news? While the world is preoccupied with Iranian nuclear activity, with the pressures that European countries are putting on Iran, with the American demands to transfer the issue to the United Nations Security Council - Iran says: "You're only looking at us, but here are two friends of the United States who are working together through an accord to develop a nuclear program."

Unlike the past, this time the Iranians did not accuse Israel - falsely - as the cause for their nuclear development, but rather two large Muslim countries. Thus the message is that the U.S. is employing a double standard and wants to harm Iran's efforts to develop energy.

The nuclear connections between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been publicized in the past, mainly regarding the funding that Saudi Arabia has transferred to Pakistan to help its nuclear development. Even though there have been suspicions, the Iranian publication heightens such notions, to the point of stating that Saudi Arabia will obtain nuclear weapons.

Whatever the case, if the Iranians intended to divert international attention from their nuclear program, they failed. Although the international agenda includes other serious problems, in all matters concerning the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iran heads the list, alongside North Korea. The latest development in this area is the agreement between Iran and the European Union announced November 14, whereby Iran committed to a total halt to uranium enrichment.

It is important to stress that the agreement notes that Iran has no obligation under international agreements not to enrich uranium for civilian purposes. The accord with the Europeans likewise notes that Iran's agreement is voluntary. Still, had it not been for Iran's being caught during the past 18 years trying to deceive the international community, and the threat to transfer the issue to the Security Council, Iran would not have volunteered to cease the enrichment activities.

The key question is whether this agreement can be seen as the end of Iran's military nuclear program. The answer is not necessarily unequivocal, and more than just Israel and the U.S. think so. Leading European countries are also uncertain whether Iran is conducting a secret military nuclear program as well.

If anything has been achieved by the Iranian-European accord, it is the delay it causes in the Iranian nuclear program. Those who claim that activity against Iran does not have to involve military measures or sanctions have gained the upper hand. They believe there is time to employ delay strategy, because Iran has not yet reached the critical moment.

Is it possible to estimate how long this delay strategy can continue? The various intelligence services disagree on this point. The Israelis believe that the accord - along with other delaying factors - will postpone Iran's ability to produce ingredients independently for a nuclear bomb by six months to a year. Both Israel and the U.S. are convinced that Iran has a secret infrastructure for nuclear development and aims to lull the world into complacency. The Europeans admit that the accord relates only to facilities that Iran admitted operating and not to secret facilities and that everything depends on Iran observing the agreement.