Iran and Britain’s dislocation from reality

Anyone who remains blissfully unaware of what passes in Britain for debate about Iran might like to listen here to Wednesday evening’s edition of BBC Radio Four’s The Moral Maze, on which I am a regular panellist.

The show – whose somewhat misunderstood purpose is not so much to discuss an issue in the round as test individual arguments to destruction – featured two particularly illuminating contributions by Professor Michael Clarke, Director-General of the prestigious Royal United Services Institute, and Dr David Rodin, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, University of Oxford.

Prof Clarke, who by virtue of his position is one of Britain’s top military analysts, blithely asserted that Iran would not pass the nuclear threshold for another three to four years. On what evidential basis does he put this point so much further down the line than US or Israeli estimates? And anyway, the real point about the dilemma of whether or when to attack Iran is surely not when it might go nuclear, but at what point it becomes impossible to stop it from going nuclear.

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Not only don’t we fight fair, but neither does the Iranian government!

The Iranians are claiming that the CIA and British intelligence” did it, instead of our guys! According to Russia Today:

Iran ‘has evidence’ CIA masterminded nuke scientist murder

“Iran has sent two “letters of condemnation” in the wake of Wednesday’s killing of yet another Iranian nuclear scientist. Tehran is demanding a response from Washington and London for the attack, which was “guided” by the CIA and “assisted” by MI6.

We have reliable documents and evidence that this terrorist act was planned, guided and supported by the CIA,” the Iranian foreign ministry said in a rare letter handed to the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, according to state television.

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Iran’s Problem

Iranian scientist involved in nuclear program killed in Tehran bomb attack

“TEHRAN — A scientist linked to Iran’s nuclear program was killed in his car by a bomb-wielding assailant on Wednesday, a bold rush-hour attack that experts say points to a further escalation in a covert campaign targeting the country’s atomic officials and institutions.

The precision hit in a northern Tehran neighborhood killed the 32-year-old chemical engineer employed at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility and brought to four the number of Iranian scientists killed by bombs in the past two years. No one asserted responsibility for the bombing, which prompted a swirl of accusations and denials as well as renewed concerns about worsening tensions between Iran and the West.

An Iranian nuclear expert was killed Wednesday by a magnetic bomb attached to his car, state media reported. Officials were quoted as accusing Israel in the attack, suspected as part of a covert effort to set back Iran’s nuclear program.

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Israel won’t strike Iran in coming weeks, Binyamin Netanyahu says

“I am not standing with a stopwatch in hand. It is not a matter days or weeks, but also not a matter of years. Everybody understands this,” Mr Netanyahu told an Israeli news programme.

Mr Netanyahu has hinted Israel could resort to force should Tehran – which denies suspicions it is covertly trying to develop atomic bombs – continue to defy major powers’ diplomatic pressure to curb its nuclear programme.

“We would be happy if this thing is resolved peacefully, if Iran decides to stop its nuclear programme,” he said. “To stop it, to dismantle its facility in Qom, and to stop enriching uranium. I will be most happy, I think all Israel’s citizens will also be happy.”

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Iran ‘trying to remove evidence that it tested detonators for nuclear weapons’

Satellite photographs show the appearance of earth-moving vehicles and haulage lorries at Parchin, a military base where the IAEA said in its last report that Iranian scientists had experimented with a device that could only be used in the detonation system of a nuclear bomb.

When IAEA inspectors visited Iran last month, they were refused permission to visit Parchin. Since then, Tehran has partially backed down and conceded that the agency’s experts can enter the location “once”.

The satellite photographs appear to show a recent effort to sanitise the site beforehand, one IAEA official told the Associated Press news agency.

Last November, the IAEA said that experiments with the detonation system of nuclear weapons had been conducted inside a large metal container at Parchin.

Tehran adamantly denied this claim, which was carried under the heading “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear programme.

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William Hague warns Israel over Iran military action

Amid rumours the Israeli government is considering strikes against Iran within months, Mr Hague insisted economic sanctions and negotiations had to be given “a real chance” to convince Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

In an interview with BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, the Foreign Secretary repeated his warning that a nuclear-armed Iran would result in another cold war in the Middle East.

“They would either be attacked and there would be a war, or there would be a cold war in which Iran for the long term would be subject to these very intense economic sanctions and they would find that other nations in their region developed nuclear weapons,” he said.

But he urged against military action, although he said it was not ruled out as an option.

“I don’t think a wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran,” he said.

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Ahmadinejad: Iran to announce ‘very important’ nuclear developments as country marks anniversary of revolution

He was speaking on the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

Tens of thousands of Iranians joined state-organised rallies across the country to mark the occasion.

Demonstrators carrying Iranian flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.

“In the coming days the world will witness Iran’s announcement of its very important and very major nuclear achievements,” Mr Ahmadinejad told a crowd at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square in a speech relayed live on state television.

Tension with the West over Iran’s disputed nuclear work has risen in recent weeks. The United States and its European allies have imposed new sanctions to try to force Tehran back to talks before it produces enough nuclear material for an atom bomb.

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The other Britain

Last Thursday night I was on BBC TV’s Question Time in Plymouth, which you can view here.

The last question on the show came from a woman who asked whether, ‘since Israel has many more nuclear weapons than Iran’, we should agree with President Obama’s statement that no option (in other words, war with Iran) should be ruled out.

The woman who asked this question was doubtless a reasonable, moderate person with a benevolent and kindly approach to humanity, who would be astonished to be told there was anything shocking about her basic premise.

But the equation she made was of course obnoxious. There is no reasonable equation to be made between Israel and Iran over their possession of nuclear weapons. Israel’s nuclear weapons – like those in the possession of every true democracy – are intended solely for the country’s defence against attack.

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Tehran ‘ready to sit down for nuclear talks’, says Iran’s Ahmadinejad

The Islamic republic, which was already under four rounds of United Nations sanctions, vehemently denies its nuclear programme masks an atomic weapons drive as the West alleges, and insists it is for civilian purposes only.

“They have this excuse that Iran is dodging negotiations while it is not the case,” the Iranian leader was quoted as saying by state media.

“A person who has logic and has right on his side, why should (he) refrain from negotiations?”

He was implicitly responding to comments made by Western officials urging the Islamic republic to return to negotiations over its contested nuclear programme.

The last round of talks between Iran and the major powers consisting of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States was held in Turkey in January 2011, but the negotiations collapsed.

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Russia warns West against Iran strike

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Western sanctions against Iran and talk of a potential attack undermine efforts to revive negotiations aimed at ensuring it does not develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking at his annual news conference, Lavrov said Western nations must focus on efforts to revive long-dormant talks between global powers and Tehran “and not on sanctions, let alone threats to use force”.

“I have no doubt that it would pour fuel on a fire which is already smouldering, the hidden smouldering fire of Sunni-Shi’ite confrontation, and beyond that (cause) a chain reaction – I don’t know where it would stop,” he said of an attack.

“On the chances of whether this catastrophe will happen or not you should ask those who repeatedly talk about this,” Lavrov said.

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