Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why Not?

By Cernig

Today in the Washington Post, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins wonder aloud why Bush doesn't seem interested in answering some really crucial questions.
the scariest legacy of Bush's failed bargain with Gen. Pervez Musharraf isn't the rise of another U.S.-backed dictatorship in a strategic Muslim nation, or even the establishment of a new al-Qaeda haven along Pakistan's lawless border. It's the leniency we've shown toward the most dangerous nuclear-trafficking operation in history -- an operation masterminded by one man, Abdul Qadeer Khan.

For nearly four years, under the banner of the "war on terror," Bush has refused to demand access to Khan, the ultranationalist Pakistani scientist who created a vast network that has spread nuclear know-how to North Korea, Iran and Libya. Indeed, Bush has never seriously squeezed Musharraf over Khan, who remains a national hero for bringing Pakistan the Promethean fire it can use to compete with its nuclear-armed nemesis, India. Khan has remained under house arrest in Islamabad since 2004, outside the reach of the CIA and investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who are desperate to unlock the secrets he carries. Bush should be equally adamant about getting to the bottom of Khan's activities.

...The most urgent line of inquiry -- particularly given Bush's bellicose statements about the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions -- centers on what exactly Khan provided to the Iranians over 15 years of doing business with them. He could help answer the questions on which war may depend: Is Iran trying to get the bomb? If so, how close is Tehran to obtaining it? Or are the mullahs simply pursuing a civilian nuclear capacity?
Many analysts have concluded that Khan wasn't a loose cannon and was running his network of proliferation under direction from Pakistan's military - tracking back directly to Musharraf as head of the army - but that's just one of many questions he could answer. Khan could, for instance, explain massive gaps in the accounting of his nuclear inventory. Did the missing technology end up in Iran to drive a still-secret parallel military program or did it perhaps end up in Saudi Arabia or Egypt?

Such questions have an immediate impetus. Yesterday, the AFP reported on Israel's attitude towards Egyptian and Saudi announcements of new programs for nuclear power.
Egyptian and Saudi nuclear ambitions, on top of Iran's atomic drive, will lead to an "apocalyptic scenario", a senior Israeli cabinet minister said in comments published on Friday.
"If Egypt and Saudi Arabia begin nuclear programmes, this can bring an apocalyptic scenario upon us," Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the English-language Jerusalem Post newspaper.

"Their intentions should be taken seriously and the declarations being made now are to prepare the world for when they decide to actually do it," said the minister, responsible for coordinating Israeli efforts against a nuclear Iran.

...Lieberman also joined the chorus of Israeli criticism against the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, over comments from the Egyptian that Iran's nuclear acitivites pose no immediate danger.

"He is part of the problem, not part of the solution," said Lieberman, who is also a deputy prime minister.

Israel, which belongs to the UN nuclear watchdog but is not a signatory to its key Non-Proliferation Treaty, is widely considered to have the Middle East's sole -- if undeclared -- nuclear arsenal.
It seems clear that Israel is determined, by hook or by crook, to remain the only nuclear power in the region of any kind. They don't want their neighbours to have even nuclear power.

The usual rationale given for this is the "existential" threat to Israel from nuclear armed Muslim states an argument in which Iran's president's pronouncements about wiping Israel off the map are often rolled out. Now, such claims may well be based upon a faulty translation of Ahmadinejad's words. But supose they aren't - how serious is the threat? No-one, surely, would know that better than the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. Yet the former head of Mossad thinks Israel's current belligerence, mirroring the Bush administration's one, is foolhardy.
Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, titled his memoirs "Man in the Shadows." But now that he's out in the sunlight, the 72-year-old retired spy chief has some surprisingly contrarian things to say about Iran and Syria. The gist of his message is that rather than constantly ratcheting up the rhetoric of confrontation, the United States and Israel should be looking for ways to establish a creative dialogue with these adversaries.

..."I believe that Israel is indestructible," he insists. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may boast that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, but Iran's ability to consummate this threat is "minimal," he says. "Israel has a whole arsenal of capabilities to make sure the Iranians don't achieve their result." Even if the Iranians did obtain a nuclear weapon, says Halevy, "they are deterrable," because for the mullahs, survival and perpetuation of the regime is a holy obligation.

"We must be much more sophisticated and nuanced in our policies toward Iran," Halevy contends. He argues for a combination of increased economic pressure and a diplomatic opening that attempts to speak to Iran's "national aspirations" and its shared interests with America and the West -- and even Israel.

"Iranians, including those in government, know that acceptance of Israel is not just something they have to accept but something that might bring their deliverance," Halevy maintains.

The former spy chief also argues that Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric masks a deep split within Iran over the country's future. "I believe that behind their bombastic statements there is a desperate fear that they are going down a path that would have dire consequences," he says. "They don't know how to extricate themselves. We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric."

Halevy, who made many secret visits to Iran during the days of the shah, argues that rather than rattling sabers the West should be looking for dialogue with Tehran. "A creative and constructive approach to Iran's concerns -- not the dreams of their fanatic president to effect the demise of Israel -- might move them to see that their self-interest would be better served by taking alternative paths."

Halevy takes a similarly contrarian view about Syria. "Damascus is now ripe for peace negotiation," he says. He argues that the Syrians are signaling their interest in such a negotiation and that the details of an agreement were worked out during extensive talks in the 1990s. The Syrian track might be a breakthrough, he argues, because an accommodation with Damascus might bring along the rest of the Arab world, lead to a settlement in Lebanon and undermine Syria's current alliance with Iran.
So there are a bunch of questions that all start with "why not?"

Why not push to find out from the actual source what may well be crucial information about various nations nuclear proliferation attempts?

Why not allow Mid-east states to have nuclear power programs, preserving their oil for petrochemicals and enriching their treasuries through foreign sales instead of wasting their oil in power generation?

Why not talk directly to Iran and Syria and others?

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