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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Iran and Israel: Tensions continue to rise

Published: February 3, 2012
Section: Features

Brandeis professors offered varying responses this week to the heightening of tensions between the already dire relationship between Iran and the State of Israel.

With Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has publicly decried the existence of the state of Israel and called for its destruction, relations between both countries have been strained at best as Israel has viewed Iran as a significant threat to its national security for many years.

The potential for Iran to possess nuclear weapons would add another element of instability in the politics of the Middle East and Israel has repeatedly declared that it will act before Iran gains a nuclear weapon and the chance to use it. The Independent quoted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as saying that “a situation could be rapidly reached where even ‘surgical’ military action could not block the Tehran regime from getting the bomb.”

An actual strike against Iran by Israel, however, may not be a certainty. Such a strike would take “days or weeks of coordinated military action,” according to Robert Art, a professor of international relations here at Brandeis. The success of such a strike would depend on what the Israelis could do, in Art’s view, and it would be “foolish” to launch a strike, given the potential for a war based on the results.

Professor Nader Habibi (ECON) also agreed that such a strike could just as easily “further entrench the Iranian government and increase their desire for nuclear weapons” as a setback the program. He stated that Iran has openly pursued a nuclear research program since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, although the government has never openly expressed a desire to possess nuclear weapons.

There is also some concern as to whether the United States would be dragged into a conflict between Israel and Iran, a situation that seems significantly undesirable given its past involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts during the last decade. Habibi commented that “Iran could easily retaliate against American interests in the Persian Gulf.” Professor Art also agrees with this idea, given how Iran could easily assume that “any military action taken by Israel would have been in coordination with America, if not with [America’s] approval.”

Israel has a history of pre-emptive action against perceived nuclear threats, such as the 1981 raid against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, or the 2007 strike against an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor. In both cases, Israeli aircrafts entered the airspace of their target nations, and proceeded to bomb the facilities.

The Iranian government is currently engaged in nuclear enrichment that it claims is for civilian purposes, including medical research and treatment. Many countries, however, chiefly the United States and Israel, believe that Iran is producing weapons-grade nuclear material at their facilities.

International response to Iran’s nuclear program, however, has not been completely military. In response to the Iranian government’s continued alleged development of nuclear weapons, America, the European Union and the United Nations have laid various waves of economic sanctions on Iran, with the latest being in the form of an oil embargo. This embargo would certainly have an impact on Iran’s economy, given that 80 percent of the country’s exports are comprised of oil.
These sanctions have the potential to harm seriously the Iranian economy, according to Habibi. When asked about the civilian unrest in Iran, he also stated that “if [the sanctions] do enough harm, they might persuade Iran’s government to negotiate on their nuclear program.” Previous negotiations have been met with limited success, but the impact from the impending oil embargo might be enough to change the government’s position on diplomacy.

Another aspect of the international pressure on Iran comes from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is a treaty designed to control the spread of nuclear weapons and to facilitate the disarmament of nuclear weapons as well. Currently, 32 countries are either confirmed to or believed to possess nuclear weapons, with 190 countries having ratified the NPT. Of the countries that have not ratified the NPT, four are on nuclear “watchdog” lists: India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

The NPT itself presents an interesting situation for Iran, according to Art. In an interview with The Hoot, he stated that “while the NPT allows Iran to enrich uranium for research purposes, they are not allowed to enrich it up to weapons-grade capacity,” which would constitute at least 85 percent enrichment.