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October 7, 2005

Chemical Weapons,
Nuclear War


What's at stake in a war on Iran

by Jorge Hirsch

The Bush administration started a conventional war over imagined chemical weapons in Iraq. It is getting ready to start a war over imagined nuclear weapons, and real chemical ones, against Iran. This time it may be a nuclear war.

It is well known that Iran has chemical weapons (1), (2), (3) , as many other countries do. However, there has not been a single mention of this fact in the aggressive rhetoric of the Bush administration against Iran. Why? Because it is being deliberately silenced up to the last moments before a U.S. attack against Iran is launched. At that time, this fact will be trumpeted as "proof" that Iran is an evil country and a threat to the world.

As the U.S. bombers are about to take off, there will be no time to talk about the fact that Iran has signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (in 1993 and 1997, respectively) that requires it to terminate production and eliminate stockpiles over a period of years. Instead, it will be emphasized that Iran used chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war (conveniently omitting the fact that it was responding to chemical attacks by Iraq) and that it could use them again against U.S. troops next door. The administration will present proof (real this time) that Iran has chemical weapons, and will also suggest that terrorists in bed with Iran could get hold of those weapons and attack the U.S. homeland.

An ultimatum will be given to Iran to destroy all its chemical weapons and abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) within 48 hours, lest it face the wrath of U.S. bombers. Bush's statements of March 17, 2003, will be copied and pasted replacing Iraq with Iran, and this time it will be less false than last:

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iranian regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iran's neighbors. …

"The danger is clear: using chemical, biological, or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iran, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other."

The IAEA resolution of Sept. 24, which found Iran in violation of the NPT, will be at the center of the argument. All the diplomatic avenues will have been closed when Russia and China exercise their veto powers at the Security Council meeting that will consider imposing sanctions on Iran, and the military option, explicitly not ruled out by Bush, will be all that remains. U.S. planes launched from Iraq will bomb Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile installations. Many of these facilities are underground. Conventional bunker-busters will be used, as well as some nuclear bombs.

Why will nukes be used? As stated in the recently released draft document "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations," the Pentagon is prepared to "demonstrate U.S. intent and capability to use nuclear weapons to deter adversary use of WMD." If only conventional bombs are used in such an unprovoked U.S. attack, Iran is likely to retaliate violently, launching a barrage of missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq and possibly Israel, as well as a possible ground invasion of Iraq that the 150,000 U.S. troops there would not be able to withstand. Bunker-busting nuclear gravity bombs (B61-11 or similar) will be more effective than conventional ones in destroying Iranian underground installations, and at the same time will send a clear message to Iran that any response would be answered with an immensely more devastating nuclear attack.

How will the U.S. Senate go along? It probably has already approved the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, in particular low-yield gravity bombs and short-range missiles, in the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration is likely to have presented to senators entirely credible "secret" information that Iran has missiles with chemical warheads, and suggested that Iran could launch a chemical attack against U.S. forces in Iraq at a moment's notice. Reasonable senators would certainly approve such measures to protect U.S. forces in Iraq against a devastating actual or "imminent" Iranian attack. Using the argument that making this information public would endanger U.S. troops in Iraq, Bush may have been able to convince senators to approve such a grave measure without public disclosure. Once the military action starts, the use of nuclear bombs will follow the script in the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations":

"Against an adversary using or intending to use WMD against U.S., multinational, or alliance forces or civilian populations…

"[T]o counter potentially overwhelming conventional forces…

"For rapid and favorable war termination on U.S. terms…

"To ensure success of U.S. and multinational operations…

"[O]n adversary installations including WMD, deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons or the C2 infrastructure required for the adversary to execute a WMD attack against the United States or its friends and allies."

Given these prospects, the U.S. should be focusing on low-key negotiations with Iran to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with respect to Iran's nuclear ambitions (which are, at least in the view of Russia and China, entirely legitimate), instead of issuing strident denunciations. The fact that it has chosen the latter rather than the former path (even refusing to discuss the issues directly with Iran) suggests that a decision to attack Iran was made long ago. This would parallel the scenario played out in Iraq as proved by the Downing Street memos, and is also supported by the information revealed by Seymour Hersh in his January 2005 article in the New Yorker. Whether by accident or by design, the Bush attack against the toothless Saddam will not have been an end in itself but only a necessary intermediate step toward the real goal, the subjugation of the far more powerful Iran.

Such an attack will usher in a different, much more frightening world. After the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has relied on a universally agreed-upon taboo against the use of all nuclear weapons, no matter how small. Once that taboo is broken, the NPT is likely to fall apart, a new nuclear arms race will ensue, and any regional conflict will have the potential to explode into all-out nuclear war, with unimaginable consequences.

 

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Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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