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January 31, 2005

Let the Israelis Do It?


by Gordon Prather

Hours before his "ratification" inaugural, Vice President Dick Cheney was chatting with Don Imus on MSNBC about Iraqi and Iranian "nuclear programs."

Now, Cheney appears to know the difference between a "nuclear program" and a "nuclear weapons program." Bush may not. In any case, both Cheney and Bush want you to hear "nuclear weapons" when they say "nuclear."

Recall that in the months and weeks before Bush-Cheney launched a preventative war against Iraq on the pretext of keeping Saddam from giving nuclear weapons to terrorists, Mohamed ElBaradei – Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency – had reported to the UN Security Council that there was no evidence that any attempt had been made in the past decade to reconstitute Saddam's nuclear programs.

That's right. Not only did Saddam not have a nuclear weapons program, he didn't even have a nuclear program.

Nevertheless, right up until the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Cheney was claiming – without a shred of evidence – that Saddam had a nuke program and ElBaradei couldn't find it with both hands and a covert road map.

Now, in the years, months, and weeks before and after Cheney's ratification inaugural, Cheney has been claiming – without a shred of evidence – that the Iranian mullahs have a nuke program and ElBaradei couldn't find it with both hands and a covert road map.

Iran has been a signatory to the NPT since 1970, so its nuclear programs are subject to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush had this to say about Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."

More than a year ago, after watching what Bush did to Iraq, Iran voluntarily subjected itself to an intrusive go-anywhere, see-anything Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement. Under the Additional Protocol, activities and sites that either did not need to be declared at all, or needed to be declared only shortly before operations involving "special nuclear materials" began, must now be declared while still in the planning stage. Iran volunteered to temporarily freeze its gas-centrifuge research, development, and production program.

Any past or present violations of Iran's Safeguards Agreement was to be reported to the IAEA Board of Governors. If and only if the Board decided the violations amounted to a violation of the NPT itself was the Board to refer the matter to the UN Security Council for possible action.

The IAEA has now visited every site the Iranians have declared under the Additional Protocol, as well as at least two sites the U.S. suspected should have been declared but weren't. Iran had also given the IAEA permission to review its import and export records going back at least a decade.

Result? The IAEA has found some minor violations, but no indication that Iran is now pursuing – or has ever pursued – a nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA even verified that the Iranians have not yet operated their pilot-plant uranium-enrichment cascade, nor even completed their commercial-scale plant.

But Bush-Cheney and the Israelis are loudly demanding that the freeze be made permanent, that Iran never be allowed to have a uranium-enrichment capability, even one subject to IAEA Safeguards.

So back to Cheney and Imus. After asking Cheney what will happen if we find out the Iranians do have a nuclear weapons program, Imus wondered aloud. "Why don't we make Israel do it?"

Cheney replies;

"Well, one of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked, that if, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."

Now, some pundits have interpreted that remark to be a warning to Israel to not launch preemptive strikes against Iran's Safeguarded facilities.

But, others have interpreted it to be a green light for the Israelis. After all, as far as Cheney is concerned, there will be a mere "diplomatic mess" to clean up.

Which is it? Stay tuned.


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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