Recent Iranian efforts to harness nuclear energy and reluctance to allow full inspections of the facilities have received international attention. Global and international studies professor Mark Juergensmeyer shares his thoughts on the issue with the Daily Nexus.
Iranian officials called for further talks with the United Nations about atomic energy accumulation last week after delaying inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which suspects that Iran is developing nuclear warheads.
While officials insist nuclear operations are peaceful and intended for nonviolent uses such as cancer treatment, much of the international community — including the U.N. and IAEA — suspects that purified uranium will be developed for atomic weaponry. Iran’s lack of cooperation in allowing inspections is furthering concerns and placing them on the verge of war with Israel, leaving the Obama administration in a controversial foreign relations dilemma just months before elections.
However, Juergensmeyer said there is a large possibility that development of nuclear weaponry is not underway, and the situation is similar to the one in Iraq before the U.S. invaded.
“There is no doubt that Iran is developing weapons-grade enriched uranium to give the impression that it has a nuclear weapons program,” Juergensmeyer said in an email. “This could be a kind of hoax, of course, as were Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, meant to impress their own population. Nuclear weapons are very popular in developing countries as a matter of national pride — when both India and Pakistan exploded nuclear weapons they were wildly popular within their countries.”
Nuclear energy requires a 3 to 5 percent purity of uranium while nuclear weapons require about 90 percent. With some Iranian facilities purifying uranium to levels up to 20 percent, there is growing concern from international organizations that the technological progression poses a potential security threat.
According to Juergensmeyer, the issue presents a dilemma of conflicting domestic and foreign policies for Iranian leaders.
“For internal domestic reasons, I don’t think the leaders of Iran could admit that they don’t have the ability to create nuclear weapons — even if in fact they didn’t have them,” Juergensmeyer said. “That’s the irony — they will be punished by the international community if they have nuclear weapons capacity and humiliated in the eyes of their own people if they don’t!”
Israel, particularly fearful of Iran’s nuclear potential due to its relative proximity, recently threatened an airstrike on Iranian centrifuges. Given other current international circumstances, the situation presents a clear and present potential for armed conflict in the near future, Juergensmeyer said.
“The war drums are beating, and the sounds are not good … After a certain point, the Israeli leaders look weak in the eyes of their own people if they do not attack Iran,” Juergensmeyer said. “And the timing, alas, is ripe for it — before the Iranian nuclear weapons program has advanced too far, and while the Obama administration is in an election campaign and thus in a difficult position to criticize Israeli decisions.”
Since the U.S. holds close relations with Israel, the threat of conflict also compromises American political interests, in light of upcoming presidential elections, Juergensmeyer said.
“If Israel attacks Iran, the U.S. will inevitably be involved since all of Iran’s capabilities would have to be destroyed in order to ensure that there is not a counterattack that could wipe out Tel Aviv — not what Obama would like to get into right before an election,” Juergensmeyer said. “But, alas, that might be the real drama of this election year.”
President Obama is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 5 to discuss the situation.