Israel’s nuclear war
As Binyamin Netanyahu’s government tacitly admits its role, Yassamine Mather asks why the Iranian regime is in denial
There are strong indications that Israel was responsible for a number of incidents in Iran’s military and nuclear sites. On June 20 Tehran’s inhabitants reported a major explosion that lit up the skies east of the capital and the government tried to play down the incident, blaming a gas explosion in Parchin military base.
However, satellite photos showed the incident had occurred slightly further away at Khojir - a missile production plant with underground tunnels that conceal Iran’s arsenal. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida claimed the day after that the explosion was caused by missiles dropped by a number of Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets, although both Israel and the United States have denied any involvement.
This was followed by major power cuts in the southern city of Shiraz. On July 2 there were reports of a fire and an explosion at one of the buildings in the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, which is rumoured to be a production plant for centrifuges. While most of the plant is underground, the explosion occurred in one of its few above-ground buildings.
According to Simon Henderson, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “It looks as though a ‘nuclear war’ of sorts has started in the Middle East.”1 Henderson further claims that as a result of the blast Iran’s nuclear programme has been set back for months, if not years. I should warn readers that this ‘Institute’, far from being an independent academic institution, is “an American pro-Israel think tank based in Washington”, as Wikipedia puts it - “part of the core” of the Israel lobby in the United States (a charge that WINEP denies).2
Then on July 10 The New York Times claimed it had first-hand information that “a joint American-Israeli strategy is evolving - some might argue regressing - to a series of short-of-war clandestine strikes”.3 The Iranian press was also quick to blame Israel. According to Nournews, which is often associated with the Islamic Republic’s Supreme National Security Council, Israel could not have been responsible for the Natanz explosion operation without getting a green light from Washington: “If we accept that the Zionist regime’s role [in the incident] is true, then we have to accept that they had received US approval to directly engage with Iran.”4
Javad Karimi Ghodousi of Iran’s national security committee blamed International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, accusing them of acting as spies for the Israeli government. He added that the explosion at the nuclear site took place in the building that IAEA inspectors had examined six times: “The incident is a result of the infiltration and information-gathering in favour of the Zionist regime conducted by the inspectors.”5
In fact Israeli officials just stopped short of claiming responsibly for the Natanz incident. According to foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, “We have a long-term policy over the course of many administrations not to allow Iran to have nuclear abilities ... We take actions that are better left unsaid.”6
There are obvious reasons why Binyamin Netanyahu and his government might have been behind it. After all, the much heralded annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territories planned for July 1 did not happen after widespread opposition from European states. The opponents of the annexation included the pro-Israeli UK premier, Boris Johnson, who, writing in Israel’s high-circulation daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, stated:
I am a passionate defender of Israel. So it is with sadness that I have followed the proposals to annex Palestinian territory ... I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel’s borders and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.7
All this coincided with low poll ratings for Donald Trump, who, of course, is Israel’s most important ally. However, whatever the reasons, the delay did not go down well with pro-settler Israeli politicians, who accused Netanyahu of “giving up” on plans to annex the Jordan valley in favour of more-limited moves. Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked accused Netanyahu of preparing to abandon the plan.
Under such circumstances, the Israeli government needed something to divert attention and the Natanz incident could have been part of such plans. Perhaps both Washington and Tel Aviv hoped Iran’s Islamic Republic would retaliate, paving the way for an all-out regional war. If that happened, no doubt every western institution from the European Union to the United Nations would express sympathy with Israel and perhaps see good reasons to go along with the annexation of Palestinian territory. If that was the plan, Iran’s current policy of downplaying these incidents must be infuriating for both the Trump and Netanyahu administrations.
Once more these events have showed the complete collapse of sections of the Iranian left. Some claimed they were concerned about the negative effects of Iran’s nuclear industry on the climate, while others berated “out-of-date anti-imperialists”, who keep going on about Israel!
Whenever we in Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi) have addressed the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme, we have pointed out that it is the safety of Iran’s nuclear industry itself that poses a threat, not the alleged development of nuclear weapons. It is clear that the regime does not value the life of its civilians or even its own supporters. In 2020 both the Islamic Republic’s cavalier attitude towards Covid-19 and hostility towards demonstrators at the funeral of assassinated general Qasem Soleimani and against the downing of a civilian plane have proved this basic fact.
However, let us be very clear that another Middle Eastern state - namely, Israel - most certainly possesses nuclear weapons. Decades after the abduction and imprisonment of Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear technician who exposed the extent of Israel’s nuclear programme, the country still denies having nuclear bombs. It is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and it is estimated that Israel has a stockpile of between 80 and 400 nuclear warheads.
Its Dimona plant has been at the centre of court battles between its former employees and pensioners, seeking compensation for nuclear leaks. In April 2016 the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that the plant has more than 1,500 defects - some detected as early as 1963.8 In September 2017, Dimona pensioners and surviving members of their families finally received a total of $22 million compensation from the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, which is part of the prime minister’s office.9
All this shows that Israel’s ‘secret’ nuclear programme is as dangerous to its own citizens and its neighbours as Iran’s nuclear industry. It poses a major threat not only to the peace and security of the Middle East, as well as Europe and North Africa, but also to the region’s environment.
Hopi has always maintained a very clear position - we want a nuclear-free region, which means, of course, the destruction of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. If Iran had nuclear weapons (and there is no evidence at all that it does) we would be demanding their destruction too. But to single out the nuclear programme of Iran’s Islamic Republic while ignoring another religious state’s actual nuclear weapons is totally hypocritical.
Anyone with an iota of intelligence knows that meddling with the control systems of a nuclear plant by hacking its computing system, or carrying out air raids against such plants, could cause an unprecedented ecological catastrophe.
Closer to home, the events of the last few weeks in the Middle East should act as a wake-up call for those who are still under the impression that false accusations of anti-Semitism directed against the left inside and outside the Labour Party are all down to a desire to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. The current witch-hunt has far more ambitious aims: it is about securing European support for the USA’s pro-Israel geopolitical agenda, and silencing the anti-war movement in this country and beyond.