Burying the Bomb: Is the only way to disarm Iran through regime change?

Mehdi Hasan has a point: attacking Iran's nuclear programme could force it underground. But he has no argument as regime change may consequently be the only way to stop catastrophe

Is regime change the only way to stop the bomb?
Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 22 March 2012 11:32

Following on from Guido's defenestration of Mehdi Hasan over his woolliness over Iran, it might be timely to look at the consequence of Israel's 1981 bombing of Saddam's (French) reactor at Osirak, and the possible consequence of a similar action in Iran with reference to Iraq.

The issue of WMD and their presence or not in pre-invasion Iraq will always be subject of discourse and fantasy. Of course, one of the main rallying cries of the anti-war racket over Iraq was the lack of WMD. As Hitler always knew, you repeat a lie often enough and it becomes fact, and so it was with the Galloway lobby.

The notion that Saddam didn't have WMD of any sort was of course fanciful. But the preposterous 45-minute claim put paid to any credibility that Saddam might have been developing or had the capability to develop a covert programme.

That there was no Bond villain-like lair for dear old Hans Blix to stumble across was clear to all those who realised the typical UN shenanigans going on that prevented original UNSCOM chief, Rolf Ekeus from heading up the UNMOVIC inspectors. It would make sense seeing as he of all people would be most likely to know where the bombs might have been buried. Further, the fact that he had reportedly turned down bribes of over $1m from Tariq Aziz, not only underlined his probity but also made it clear that the Iraqis had clearly been engaging in widescale bribery of officials to turn a blind eye. But he was vetoed by the French, Chinese and the Russians and we wound up with Blix who found nothing.

Students of post Desert Storm Iraq would have realised that one of the features of Saddam's sanction busting golden epoch was the amazing development of a covert nuclear programme as documented in chief physicist Mahdi Obeidi's book, The Bomb in my Garden. It's a read-in-an-afternoon account of how Saddam, like a terrifying spoilt child, forced his talented, US-educated nuclear scientists to develop a nuclear weapons programme using any means necessary, and within a ridiculous timeframe, whilst effectively holding their families hostage.

There are echoes now of that conflict between talented nuclear physicists who want to use their gifts to propel their country into a nuclear age, and despotic leaders who would compel them to conduct a weapons programme, in all likelihood against their will.

The centrifuge technology crucial to uranium enrichment was astonishingly achieved by trickery and ingenuity by Obeidi's team in the face of sanctions on the one hand, and Saddam's menacing brutality on the other. And their efforts were independently corroborated by Swiss experts as to be every bit as credible as Western programmes.

Under Qusay Hussein the key parts of this programme could be easily disassembled and hidden - in Obeidi's garden as it happened. Suffice to say, Mehdi Hasan may be partly correct in highlighting the danger of forcing Iran into a covert weapons programme of just the sort described in Obeidi's book.

Of course, not only did the invasion in 2003 put an end to that programme - Obeidi surrendered the 'bomb', with some difficulty, to US forces - but also prior to the invasion, Saddam was on the verge of securing a delivery system from North Korea in a deal brokered by Syria. A deposit had apparently been paid, but as the Allies invaded, the Koreans quickly left the table, taking their deposit with them.

This is an uncomfortable truth all round. A nuclear-armed Saddam with oil at $150+ a barrel was, and remains, as good a casus belli as any in modern history, and, I would argue, one that even Medhi Hasan would struggle to oppose.

That said, if he's right, and a destroyed Iranian nuclear programme drives their bomb making efforts underground a la Obeidi, then history tells us the only way a rogue state can be certified as disarmed is by regime change.

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express

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