The Iran nuclear problem is approaching crisis stage and the IAEA is in a critical position. They have done a remarkable job in being steadfast in working toward their larger objectives and in maintaining credibility in a highly charged political environment. They have a key report coming next week. One of the vital indicators of whether Iran has a nuclear weapons effort (as opposed to just nuclear energy as they claim) is the presence of sophisticated high explosive testing necessary for triggering a nuclear explosion. The military site at Parchin has been suspected of housing such necessary testing facilities. The IAEA has sought to inspect that site for a long time. Iran has refused permission. There have been reports that Iran has used this time to cleanse the site of any incriminating evidence. Recent satellite photography made public certainly shows activity consistent with such views. At a certain point, the IAEA will have to make a call whether it is still useful for verification purposes to visit that site. That will be a tough but necessary decision to make…and the time seems to have come, even though it will add tension to a tense situation. At this stage, a visit to Parchin is not likely to add to clarity, but rather add to ambiguity.
Israel would not believe any results that came out of such a visit. Others might be inclined to view such a visit as supporting Iran. The result would be increased political heat, and little new factual knowledge. Moreover, the IAEA would tend to lose credibility that is very valuable.
The levers over this crisis are now pretty much exclusively in Israel’s hands. Washington, by its silence, has pretty well indicated it is not going to be the first to strike. While there are lots of forces in the region, and more on the way, it seems they are headed out in response to the “risk” that Israel will act.
For Israel, the planning and preparation of public attitudes seems well underway. Among the host of responses Iran can conduct would be the seizure of hostages. This may be the most politically difficult for Israel.
Russia and China will play critical roles—especially the day after an Israeli attack. Iran will never be in higher regard than the day after an Israeli attack. If Tehran contains its response, it won’t lose this position. Russia and China may be able to influence Tehran in this direction.
The global economy may depend on Russian and Chinese success. While it is doubtful Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz even temporarily, an attack would likely produce a spike in Brent price on the order of 30-40 dollars. This may fall back, but Iran could take out the Iraqi exports at the head of the Gulf. That reduction could put real supply pressure in the markets. And any jump in prices will damage any progress toward global economic recovery. Even China is sensitive to that now.
The next few weeks will be critical indeed. And Washington is not the dominant player any more. We may want to fix this, but we can’t. We no longer have the influence.