Dr Jay Dubashi
Believe it or not, Israel is said to be getting ready to attack Iran. It could be as early as April, according to Leon Panetta, America’s Secretary of Defense, or a bit later. Panetta is reported to have told some people, according to reports in US press, that an Israeli attack was “extremely” likely and he believed that there was a strong possibility of an attack between April and June this year. Other sources put the likelihood of an attack towards the end of this year. Israelis, of course, are not saying anything. But one Israeli officer has said that if and when they decide to go ahead, they will do so without informing America, as otherwise America can get a bad name for nothing.
A great deal, of course, depends on Iran. Many people believe that Iran might decide at the last moment not to go ahead with its nuclear bomb and may abandon the project. My own hunch is that it is most unlikely that the Iranians are bent on making the bomb, especially since they are so close to assembling it, — only a few months, according to some sources, or perhaps a year at the most – and it seems unlikely they will abandon the whole thing half way, after coming so near to making it, but, of course, you never know.
The Iranians, of course, have said nothing. They say they are going ahead with their nuclear reactors and other paraphernalia, but that is only for peaceful purposes. This is also what North Korea had said, before it exploded a nuclear device. The Iranians are currently busy enriching their uranium, something that takes time, and are not saying anything until they have enriched uranium in their possession.
I must disclose here a personal connection, not with the bomb, because I know nothing about bombs, atomic or otherwise, but with Iran. After graduation, I joined a British firm of consulting engineers in London, and was assigned to a project consisting of a dam and a hydro power station in Iran. This was in 1950, five years after the end of the war. The Iranian end of the project was being handled by an organisation called Sherkat Sahami Kurang and the dam was to be near a place called Isfahan. We used to have visits from Iranian engineers from Tehran now and then, many of whom apparently lived in Isfahan. Iran, at the time, was almost a British colony, just Like India, and we all spoke English.
One day, I told them I was returning home to India, and would not be able to work on their project. They asked me if I could visit Tehran and help them on the project, since I had already done so much work on it. I got necessary permission from my company, but the visit never came off. The fact that I was a Hindu, and not a Muslim, had something to do with it.
If so happens that most of the nuclear installations in Iran are located near Isfahan, and they probably get their water from the dam we built for them. The main centrifuges are located at Fordow, which is about 250 km from Isfahan, and Arak, where the bomb is expected to be fabricated is even closer to Isfahan as well as Qom, which is a kind of holy city. The atomic power station of Bushehr is farther away on the Gulf.
How far have Iranian nuclear facilities come? There are uranium enrichment plants of Fordow and Natanz, both near Isfahan, and a heavy water reactor under construction at Arak. All these installations are above ground. There are also centrifuge plants elsewhere, many of them underground. It is obvious that Iran has been working on the programme for a long time, possibly before the expulsion of the Shah after the revolution. So it is not something that has happened after the Ayatollahs came to power. The whole idea has been in the works for thirty to forty years, though it is taking final shape only now.
Though the Israelis say they will go ahead and bomb Iran, it is obvious that whatever they are doing has the tacit support of the Americans, and may be other Western powers. Israel is actually a proxy for the West, and the two are comfortable with each other. If Israel can do on its own what the West would like to do themselves, why bother? Morever, Israel has the necessary striking capacity as it is physically close to Iran, or closer to it then any of the Western countries. It is unthinkable that Israel will take such a major step without the nod of America.
What will Iran do, if it is attacked? Iran has concentrated all its resources on the bomb and neglected everything else. For all its oil, it is a poor country, even compared to Israel. It has also been under severe economic pressure from the West, and may not be able to retaliate as quickly or as forcibly as it would like, after the Israeli attack. It has been virtually cut off from the world and its banks have stopped functioning.
But even then, the Iranian government will be compelled to retaliate, if only to maintain its credibility. How it will retaliate is another matter. America has bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE, and the Gulf, known as the Persian Gulf, is the one through which most of the oil passes, through the strait of Hormuz, which the Iranians have threatened to blockade.
Israel too has its problems. It is unlikely that Hizbullah and Hamas, which operate as proxies to Iran, will twiddle their thumbs and sit on their haunches as Israel launches its attacks. But there is not much they can do. They can hit Israel with ballistic missiles, but this is something the Iranians themselves might do.
My feeling is that Iran and its proxies will just fold up in the face of the Israeli attack, as they always do. The shock itself would be enough to stun them, particularly when they discover there is little they can actually do. What happened in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia when their dictators came face to face against something they had never dreamt would happen? One of them, Colonel Gaddafi did fight with everything he had — as Assad is doing now in Syria – but they just collapsed. The Ayatollahs will hold a few prayer meetings and will try to rouse people. They may or may not succeed – people always fight when they are attacked, particularly by foreigners – but whatever happens, it will not last long.