Tensions rise over Iranian weapons programme

For years, the prospect of a nuclear Iran has haunted the Middle East. With the rogue state closer than ever to building the dreaded bomb, are we heading for a showdown?

Qoms, Iran. In a secret underground facility, experts are developing dangerous nuclear technology. On the streets, crowds unite in chants of ‘death to America’. Meanwhile, secret agents are assassinating scientists, desperate to stop them creating a deadly weapon.

Though it sounds like a Hollywood movie, this drama is real. Iran – the declared enemy of ‘Zionist‘ Israel and America – is enriching uranium. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the work is for peaceful ends. But the world suspects that Iran is building a nuclear bomb.

This scenario, many believe, must be avoided at all costs. A nuclear Iran, they say, threatens to destroy Israel, and even put the USA at risk. And the chance to stop it could be rapidly slipping away.

For many, that leaves only one option. Israel could launch air strikes on Iran by April, according to the US Defence Secretary. Although Barack Obama does not support such pre-emptive action, some think it is the only way to stop Iran going nuclear.

Others say military action will only delay the inevitable. And Iran, along with militant allies Hezbollah, could retaliate with thousands of bombs on its Israeli neighbour.

How did it come to this? After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran became an Islamist theocracy. Its leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, declared Israel and America enemies of Islam. Since, trade and diplomacy has been replaced with vocal enmity. Iran feels threatened by the nuclear arsenals of its enemies. They, on the other hand, feel anxious about Iran’s pledge to wipe Israel off the map.

When Iran broke a global nuclear treaty in 2005, the international community became seriously worried. Harsh economic sanctions have tried to force Ahmadinejad to compromise or negotiate. Shadier sabotage tactics, including a computer virus that disrupts nuclear operating systems, have also tried to pull the plug on Iran’s ambitions.

Last November, however, the UN reported ‘credible’ evidence that Iran could be manufacturing nuclear weapons. And although Iranian politicians have indicated they are willing to negotiate on the matter, Ahmadinejad continues to threaten and taunt the United States. For some, military action seems an increasingly legitimate option.

An existential threat?

For some, the threat of a nuclear Iran is overblown. Israel and America’s nuclear stockpiles, after all, would make Iran’s single bomb totally insignificant. Overreaction to the threat – and the widespread retaliation that could create – is a much scarier scenario.

Such a naive argument, others say, puts the entire world in jeopardy. Iran is radical, reckless, and makes no secret of its hatred towards Israel and the USA. Allowing it to build a nuclear weapon is simply not an option.

You Decide

  1. Is a pre-emptive strike ever justified?
  2. Do some countries have a greater right to nuclear arms than others?

Activities

  1. Imagine a scenario in which Iran is found to be manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Imagine the reaction from the top politicians in the USA. Write a short piece of fiction about this dramatic scene.
  2. Write a letter to the Government of Iran making the case for diplomacy and co-operation – and against nuclear weaponry.

Some People Say...

“All nations have a right to defend themselves”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does it actually matter if Iran gets a nuclear weapon? America has thousands.
Because America and Israel have so many nuclear weapons themselves, it would be very unwise for Iran to actuallyuse a weapon if it acquired one. The worry is more that nuclear capability would seriously embolden its foreign policy, making it potentially more confrontational. Pundits also speculate that it could lead other countries in the Middle East – like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – to increase their arms too, creating an arms race that would unsettle an already volatile region. This spread of nuclear weapons is known as nuclear proliferation.
Is it anything to do with terrorism?
One of the biggest worries is that Iran could pass on its nuclear capability to the terrorist organisations, like Hezbollah, that it already supports.

Word Watch

Zionist
Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people should have a national homeland in Palestine. After WWII and the Holocaust, the state of Israel was created to fit that need. But the resulting displacement of Palestinians in the region means Zionism is now controversial, particularly among Islamic populations in the Middle East.
Pre-emptive
When a country attacks an enemy first to avoid being attacked themselves it is called a pre-emptive strike.
Hezbollah
Among the militant groups of the Middle East Hezbollah is perhaps the most well-known. Based in Lebanon, it has close links with Iran and seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon.
Ayatollah Khomeini
After the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini became the ‘Supreme Leader’ of the newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran. Until his death in 1989, he had the highest religious and political authority in the country.

Subjects

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