Do US Missile Defense Plans Herald Iran Strike?
Russia charged last Friday that a unified missile defense system comprising the United States and six Arab states is a signal that a military strike on Iran could be on the horizon.
"The formation of the missile defense system is a new step to signal the possibility of a military strike on Iran, at least in a political context," Chairman Alexey Pushkov of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee said.
Pushkov was commenting on reports that the Pentagon has agreed to form a single missile defense system with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.
"A missile defense system is only needed in the event that Iran decides to retaliate, since there are no reasons to think that Iran would be the first to launch a strike all of a sudden," Pushkov said.
These latest developments come as the so-called P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – prepare for talks with Iran on April 13-14.
The talks will focus on Iran’s nuclear research activities, which Washignton, its European and Gulf Arab allies, and Israel believe are a cover for an illicit nuclear weapons program.
Tehran claims its nuclear program is 100-percent peaceful, but two recent reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency have buttressed Washington's claims.
IAEA officials have said Iran has sought – and likely continues to seek – nuclear technology of a military nature. They also sharply criticize Iran's systemic refusal to allow international inspectors access to their nuclear facilities.
As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the Islamic Republic is obligated to allow IAEA inspectors full access to facilities where nuclear work is done.
The new talks come as analysts say Israel will be entering a critical window of opportunity for a preemptive strike on Iran should the upcoming round of talks fail to yield tangible results.
Israeli officials have repeatedly expressed concern that Iran's nuclear program is reaching a "zone of immunity" in which its key uranium enrichment activities are so diffuse and well fortified as the be effectively invulnerable to attack.
Russian officials say Israel may be more inclined to launch a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons sites while the United States is occupied with its presidential election season, and President Barack Obama is not in a position to appear weak before the pro-Israeli Republican opposition.
Other factors, including Germany’s decision to sell six Dolphin-class submarines to the Israeli Navy – as well as US missile defense moves – also led to dour assessments of "a worst-case scenario" in Moscow.
"As you know, we have several scenarios on the table, among them the so-called military scenario of settling the Iranian problem,” Pushkov noted. “Judging by statements made by some countries, this military scenario is becoming increasingly probable."
Moscow has repeatedly expressed the concern that a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities could lead to a regional war that may spill across its own borders.
However, Pushkov expressed what could best be described as cautious optimism that a breakthrough may occur in the upcoming talks.
"Much will depend on the talks on Iran's problem," Pushkov told the Russian lawmakers. "Everyone hopes that these talks will be effective. But there is skepticism, too, given that the situation is not abating, but deteriorating, despite a flurry of political and diplomatic activity surrounding the Iranian problem.”
Early last month, a key advisor to Iran's Surpeme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei indicated Tehraan was willing to back away from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's belligerent nuclear stance.
Mohammad Javad Larijani said the West should accept Iran's "peaceful nuclear program," sell Iran 20 percent enriched uranium, and provide the customary assistance nuclear nations provide to those building nuclear power plants.
In return for cooperation from the West Iran would offer "full transparency," Larijani said.
He did not say Iran would halt uranium enrichment – a key demand by Jerusalem and Washington to avoid military strikes – but observers say the stipulation that the West provide 20% enriched uranium indicates Iran is open to doing so.