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About the Author

Luan Galani
Science & Development Journalist (Curitiba, Brazil)

A twenty-something eternal apprentice who has a passionate interest in what happens around him. Fascinated by the under-reported, he refuses to be a detached observer and never tires of exploring the untold. His long-life dream is reporting from conflict zones to dig up the underbelly side of war.


HISTORY’S BOOMERANG: Iraq, Iran and Brazil’s nuclear programmes

Published 05th July 2010 - 14 comments - 68535 views -

History repeats itself just like a boomerang, showing our incapability of learning from experience. Let us take the examples of Iraq and Iran’s nuclear programmes and their striking reverberations (in the 1980s and 2010, respectively). More, Iran is now where Brazil was 30 years ago.

Frozen in its modernity, the ancient Persian land nurtures a regime challenging the great powers of our time. The West suspects Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at making weapons.

Iran insists it is solely designed to meet its energy needs.

However, it is not palpably clear. The Iranian regime holds out against inspections and in spite of the fact that Brazil and Turkey got a nuclear fuel-swap deal, Iran keeps insisting on enriching uranium (based on statements of Ahmadinejad).

In this dicey landscape, Brazil has put itself into the crucial interests of the ambitious giants interested in the conservation (just for a few) of the technological control of the lethal nuclear capacity.

Brazil takes off with a leading diplomatic role in risky international issues that sits outside its normal sphere of diplomatic influence (check this link! It is definitely worth reading). But the present situation presented us with a reality difficult to swallow: the world is fair more complex than the Brazilian foreign policy’s voluntarism.

Surprisingly, this conundrum-like situation around Iran is not new in the world history, neither the double standards of public opinion nor some governments’ hypocritical actions.

And all of it has to do with the MDGs, as governance, diplomacy and political positions are inserted.

Let us call a halt and put the clock the company of some cartoons, as usual.

Iraqi nuclear turn

Early in 1980, the Israeli Government’s worst fears – that an unstable Arab regime such as Iraq would acquire nuclear weapons – were realised. President Saddam Hussein had constructed a nuclear plant at Osirak, near Baghdad, and it was his declared intention to use the bomb against Israel.

The Israeli attack and destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor south-east of Baghdad at Tuwaitha in 1981 materialized as a turning-point in Middle East relations. For the first time in modern history, a successful pre-emptive attack had been made on a nuclear installation. It was not only the first attack on a nuclear reactor – although not fully operative – but was also the first-ever attempt to disarm and prevent by force the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The possibility of such pre-emptive nuclear attacks had previously been discussed in other countries. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, for instance, the US had considered numerous plans to attack and destroy the Soviet Union’s capacity to become a nuclear power. But it was seen as too frightening.

Ironically, history repeated itself with similar results in the mid and late 1960s when the Soviet Union itself considered and barely rejected the possibility of a nuclear pre-emptive strike to destroy the nuclear weapons research programme of the People’s Republic of China. No doubt Pakistan and India have also considered the possibility of launching a pre-emptive attack on each other’s nuclear research centres and facilities to destroy each other’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

Iraq has played a major role in three Arab wars against Israel. It participated both in the Arab League’s invasion of Palestine in 1948 and in the 1967 war, and in 1973 it sent troops to fight along with the Syrians and Jordanians on the Eastern front. Unlike any other Arab state directly at war with Israel, the Iraqis have consistently and stubbornly refused even to consider the conclusion of a cease-fire or armistice agreement with Israel. At the end of each of their conflicts, the Iraqis simply withdrew their forces far back into the homeland and reappeared on the scene whenever a new war broke out. Iraq was, therefore, the only Arab state in a permanent state of war with Israel.

The Israelis have also been afraid of the possibility that Iraq in its apparently irrational behaviour could have given a nuclear bomb to a terrorist group which could in turn use it to blackmail Israel or any other Western state in order to put pressure.

The Iraqi regime was known, in particular since General Kassem’s overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, to be an extremely aggressive and irrational one – a reputation enhanced under the leadership of President Hussein in the late 1970s. Iraq got into many conflicts not only with Israel but also with the Syrian Ba’ath government; it continued its war of aggression against the Kurdish minority; and in the autumn of 1980, launched a surprise attack against Iran.

So, the Israeli government had – from its own point of view, and based on Iraq’s conduct of its foreign affairs – a legitimate right to be afraid of the Iraqi government’s accelerated nuclear programme. To be sure this was a direct threat not only to Israel but also to other neighbouring countries such as Iran with whom Iraq was involved in war over the Shatt al Arab and Kurdistan; with Syria it was embroiled in an ideological dispute as well as the much explosive issue of the future sharing of the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris; Kwait felt threatened by Iraq more than once and in fact was saved by the British from an invasion in the early 1960s; Saudi Arabia was obviously afraid of Iraqi power and expansion from the north and from the threat of Iraqi intervention in its domestic affairs; Egypt was apprehensive of Iraqi leadership in the campaign against the Camp David agreements and from Iraq’s aspiration to be the hegemonic power in the Arab World – an aspiration that certainly would have been enhanced had the Iraqis been the first Arab country to acquire nuclear weapons.

Indirectly, the interests of the great powers may have been threatened as well by the danger to the Middle East, and hence also world stability. The superpowers have always been afraid of being dragged into a nuclear confrontation and catalytic war by a miscalculation or unexpected escalation of nuclear confrontation between the smaller states.

This, however, was not the case with the French and Italians. Both countries have been ready and keen to increase their share of business with Iraq (and both have made very large weapons deals with Iraq) and to secure regular supplies of Iraqi oil at advantageous prices (an effort negated by the outbreak of the Iraq-Iranian War). France was selling at that time no less than a quarter of all its arms to Iraq. One way or another the French government, in particular the newly-elected Socialist government of François Mitterand, has had good reason to feel guilty and find a good excuse to back out of the project before it was too late.

Israel’s nuclear efforts starting in the late 1950s were a means of protecting the Jewish state and changing Arab attitudes towards Israel. However, it is now clear it did not bear fruit.

The future of the conundrum

Considering all that above paraphrased from the book "Two minutes over Baghdad", the indicators lead us to believe that an Israeli air strike against Iran reactors seems to be just a matter of time.

Also, the acquisition of nuclear weapons can no longer be avoided. It appears inevitable. That is the impact of a long nuclear race triggered off by Israel. An approach that proved itself to be wrong.

The Middle East is not stable. And the conflicts have not been only between Israel and the Arab States, but also between the Arab States themselves (excluding Iran, since most Iranians are Caucasians). Between Iran and Iraq; Iraq and Syria; Syria and the Lebanon; Egypt and Libya; Algeria and Morocco, and so on.

Even if a regional balance of terror could be created and even controlled by mutual understanding or even limited collaboration the dangers would still be present. The only way to avoid a nuclear disaster there is achieving a peace acceptable to all before proliferation takes place.

Even today some countries pay a bitter price for past interferences in Iran. The original sin of America with Iran was committed in 1953, with the coup that made Mossadegh step down. It led to the siege of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979, because that would be the place, in revolutionaries’ vision, where the countercoup would come from.

Brazil nuclear programme

What Iran is doing now was what Brazil did. Brazil tried for many years to acquire such knowledge that may lead to nuclear weapons.

We tried it but were blocked by the US between 1976 and 1978 (we were living a dictatorship here). Brazil thus developed a parallel nuclear programme, mastered the technology, dominated the uranium enrichment – which now will allow Brazil to have nuclear propulsion submarines –, burst then into international authorities’ offices and said: ‘We are good boys, we are disposed to sign all treaties that limit the dissemination of these technologies and now we play in your team’.

(Nuclear centre of Almirante Álvaro Alberto, in Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Sturm.)

Iran is doing exactly the same. Well, not the very same…as it is being done under the table.

Brazil ascended to a very important position in the international scenery specially for respecting the rules imposed. “I said I will not make bombs, then I will not. I said I have technology, then I will not transfer it for others”, and so on.

Iran is where Brazil was thirty years ago.

Therefore, all this is not new. We have to learn not to take the very same blindly wrong decisions. We can not adhere to what press says in general, as most of it paves the way for more sanctions and war, exactly like happened with Iraq’s case.

What about learning from such past experiences regarding this issue? What do you TH!NK?

(Featured image by CBC)

Category: Politics | Tags: mossadegh, osirak, iraq, iran,


  • Luan Galani on 05th July 2010:

    Oh, for those on tenterhooks to read my immersion, I assure you it will come soon. I haven’t posted it so far because I had to go back to get new pictures. I had some problem in my camera. So, soon you will have it…

  • Johan Knols on 05th July 2010:

    Nice post Luan!

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 05th July 2010:

    Insightful post again Luan. Thanks for this. Why, I wonder, do we allow history to repeat itself. It does happen all too often here in my country, too.

  • Luan Galani on 05th July 2010:

    Thanks for the comments guys. Always most welcome.

    @Iris, I do not know exactly why it happens, of course. However, I believe it happens because history is made by us, humans. And humans are in general so foreseeable…our wisdom equalize itself with our stupidity. A great movie shows it: ‘Planet of the Apes’ (the first production). It is rife in Brazil too…

    Keep comments coming!

  • Bart Knols on 06th July 2010:

    Marvellous post - the type of stuff we need on TH!NK3!

  • Luan Galani on 06th July 2010:

    Thanks Bart. I always try to do as best I can.

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 13th July 2010:

    The anti-nucelar power activist have always pointeed out that anny country with nucelar power are only miniscule steps away form nuclear weapons. Unfortunately there is much truth in that - and that is why the west is so weary about Iran having nuclear power. Even if it was built for peaceful use there is no way to guarantee that it wills tay that way..

    And isn’t this the way that every country has gotten nucleaqr weapons? There is a good deal of hypocrisy when the west builds nuclear bombs, and later decides that no one eles can use them. Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but should Pakistan? Or Israel? Or Brazil?

    I am sceptical about an Israli strike at Iran. That would most likely lead to some sort of revolution in Iran, and make the country much more friendly to the west. And if Iran wasn’t a rough state, it would be very easy to tell Israeli to either give up on the settlers, or lose support from the west. And no Israeli government would want that to happen.

  • Luan Galani on 15th July 2010:

    You do have a point! And I couldn’t agree more with you on your two first paragraphs. “There is a good deal of hypocrisy when the west builds nuclear bombs, and later decides that no one eles can use them”. You said all. That is it.

    I’m a bit sceptical as well, but, if such air strike come to happen, I will not be surprised at all. I hope for some revolution to take place in Iran. But, mind you, the most important has already happened. Do you remember the protests in the elections? That’s the biggest revolution of all: the revolution of the souls. Our dear Iran’s head of state can not control such feelings of freedom. No way…

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 15th July 2010:

    Yes. It was a very hopeful moment, and I was deeply saddened when the revolution was so brutally repressed. But I think that the situation in Iran will cahnge within years - it simply can not be like it is now.

    And eventually also teh Israel - Palestine situation will sbe solved into something positive, but when?

    You are right that even if an airstrike is unlikely, there is always a risk.

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