The most convincing evidence to date that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device” was detailed in an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on the nation’s nuclear program released on Nov. 8. Ten days later, 32 of the 35 countries on the IAEA’s board of governors adopted a resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear activities and calling on Tehran to “comply fully and without delay with its obligations under relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.”
The findings of the agency’s nuclear report have already rekindled a debate among Western allies and Israel about the actions to be taken to stop Iran’s nuclear program. There were multiple reports in Israel’s news media that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak were trying to rally support in the Cabinet for an attack on a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the centerpiece of Iran’s known nuclear fuel production, and related sites across Iran.
In response to the speculation about possible military action by Israel, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the Islamic republic was ready to deter any attack. Iran’s Fars news agency also quoted an Iranian lawmaker as saying that “Iranian militaries will fight with the Zionist soldiers in Tel Aviv streets” and make a battlefield of “the entire Europe and the US” if Israel were to launch military action agaisnt Iran. Over the years, Tehran has repeatedly vowed a crushing retaliation to any attacks by Israel or the US. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also said that Iran would not only target Israel, but also US ships and bases in the Persian Gulf.
So, why would Taiwan be concerned about this situation?
There are acute worries in Taiwan and elsewhere that military actions against Iran could set off a new war in the Middle East and cause a global economic catastrophe if it carried out its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. A horseshoe-shape stretch of water that separates Iran from Oman’s northern peninsula, the Strait of Hormuz is the only way in and out of the Persian Gulf. On a typical day, around 50 tankers carrying between 14 million and 17 million barrels of oil and oil products — roughly 40 percent of the world’s internationally traded supplies — pass through the 180km strait. If a war were to break out in the Gulf, the supply of oil and natural gas in the world would be disrupted and their prices would skyrocket.
Neither the administration of former US president George W. Bush nor of US President Barack Obama favor Israel’s plan of military action. In 2008, Bush turned down Israel’s request for such equipment and weapons — mid-air refueling planes and bunker-buster bombs — needed to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Experts at the Pentagon believe that Iran’s nuclear facilities are hidden deep underground and an airstrike would not do serious damage or slow down the program much, but could provoke Iran’s immediate crushing retaliation.
Instead, the US has relied on economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and sabotage. Efforts to sabotage the research and development of Iran’s nuclear program, most recently with the Stuxnet computer worm — reportedly a joint covert action by Israel and the US — have temporarily slowed Iran’s enrichment of uranium, but the IAEA report makes clear that those sanctions and sabotage have not forced Iran to stop its program.