MARK ALMOND offers prediction of how Trump's strike could backfire

Now Iran WILL go nuclear: Defence expert MARK ALMOND offers a chilling prediction of how Donald Trump’s strike could backfire on us

History throws up moments of crisis when there are no good choices. Whatever happens following the assassination of Iran’s key commander Qassem Soleimani by the U.S., the risk of war — and nuclear destruction — is raised immeasurably.

At the root of the crisis lies America’s fear that Iran is bent on making atomic weapons.

It is a terrible irony that President Trump’s efforts to stop the country from doing so could now provoke the Ayatollahs in Iran to go for broke to get the Bomb — to protect themselves from further U.S. attacks and to threaten their regional rivals, especially Israel.

Clarity about American policy is essential at a time like this, to warn off the Iranians from rash revenge as well as to reassure Washington’s allies about what President Trump is intending.

Whatever happens following the assassination of Iran’s key commander Qassem Soleimani (centre) by the U.S., the risk of war — and nuclear destruction — is raised immeasurably

Yet the Pentagon only succeeded in spreading confusion when a letter implying it intended to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq was leaked on Monday.

Killing

It was drafted by a high-ranking military official, and even though the Pentagon immediately rowed back — denying any intention to evacuate their troops and blaming a misunderstanding — it raised the spectre that 17 years after invading Saddam’s Iraq, the U.S. Army was going to retreat.

This ‘misunderstanding’ will give succour to hardline Iranian leaders in Tehran who will see U.S. floundering as evidence of chaos at the White House.

Which, in turn, can only encourage them to press on with plans to use the killing of Soleimani to ‘complete his work’ in the Middle East — threatening Western interests and cementing the Iranian influence Trump abhors.

The sea of Soleimani’s mourners in Iran chanting ‘death to America’ as they trample each other in their frenzied grief looks like a country gripped by fever, but Iran’s leaders are coldly calculating revenge.

At the root of the crisis lies America’s fear that Iran is bent on making atomic weapons. Pictured: Donald Trump  

Once, it seemed there was method in President Trump’s madness when dealing with enemies. When he taunted Kim Jong-un, ridiculing him as ‘Little Rocket Man’, he showed he could use bluster to get the North Korean dictator to pause his nuclear tests.

But the killing of Soleimani and the Iraqi Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad is different. This is no longer sabre-rattling. The U.S. used a missile that detonated into 13,000 pieces of shrapnel.

What’s more, the assassination managed to seal an alliance in blood between Iran and Iraq, who only in the Eighties were fighting each other.

Iraqi Shia militias are up in arms after the U.S. airstrikes, and the Iraqi parliament on Sunday backed a resolution to order foreign forces out of the country.

The fact is that the 2003 Iraq War enabled Iran and Iraq to forge a new partnership after the West imposed regime change.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair liberated the Shia Muslim majority in Iraq from Saddam Hussein — who was a member of the bitterly opposed Sunni Muslims — and brought democracy to the country. But instead of opting for Western-style government, these Shia Iraqis instead voted for politicians who looked east, to Iran.

Soleimani’s body was returned to Iran on Sunday. People are seen carrying his casket upon arrival at Ahvaz International Airport in Tehran. The casket was greeted by chants of ‘Death to America’ as Iran issued new threats of retaliation

Britain alone spent an estimated £9 billion on the Iraq War, at a cost of around 200 British lives. The total cost to the U.S. was perhaps £2 trillion, and thousands of deaths.

In Iraq, the death toll was probably hundreds of thousands, and economic obliteration. Yet the result of it all has been that the West handed Iraq to America’s great enemy Iran, which shares a long border with the country.

Now, while Washington dithers between restarting a war Trump promised to end or pulling back from the chaos, Iran — with Iraq at its side — is preparing for the next round.

It boasts Soleimani’s death will lead to the withdrawal of Allied forces from Iraq. But any American exodus will embolden Iran’s hawks to step up aggression. Most dangerously, they will probably decide to build the nuclear bomb their Western-allied neighbours fear will be used on them.

Missiles

In May last year Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement Iran made in 2015 with President Barack Obama and the UN under which Tehran promised to halt production of enriched uranium in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions. Uranium is the essential element in making an atomic bomb similar to the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

What Trump complained about was that the deal left Iran free to carry on working on the detonators and missiles necessary to make a bomb deliverable. Facilities like the plant at Parchin in central Iran manufacture these non-nuclear components. These plants are often below ground. Probably only an American or Israeli atomic bomb could destroy them. But would the world accept using nuclear weapons to pre-empt Iran going nuclear?

Already Iran has announced it is planning to resume production of enriched uranium. This is done with spinning centrifuges little different from the methods used in the Forties. Conventional bombing might disable these machines.

But even before it manages to produce uranium, Iran could have access to another radioactive material used for atomic weapons — plutonium.

On the Iranian coast of the Persian Gulf, at Bushehr across the water from Kuwait, there is a Russian-built nuclear power station. Russian scientists control the nuclear fuel rods, which are periodically transported to Russia for reprocessing. The spent fuel is the raw material needed for nuclear warheads.

As I say, this plutonium is on Iranian soil. What if the Islamic Revolutionary Guard seized the spent fuel and spirited it away to a weapons lab?

Given President Vladimir Putin’s hostility to the West, they might not be too seriously upset to see the plutonium used to bully America

The Kremlin would be displeased, no doubt, if their scientists were forced at gunpoint to hand over the nuclear rods.

But, given President Vladimir Putin’s hostility to the West, they might not be too seriously upset to see the plutonium used to bully America. Within months, a plutonium device of appalling power could be assembled in Iran. Setting it off could be as easy as driving it into an American barracks in Iraq .

It’s possible too that the Iranians have been developing drones capable of lifting nuclear devices. We saw in the Iran-backed drone attack on a Saudi oil installation last year that it is nearly impossible to defend against these low-level flying machines.

The Israelis, constantly primed for a missile attack from Iran (whose Ayatollahs have repeatedly vowed to wipe their country off the map), have an effective anti-missile shield codenamed Iron Dome. But this might not work against drones.

Weapons

One nightmare scenario would be a blizzard of drones launched from western Iraq, now increasingly under Iranian control, over the Israeli border . . . with one carrying a plutonium bomb.

Facing such a threat, Israel might feel it has no choice but to strike first, hitting all Iran’s military facilities in airstrikes. But unless accompanied by a ground invasion of the scale that only the U.S. could launch, any airstrikes will only serve to redouble Iran’s intention to build atomic weapons and take revenge a generation later.

After all, say the hardliners, Trump would never have dared kill Soleimani if Tehran possessed the nuclear bomb. Kim Jong-un has carried on, protected by his nuclear arsenal.

The Iranians will not be satisfied until they have it, too.

  • Mark Almond is the director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford.

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