Many of you may be too young to remember an Iranian Nuclear bomb test in 2003 on December 26th! And one year later there was a joint Israeli+Indian Nuclear bomb test in 2004 on the same calendar day in the Indian ocean.
Both events were whitewashed because the consequences of the truth coming out would have been to too devastating for everyone.
In the first case the Iranian nuclear bomb test was called the “Bam Earthquake”. U.S. offered direct humanitarian assistance to Iran and in return the state promised to comply with an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency which supports greater monitoring of its nuclear interests. In total a reported 44 countries sent in personnel to assist in relief operations and 60 countries helped. At least 26,000 were killed and a further 30,000 were injured and over 100,000 Iranians were left homeless with the City of Bam essentially destroyed. Despite the huge loss of human life, the main objective of the test was to ward off an invasion of Iran (which was on the drawing board after the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq). And it worked.
Why no-one at the time asked what an “earthquake” had to do with the International Atomic Energy Agency – I don’t know? But the rumor was that Iran had acquired 13 nuclear warheads on the black market from Ukraine (after Russia splintered). And, what is now clear is that Iran has reverse engineered those war heads and only lacks the raw materials to make more materials. Iran has already successfully built and tested long-range missiles to deliver those warheads for decades now. Thus, it is only by limiting Iran’s access to key raw materials for a nuclear bomb that the global community can reduce the risk of use of these weapons. And this was precisely the goal in negotiating the JCPOA (which Trump pissed on)!
But exactly one year later, in response (and as a signal to Iran), both Israel and India (under a longstanding joint nuclear cooperation agreement) decided to test a nuclear bomb in the Indian Ocean. It was dubbed (i.e. white-washed) as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake but had an energy estimated at 1.1×1017 joules (110 PJ; 26 Mt). This energy is equivalent to over 1,500 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, but less than the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated. The total physical work done was equivalent to 9,600 Gigatons of TNT equivalent (550 million times that of Hiroshima) or about 370 years of energy use in the United States at 2005 levels of 1.08×1020 joules (108 EJ). The only recorded earthquakes with a larger MW were the 1960 Chilean and 1964 Alaskan quakes, with 2.5×1023 joules (250 ZJ) and 7.5×1022 joules (75 ZJ), respectively!! Some earthquake – right?
Apparently the test itself in the Indian Ocean went reasonably well, but it pushed down a tectonic plate that resulted in a seesaw action with another plate lifting at a point near Sumatra (Indonesia), and resulted in a massive Tsunami – that killed over 227,000 people in surrounding countries (from Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia etc.). It was one of the worst ‘disasters’ in human history. Interestingly, Israel was among the leading nations in spearheading relief activity in Muslim Indonesia! One huge result of this nuclear test was that the global community made the limiting of Iran’s nuclear program a priority. Hence the multi-lateral effort that led to the JCPOA. Also, limiting the presence of rogue nukes around the world also became a priority – with programs sweeping up Nukes in Uzbekistan, and other former Soviet Republics.
However recently, the US walked out of the JCPOA. And this past year on November 27, 2020, Israel engineered a very public assassination of Brigadier General Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the chairman of the Field for the Expansion of Deployment of Advanced Technology (FEDAT), the cover name for the organization running Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And on January 3rd, 2020 the US (with Israeli intelligence assistance) assassinated Major General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, the commander of Iran’s Qods Force (one of the five branches of Islamic Republic’s Guard Corps) responsible for operations outside Iran (notably Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen). Iran’s regime has been humiliated, and highly compromised.
This period in the winter is clearly a very sensitive period for Iran’s regime. There are many anniversaries to think about!! Those that know Iranians, know that they are a very proud nation. This type of humiliation will be very hard for the regime to accept. Thus, the regime must respond in some way to all these assassinations, right?
What would you do if you were sitting Tehran – trying to figure out what to do?
Well, it is my view that Iran needs to send a clear signal that its Nuclear program is not dead or ‘killable’ with the assassination of any one person. And at the same time respond in some fashion to these series of assassinations. Also, Iran needs to send a signal to the rest of the world that in the absence of the JCPOA and on-going sanctions, it can be very potent. That is provide the Biden administration with clear motivations to ‘get back to the agreement’.
I believe some sort of a nuclear test – whitewashed again as an earthquake – must surely be in the cards. And both Israel and the US may have some intelligence that such an event is imminent and need to be ready to respond. In fact, I would go further and suggest that Iran has already informed them of their intentions to test a weapon. That is given them plenty of notice – enough notice for both the US and Israel to have sent their nuclear submarines to the Persian Gulf. Note that both vessels entered the Persian Gulf above surface water giving a clear signal back to Iran.
So now, the only question is will Iran go ahead with its planned test and where exactly is Iran’s test going to be tomorrow? Might there be an earthquake under the green zone in Baghdad? Might there be an earthquake in the Persian Gulf in international waters near Dubai? What sort of disruption might change US and Israeli calculus with respect to the regime in Iran? I have no idea, so let’s see!