Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Meanwhile, Back in Tehran

While Americans remain transfixed on "Weinergate," and the Middle East focuses on revolts in places like Yemen and Syria, Iran is edging closer to its first nuclear weapon.

Two new reports, released in recent days, say Tehran may be only two months away from being able to create a nuclear bomb. From Peter Goodspeed of Canada's National Post:

Using data released last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles and the operations of its nuclear program, U.S. weapons expert Gregory Jones calculates it could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb in just eight weeks.

And here's another sobering assessment. According to Mr. Jones, there is nothing the U.S. or Israel can do to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons--short of a military occupation. Since the odds of that happening are virtually nil, Jones believes an Iranian bomb is a foregone conclusion.

“The reality is that both the U.S. and Israel have failed to prevent Iran from gaining the ability to produce nuclear weapons whenever Iran wishes to do so. It is time to recognize this policy failure and decide what to do next, based on a realistic assessment of Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Rand Corporation, (where Mr. Jones works as a part-time researcher) which has released its own, similarly pessimistic report on the Iranian nuclear program.

“Iran today has largely acquired the materials, equipment and technology needed to develop a nuclear weapon,” the RAND report says.

“International efforts to control exports and interdict trade can now only hope to slow Iran’s progress and possibly deny it the specific technologies needed, for example, for nuclear warhead miniaturization and for mating a warhead on a missile.”

The goal of U.S. foreign policy should now shift to dissuade Iran from taking the next step of making a weapon, the study says, adding if that fails, Washington should have a back-up strategy to deter a nuclear-armed Iran.

“It is not clear that Iran has made the decision to create actual nuclear weapons,” it goes on. “Three future nuclear postures are possible: (1) Iran could achieve a ‘virtual capability’ by developing the know-how and infrastructure to assemble a nuclear weapon but stopping there, (2) It could develop nuclear weapons but leave this capability ambiguous, or (3) it could acquire nuclear weapons and declare their existence through withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or by conducting a nuclear test.”

Authors of the Rand study believe the U.S. can still influence events in Iran, using a mix of sanctions, military pressure and "incentives" to "lower the perception of a military threat."

Obviously, those tactics stand little chance for success--assuming that the U.S. and its allies could actually agree on some kind of comprehensive strategy for dealing with the problem. Sadly, the international community lost focus on the Iranian nuclear issue, and Tehran made the most of that opportunity.

Reading between the lines of the two reports, there seems to be a suggestion that (perhaps) the West (and Israel) will have to "learn to live" with an Iranian bomb. That proposal has been floated before, and quickly rejected as "unthinkable." The notion of a nuclear-armed Iran is still unacceptable. Trouble is, no one in the west has even offered a viable regimen that would prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb, or creating significant delays in its development program. And time is clearly running out.


ADDENDUM: If Mr. Jones's timeline is accurate, it suggests that highly-publicized cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities did not inflict as much damage as first reported. Initial claims suggests the carefully-engineered cyber strikes might have delayed Tehran's nuclear efforts for several years. Those assessments may have been overly-optimistic, at best.

UPDATE//7 June// Then, there's this bit of disturbing propaganda from Iran, courtesy of the UK Guardian, via Drudge. A Revolutionary Guards website has posted a rather unusual (some would say stunning) article, anticipating world reaction to an Iranian nuclear test. As Julian Borger of the Guardian observes, the piece breaks an important taboo. Iran has long claimed its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes, but the article clearly describes responses to a weapons test by Tehran.

One thing is certain: the post isn't the work of some obscure IRCG functionary. Placing such an inflammatory article on a Revolutionary Guards' web site required the permission of high-ranking officials within the organization, and likely, the upper levels of the regime. Their purpose is clear: to assure the Iranian populace that a nuclear test is coming, and life will go on, as normal, after the device is detonated. Tehran has apparently calculated that neither the U.S. or Israel will respond.

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