Via the Jerusalem Post comes the disturbing assessment by Israeli intelligence that Iran will be able to begin enriching uranium on a “military scale” by next year:
With Iran racing forward with its nuclear program, Israel now believes the Islamic Republic will master centrifuge technology and be able to begin enriching uranium on a military scale this year, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The new assessment moves up Israel’s forecasts on Teheran’s nuclear program by almost a full year – from 2009 to the end of 2008. According to the new timeline, Iran could have a nuclear weapon by the middle of next year.
Iran, a senior defense official said on Tuesday, had encountered numerous technical obstacles on its way to enriching uranium but was now on track to master the technology needed to enrich uranium within six months.
Israel is also concerned that Teheran is developing a cruise missile that can evade interception by the Arrow, the IDF’s anti-ballistic missile defense system. Iran is suspected of having smuggled Ukrainian X-55 cruise missiles and using them as models for an independent, domestic project. A cruise missile, which flies at low altitudes to dodge radar detection and interception, could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.
Our own intelligence estimate, of course, says that Iran isn’t even trying to build a bomb. But could the Mossad’s evidence cause us to amend that NIE? This also from the J-Post quoting the London Sunday Times:
Mossad chief Meir Dagan is expected to brief Britain’s MI6 head Sir John Scarlett, who is slated to visit Israel later this month, on an intelligence breakthrough regarding the Iranian nuclear program, London’s Sunday Times reported.
Concern has been mounting in Israel that Iran’s nuclear capability may be far more advanced than was recognized by the US National Intelligence Estimate last December, which reported that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 in response to international pressure.
A source quoted by the paper on Sunday claimed that the new information was on par with intelligence that led to the discovery and destruction of a partly constructed nuclear reactor in Syria last September.
Israeli officials believe the US will revise its analysis of Iran’s program.
“We expect the Americans to amend their report soon,” a high-ranking military officer said last week.
In the interest of fairness (and because I enjoy confusing my readers) allow me to quote extensively from a post on Arms Control Wonk in March that talked about a disturbing report from Janes Defense Weekly about what is going on behind the scenes of the Iranian nuclear program:
Documents shown exclusively to Jane’s indicate that Iran is continuing its pursuit of the advanced technologies necessary to develop a nuclear weapon, regardless of Tehran’s claims that its nuclear programme is purely peaceful. Jane’s was shown the information by a source connected to a Western intelligence service, and the documents were verified by a number of reliable independent sources in Vienna.
These documents purport to show that:
...an organisation within the Iranian MoD has actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years, in parallel with developments within the Atomic Energy Authority of Iran.
The article further states that since 2000 Iran has tested these detonators and found them “good enough” for a nuclear weapon (it also discusses the organization of Iran’s nuclear programme but that’s for a different post).
But to show you the ambiguity inherent in even a report like that, I quote Dr. Lewis and his analysis of this news:
Well, the development of multipoint detonation systems isn’t by itself proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons (let’s skip over the question of whether it really is sensible for the international community to demand proof as opposed to good evidence of wrong doing). As this patent from the US government shows, there are legitimate (largely military) reasons for developing explosive devices which involve multiple initiators.
My guess-and I am not certain-is that a multipoint detonation system can be unambiguously associated with nuclear weapons if its “jitter time” (that is, the time spread of the detonations) is particularly small. My knowledge of the pre-1991 Iraqi programme gives us some idea how simultaneous the detonations in a nuclear weapon need to be-Iraq aimed for a jitter time of less than 1 microsecond and ended up measuring it in nanoseconds. However, I don’t know for certain whether there is a legitimate application that requires the same degree of simultaneity. Sounds like an interesting problem to tackle properly when I get some time.
As you can see, Lewis is not entirely convinced that the detonators are used for the exclusive purpose of setting off a nuclear weapon. It is this kind of uncertainty that makes any decision to go after the Iranian nuclear infrastructure so problematic.
Who or what should we believe of Iran’s nuclear program? No one doubts Iran’s desire to possess a nuclear weapon. But are they really capable of overcoming the immense technical obstacles to build a bomb and a delivery system to threaten Israel as well as our allies in the region?
We can’t just dismiss these questions and then bomb hell out of Iran. An attack on the Iranians would bring far reaching and unseen consequences to not only our own security but the security of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other states in the region.
Others, like our own State Department and intelligence establishment, may have the luxury of burying their heads in the sand and pretending the problem doesn’t exist. But Israel cannot afford to do so – not without the potential for catastrophic consequences.
We know that the Iranians are making good progress in enriching uranium to the 5% level suitable for use in a nuclear reactor. Their facility at Nantanz is gearing up to double its centrifuge capacity which would increase their ability to enrich more raw uranium at a faster rate.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (who it should be noted have yet to prevent any country who wished to build a bomb from going nuclear) is monitoring the Iranian program but still have questions about their intent.
The Europeans for the most part are siding with us – as long as we don’t bomb Iran. Gordon Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel all agree that the Iranian program poses a very serious threat to the west and have gone along so far with the US both at the UN and rhetorically as well.
But as far as actually addressing the threat, precious little has been done besides some ineffective sanctions imposed by the Security Council and equally ineffective jawboning by IAEA chief ElBaradei. In effect, the Iranians are getting away with whatever they are doing because they are able to stonewall the international community on what their intentions are.
All of this makes bombing more likely with its concomitant consequences staring us in the face. But as long as China and Russia keep handing the Iranians matches as they run toward the gasoline dump, there is precious little the world can do except stand by and watch the endgame scenario play out.
One of us – Israel or the United States – will almost certainly be compelled to bomb the Iranian nuclear infrastructure – unless the world community, including Russia and China, make a 180 degree turn regarding the seriousness with which they take the Iranian program. It probably will not happen this year. But once Iran is capable of enriching uranium by the pound rather than the gram, expect a countdown in Tel Aviv or Washington to begin.
Which man will you want sitting in the White House when this decision has to be made?
Note: Much of this post originally appears in The American Thinker