My latest at Pajamas Media is up and it’s on the revelation that Iran has constructed another enrichment facility despite their protestations to the contrary.
The question asks itself: why would a nation that claims to be interested only in the nuclear fuel cycle hide a facility capable of secretly enriching uranium to the 85-90% level necessary to construct a bomb?
Nothing Iran has ever publicly said about the extent of its nuclear program has ever proven to be true. The have brazenly and repeatedly lied about matters vital to the peace and security of the world.
What’s the “world” going to do about it?
Why should anyone believe the Iranians when they claim they have no interest in constructing a bomb? And if no one believes them, then the world has two choices: try and prevent Iran from developing a bomb or learn to live with them possessing it.
Obviously, the milquetoast Security Council sanctions we have applied to Iran previously have failed to convince them to stop their drive to build nuclear weapons — or at least develop the capability to build them in a matter of months. Searching for a solution short of war, Western nations will now seek much tougher sanctions against the regime in hopes that it will bring concessions by Iran at the bargaining table in Geneva, where talks are scheduled to begin on October 1.
The major element of any new sanctions will almost certainly be a cutoff by the world to Iran of refined gasoline. Despite sitting on a sea of oil, the Iranians import about 40% of their fuel needs from abroad. Such a cutoff would not only bring the Iranian economy to a standstill; it would more than likely feed the discontent already boiling over in the streets as a result of the stolen election last summer.
I believe President Obama has handled this the correct way, although I think some hard questions should be asked of our intel people whose National Intelligence Estimates appear to be quaintly naive about Iranian intentions to build a bomb.
The fact that the Iranians have lied, and lied some more, and lied again about the extent of their enrichment program is pretty damning evidence that they are trying to hide something. There really is only one logical - and safe - conclusion to reach; the regime is trying to surreptitiously develop the capability to construct a nuclear weapon.
I hasten to add that this does not mean they are close to possessing a nuclear weapon. As I have pointed out previously, many experts believe a likely scenario is for Iran to enrich enough uranium for several bombs at the 5% level suitable for commercial reactors while secretly developing the infrastructure (a secret “pilot enrichment plant?”) to have the capability of enriching that uranium to the 85-90% bomb-grade level so that they could rapidly construct a bomb in a crisis. It is thought that Japan and perhaps other nations have this capability but for obvious reasons, haven’t advertised it.
The non-enrichment activities relating to bomb infrastructure could be conducted without western knowledge. Bomb and warhead design, missile development, and assembling other parts of the bomb would only be discovered by luck - as it happened two years ago when we penetrated the Iranian computer network (thanks to a lost laptop) and discovered that until 2003, this other activity was going on and no one was any the wiser.
But the president did well to keep this information secret. As did Bush before him. It was a nice little tidbit that would have proven invaluable either as a stick to beat the Iranians with if nuclear talks were ever to materialize, or as an inducement for additional sanctions against Iran if the need arose.
Now, apparently, we are going to use this information in both scenarios. Russia is appears ready to support more serious sanctions while the talks that start next week with Iran just got a lot more interesting thanks to this revelation.
But my question in the title stands; is the world about to get serious about denying Iran nuclear weapons?
Perhaps. It all depends on how far Russia will go with sanctions, and how far Obama is willing to push the Iranians. Would the Russians join a general boycott of supplying gasoline to the regime? Iran imports 40% of its gas so such a sanction would be stiff indeed. There is already legislation in Congress that would make such an action American policy with the added stinger of preventing the US government from doing any business with any nation that supplied the Iranians with refined gas.
But both Russia and China could easily circumvent such a sanction which is why if there is an attempt to impose this on the Security Council, the Russians will probably refuse to go so far. They might support restrictions on refined gasoline but not a total ban.
In this sense, the world is not going to get serious about stopping the Iranians which brings us to what Israel is going to do about it.
Netanyahu’s instinct is to bomb. But he just as clearly is willing to give the international community a chance to see if their negotiations/sanctions strategy can do the trick. I think a ban on refined gas could result in regime change in Iran. But since that is not likely to happen (and even if there was regime change, the chances are good that a government just as hostile to Israel as this one would emerge), the only hope to avoid a catastrophe for us and for the world that would result from an Iran-Israel war is for a solid phalanx of big powers to make it clear to Iran that their enrichment program is unacceptable and that a strict, draconian inspection and verification regime must be put in place and enforced by the Security Council.
Now that we know about at least this one covert facility, it is the time to reach a deal with Iran about placing a multinational enrichment facility on Iranian soil. This may seem paradoxical, but such a facility is the best way of ensuring that Iran cannot set up other secret enrichment facilities later. We obviously now know that “suspension” is not the answer; they can use the freedom such inactivity gives their workers to setup new plants outside the prying IAEA inspectors’ view. We need to be with the Iranian scientists and engineers 24 hours a day, seven days a week to understand what they are doing. Of course, the first step will be to require lists of workers at both the covert and overt enrichment plants as well as enough supporting documentation (shift schedules, pay stubs, payroll accounts come immediately to mind) to instill confidence in the West that we know everyone who has worked there. Of course, while we are checking those documents, Westerners can be working in the plants; keeping an eye on those already there. They could start that tomorrow.
This revelation of a covert facility might be just the bargaining chip the West needs to force the measures necessary to build up confidence Iran is not establishing other secret plants.
Would anything be worse than war with Iran? John McCain and others believe that the only thing more dire than war would be Iran actually possessing nuclear weapons. I agree - in theory. But in an imperfect world, it is perhaps inevitable that imperfect solutions to problems present themselves. The world can’t operate in the theoretical. And any open causus belli by Iran is not likely; no nuke tests, no parading nuclear tipped Shahab missiles down the streets of Tehran. For that reason, the world will never believe that Israel - or the US - would be justified in bombing Iranian nuclear facilities.
So we are left with trying to stop the Iranians through negotiations and sanctions. They might work. More probably not. But let’s deal with failure if and when it occurs, planning for any eventuality while keeping in mind Iranian past duplicity when sitting down with their representatives next week.