Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Iran, Politics, WORLD POLITICS — Rick Moran @ 6:10 am

Steve Hynd over at Newshoggers has a post up that tackles the question of the nature of the Iranian nuclear program.

The post should be read in its entirety but Mr. Hynd has a 12-point rebuttal to those who believe the Iranian program is on a “parallel fuel cycle” whose ultimate goal is to develop at least the capability of constructing a nuclear weapon.

Let’s restate it: Iran has enough LEU to hypothetically further enrich into HEU and build a bomb…but:

1) As soon as they begin doing so, the IAEA’s inspection regimen will notice and raise the red flag.

2) Iran couldn’t finish enriching that HEU for a bomb until 2013 at the earliest…even if it started tomorrow.

3) There’s no indication Iran has a working design for a weapon to put that hypothetical HEU in.

4) There’s no indication that the Iranians have the know-how to make that hypothetical bomb small enough to fit on a missile.

5) There’s no indication the Iranians have a missile good enough to throw that hypothetical small-enough bomb even as far as Israel.

6) It would still be only one bomb. Israel has hundreds and the Iranian leadership are not suicidal.

7) DNI Blair has stated that Iran has shown no sign it wishes to do all this in any case and is probably looking for a “virtual capacity” to build a bomb as a deterrent factor against external aggressors rather than looking to own nukes in truth.

8) The next head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, has said that he sees no sign in IAEA official documents that Iran is trying to develop a bomb.

10) Mohammed El Baradei, the current IAEA head, has said:

Nobody is sitting in Iran today developing nuclear weapons. Tehran doesn’t have an ongoing nuclear weapons program. But somehow, everyone in the West is talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world. In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped.

11) All the documentation the U.S. has provided to the IAEA showing previous Iranian weaponization attempts is dodgy. Today, El Baradei said of that documentation:

If this information is real, there is a high probability that nuclear weaponization activities have taken place,’ he said. ‘But I should underline ‘if’ three times.’

12) The conclusion from this is that any Iranian pre-2003 experiments were all lab-scale or purely theoretical and designed to forward a strategy of possessing a “virtual deterrent” such as Japan’s - the ability to build a bomb within a fairly short time frame if and only if they are attacked first. In that case, I’m simply not worried - let Iran keep its secrets.

I responded in the comments:

You have made the case against an Iranian bomb program as well as it can be made.

However, your critique - as well as any analysis that seeks to prove the opposite - is based on reading intent. Our national technical means are not capable of doing so, hence the fog surrounding the issue.

You may not have seen the NY Times piece this morning on the tremendous internal row going on at the IAEA over Iranian intent and the evidence that they are, at the least, trying to secure the capability to construct a bomb within 6 months of withdrawing from the NPT and kicking inspectors out of the country:


Some excellent background on the internal politics of this via the wonks:


Apparently, some in the IAEA who belong to the faction who thinks Iran is wanting to build a bomb have been pressing for the release of this unfinished report because it buttresses the case that the facility at Qom is the tip of the iceberg of secret sites that give the Iranians a “parallel fuel cycle” capability:


I am no expert but when arms control and non-proliferation types are worried, I think we should at least pay attention to what they’re saying.

Specifically,as to your points above, a couple of observations:

1. Correct. As long as the LEU comes from Natanz. Your entire critique, in fact, is based on the logical notion that all major nuclear work is under inspection. I hope you’re right. But the existence of the Qom facility has set off a new search for all sorts of labs and plants (as well as additional sources of processed ore). That link above to the chance of a parallel fuel cycle posits the idea that the logic of a secret enrichment facility dictates that other secret facilities exist.

2. Heh - talk about iffy. Continuing the fuel cycle to achieve 85-90% enrichment would take a lot less than 4 years - more like 18 months if the current expansion of centrifuge capacity at Natanz continues. Of course, this presupposes the IAEA being kicked out and withdrawal by Iran from the NPT.

3. How much should be assumed of the Iranian program? We wouldn’t have a clue (unless we penetrated the Iranian program) whether they are modeling bomb designs or not. Should we assume they are? Should we assume that the close relationship they had with AQ Khan means they have a Pakistani design signed, sealed, and delivered?

4. Jackpot. They are years away from marrying any weapon with the Shahab II or III.

5. Yeah, but they are improving with every test.

6. This is true assuming there are indeed “rational actors” in Iran. All depends on this, actually - Israel’s calculations as well as the west’s. If true, then containment and deterrence can work. If not? If Israel comes to the alternate conclusion, they will bomb.In a nation the size of New Jersey, one or two nukes could literally destroy them. Yes Iran would also be destroyed - but if religious fanaticism enters into policy, all bets are off.

7. Japan has all but admitted a similar “virtual capacity” as you point out later. Question: Does that make Iran any less dangerous if true?

8-11: Read the wonks post above about the internal politics at the IAEA. ElBaradei has blown hot and cold about Iranian nukes for years - as he did with Saddam’s “WMD.” The consummate bureaucrat, he has had to deal with these factions for years. If I wanted to spend the time googling, I’m sure I could come up with a statement that contradicts the one you have above.

12.This is simply unknowable. Logic points to your conclusion being at least partly correct, but logic, while useful, cannot penetrate the hearts and minds of the Iranian leadership. I doubt we will ever see Iran conducting a nuclear test a la North Korea. But the real possibility of a parallel fuel cycle that we don’t know about with the secret infrastructure to make a bomb happen (and a fanaticism that might make logic of any kind moot) dictates that we must assume the worst and act accordingly.

I would add for those unfamiliar with my stand on military action, that I oppose bombing for the simple reason that it would involve consequences that not justify any temporary benefit that would accrue from slowing down the Iranian drive to go nuclear. In short, the probability that we would have to go back and bomb them again in a matter of months because we weren’t aware of important targets is very high - which is the same conclusion reached by our own military.


  1. Hi Rick,

    Thank you for a good write-up and response. I’ve some thoughts on the NYT’s latest claims here:
    Which also addresses some of the points you raise here.
    Regards, Steve

    Comment by Steve Hynd — 10/4/2009 @ 11:57 am

  2. Sorry Rick ,but this is a bit off topic….did you read Thomas Freedmans NYT column , this week ?…it concerns the unpleasant political climate around Obama ,who is on his way to becoming the most hated president since Lincoln…and we all know what happened to him , don’t we ?
    There is an evil leitmotif running through American history of political assassinations and I suspect Obama could be next ,as it’t been thirty years since the last one !
    Reagan , Wallace , Bobby Kennedy and MLK are just the most recent ones…history is bur prologue to the present and casts a long shadow into the future
    What us conservatives don’t need is another conspiracy wingnut like Mccviegh to go out and “save America from Obama”….God help us …anything but that !!
    The greatest danger for the President is a lone gunman in the crowd , like Sirhan Sirhan or Hinkley , or the maniac that got Mckinley

    Comment by kitchener — 10/4/2009 @ 5:39 pm

  3. Sorry to jump in and hijack things…

    American presidential assassins are nuts who get lucky. (Fortunately) there hasn’t been enough of them to correlate them to “political climate”, but to date the only one that’s arguably like this is John Wilkes Booth. Other assassins and attempts have been of the “lone nut” variety - and their politics often has little to do with much of anything beyond nuttiness and weird fringiness.

    Friedman is way too much into the “I heard from some guys at the bar” school of “first-person” journalism, where the plural of anecdote is definitely data. His column the day before said China was going to be a green superpower. His proof: he talked to a couple guys at a meeting.

    As for Rick’s post, my standing take is Iran wants nukes and will get them. There ain’t squat we can do about it; the “international community” is irrelevant, if it means a bunch of Euros. The real “community” that matters is Russia and China, and they love having Iran (and Ajad’s buddy Hugo) yanking our chain.

    Comment by Foobarista — 10/4/2009 @ 6:35 pm

  4. NO SERIOUS DISCUSSION can take place on nuclear arms reduction and non proliferation until full exposure takes place of the massive, secret ISRAELI nuclear arms arsenal in the Negev desert, that is currently completely outside of IAEA inspection.
    To do so and ignore this ‘giant elephant in the room’, would simply be nonsensical.

    It would lead to a situation whereby not only US foreign policy lies with the Israeli lobby but also global military and political control.
    Such a decision would be indefensible.

    There is an absolute imperative to control NUCLEAR WEAPONS and their proliferation.

    The immediate danger that President Obama has to face is the reality of the fact that his immediate predecessor helped built Israel into possibly the 3rd most powerful nuclear state on the planet - the agenda for such totally irresponsible action, being incomprehensible.

    To have made Dimona in the Negev the largest secret nuclear weapons store anywhere, cannot have been to ensure the safety of America, or Europe or the Middle East - but it has virtually ensured that, under the control of a political system that has little integrity, there will inevitably be a nuclear weapons strike in the region within the near future.
    The region is now so unstable and the politics so unpredictable and the hatred so fierce, in the aftermath of the massacre in Gaza, that it is a merely a matter of time. That is the danger we face, in the UK, in Europe and eventually in the US and the Americas.

    It will then not be a matter of oil or carbon footprints but of human survival on a planet blind to the dangers it faces and the absolute imperative to control nuclear weapons and the ambitions of those who will kill without compunction in order to achieve their aims. I have no doubt that Mr Obama is more aware of these dangers than I am - the point is, how far will he be opposed by the powerful, Israel lobby?

    Iran is not the huge elephant in the room. Whilst America, Russia, France, China and Britain are considering reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles – Israel is increasing hers.
    Whilst the UK is proposing to reduce its nuclear strike submarine fleet to three, Israel is reported to be increasing its nuclear strike submarine fleet to five!

    Where is the logic in this Kafkaesque scenario?

    Comment by C.Dale — 10/4/2009 @ 6:47 pm


    I can understand why the religious extremists on the Right want to defend Israel since they need it for their macabre End of Days scenario (in which they believe the Jews all go to hell anyway–jeesh!), but I’m amazed at how the not-so-fanatical GOPers don’t see how this “alliance” is toxic to our interests. The planet watches as time and time again we protect atrocities committed by one country while lambasting the SAME atrocities in others. I guess that’s what happens when you have AIPAC more/less owning Congress.

    Comment by Todd — 10/4/2009 @ 7:32 pm

  6. Wow, what a thread hijack.

    Back on topic…

    Assuming the Iranians are crazy leads to a need for intervention but assuming they are sane does not lead to the happy world that the other side of the debate is painting. Instead you have a bifurcated program where periodically undeclared facilities are cleaned up and declared to explain all the anomalous intelligence coming out of Iran and lead to new rounds of distraction and delay while Iran secures its independent future to do whatever the government of the day wishes.

    Put yourself in the shoes of an Iranian program manager running a split nuclear program, one part secret enrichment for weapons, one part public enrichment for peaceful nuclear power. How would you divide your centrifuge production between the two? How would you divide the LEU produced by both between the two (assuming diversion is possible)?

    Is there any rational, managerial reasoning to put all your early production into the public program which has to stop at LEU and none of it into the unmonitored program where you can continue to refine it into HEU and work out more bomb production problems?

    The simple, logical conclusion is that there is an illegal program, complete with centrifuges that has produced an unknown amount of enriched uranium outside the IAEA process. This conclusion is driven by the idea that no sane project manager would build the program any other way. The only other viable alternative consistent with sane Iranian leadership is that there is no bomb program but that runs afoul of both the undeclared facility recently brought out into the open and a lot of anomalous intelligence pointing to something more happening than what is declared.

    The experience of the Cernavoda nuclear power station which was given to Romania as a reward for coming clean on its Ceausescu era nuclear weapons program demonstrates that Iran is passing up on huge potential benefits by not opening up its activities fully. So what’s worth giving up all that free nuclear technology and power?

    Comment by TMLutas — 10/5/2009 @ 8:32 am

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