by Eric Martin
Jarring, headline generating news: Iran is closer to building a nuclear weapon than previously predicted!!!
Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought, and could be less than five years away from having an atomic bomb, several senior American and Israeli officials say.
"The date by which Iran will have nuclear weapons is no longer 10 years from now," a senior official said recently, referring to previous estimates. "If the Iranians maintain this intensive effort to get everything they need, they could have all their components in two years. Then it will be just a matter of technology and research. If Iran is not interrupted in this program by some foreign power, it will have the device in more or less five years."
The reassessment of Iran's nuclear potential is now described by Israeli officials as the most serious threat facing their country.
Senior Israeli officials say that if the program is not halted, they will be forced to consider attacking Iran's nuclear reactors, a tactic they used against Iraq in 1981, when Israeli warplanes bombed an Iraqi reactor.
"When we look at the future and ask ourselves what is the biggest problem we will face in the next decade," a senior Israeli military official said, "Iran's nuclear bomb is at the top of the list."
Here's the twist: that article is from 15 years ago, almost to the day. 15 years later, however, not much has changed. We are still treated to the same overheated rhetoric and the same shocking revelations (later called into serious doubt) that Iran iscloser than previously thought in terms of its nuclear weapons timeline. All followed by the stubborn, uncooperative fact that Iran still lacks a nuclear weapon, even after so many erstwhile expedited deadlines have come and gone without fanfare.
Bonus dig at the non-military approach (that is, sanctions only):
The acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program represents a defeat for the Clinton Administration's drive to halt the spread of nuclear technology to Iran.
Or not. Another bit of analysis that looks humorous in retrospect:
With a nuclear arsenal, analysts say, Iran could also try to dominate its neighbors on the Persian Gulf, including Iraq, which before the gulf war of 1991 had an advanced nuclear weapons program of its own. Such domination, they say, could lead to Iranian control of the flow and price of oil to the West.
Iran didn't even need a nuke to gain considerable influence in Iraq. Just an exceedingly useful Bush administration that grew enamored with the same foreign policy espoused by the gurus that tell of our urgent need to attack Iran now because, once again, Iran is only a few years away from a nuclear weapon which will upend the order of the world. Further, it's not as if Iran's influence in Iraq has led to anything even remotely resembling the nefarious oil-flow pricing control schemes previously feared.
Actually, if the most recent NIE is to be believed, Iran doesn't even have an active weapons program at this juncture. While it's certainly possible that the NIE's judgment are incorrect, and Iran does has an active weapons program, or a desire to return to one in the near future, it is also possible that Iran wants to perfect enrichment for domestic purposes, while remaining close to weaponization which it can pursue if deemed necessary. From a report discussed in a prior post:
In practice, Iran's current path preserves at least three different options, the first and last of which are not mutually exclusive: (a) pursuing enrichment for nuclear energy use as a source of national pride and a symbol of Iran's refusal to be cowed, (b) using its enrichment as a bargaining chip in larger negotiations with the United States and its allies, or (c) pursuing a weapon either to deter a feared U.S. or Israeli attack, or to support aggressive goals, including expanding its influence in the region. The U.S. intelligence community believes that Iran probably has not yet made a firm decision with regard to nuclear weapons, and that decision may well depend in large part on what the United States and its allies do.
According to U.S. intelligence community estimates, Iran is not expected to accumulate enough fissile material for even a single weapon until sometime in the 2010-2015 time frame, and that would require a "break-out" that almost certainly would be detected. What this means, in Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' words, is that: "They're not close to a stockpile, they're not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time."
Something to keep in mind amid the most recent rendition of the crescendo of war drums (as well as counterproductive sanctions talk). If people are seeking to explore more realistic solutions in terms of ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is kept within certain acceptable safe zones, there are some starting points for discussion here and here. Warning: those approaches may require compromise, an acknowledgement that Iran has legitimate interests of its own and a tempering of some of our more eccentric unipolar fantasies. In other words: an unserious approach to an Iran that is, if just unearthed evidence is to be believed, only a year or two from building its first nuke.