Yesterday, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, released it most damning account to date of Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. According to the report, “The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme” and that credible information “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.…”
In light of this, many nations are now calling for the implementation of crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime; however, due to Russian and Chinese objections, it is unlikely that the UN Security Council will reach the requisite consensus to take decisive measures to persuade Iran to alter its course. Further complicating matters is the Obama administration’s recent backtracking on its vow to sanction Iran’s Central Bank, Tehran’s main conduit for oil sales.
Amidst increasing chatter in Israel regarding the possibility of pre-emptive military action on Iranian nuclear facilities, and as the Mullahs march unabated towards “the bomb,” the stakes have risen to new levels, with the potential consequences dire.
IRAN ACCUSED OF NUCLEAR AIMS
Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2011
The United Nations’ nuclear agency [the International Atomic Energy Agency] said Iran has developed technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons, a finding that puts new pressure on the Obama administration to act more forcefully against Tehran.…
The 25-page report represents the loudest alarm yet sounded by the agency in a decade-long standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, and comes as Israeli officials have discussed a possible military strike. It will also raise questions over which avenues the U.S., already under pressure domestically and internationally to ratchet up penalties against Tehran following several rounds of sanctions, has left to pursue.
While U.S. officials say Washington will try to use the report to bring new sanctions, the Obama administration has stepped back from one potential target—sanctioning Iran’s central bank, the principal conduit for Iran’s oil sales.…
The White House is facing its own increasing pressure to act more aggressively toward Iran—from Capitol Hill, as well as from its closest allies in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israeli officials in recent days have publicly warned that they might take military action against Iran if a more robust international effort doesn’t materialize to contain Tehran. Arab states in the Persian Gulf have also been seeking an acceleration of arms purchases from the U.S. to thwart what they call Iran’s increasingly aggressive actions in their region.…
One key area of continuing research is in the computer modeling of nuclear detonations, which is used in developing warheads.… The IAEA report said Iran has produced enough fissile material for as many as four bombs, if it is enriched further to weapons grade. The IAEA also said evidence it gathered indicates that Iran has continued research into triggering devices for nuclear bombs.…
CRIPPLE IRAN WITH SANCTIONS
Jerusalem Post, November 9, 2011
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s report released on Tuesday on Iran’s progress toward obtaining and using nuclear weapons should result in a fundamental change in the world’s approach to the Islamic Republic.
The central problem remains that the concerned parties, including the US, Israel, several Sunni Arab states and the European Union, have traditionally been unable to act in concert, and current sanctions toward Iran have not resulted in a change in the country’s long-term goal of acquiring nuclear capabilities.…
The findings of this latest report once again put the world spotlight on the Islamic Republic. In the Israeli media, however, there has been increased discussion about potential plans to attack Iran since more than a week ago. This public debate has little bearing on the reality, which is that the struggle to prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon and a delivery system for it that could threaten Israel and the Gulf Arab states, is of concern to the world community, especially Israel’s friends and allies.
However, the support for the full court press that has been drastically needed is sorely lacking.
The White House has stood by its National Intelligence Estimates over the past several years that indicated Iran had halted its nuclear program, or at the very least dismantled its administrative structure. The Christian Science Monitor reported that a senior administration official responded, “the IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full-scale nuclear weapons program, nor does it [say] how advanced the programs really are.…”
However, Iran has continued to mislead the inspectors and Western governments through obfuscation and playing various diplomatic games over the years, such as saying it would halt certain activities in exchange for concessions. This means that every year brings new hand-wringing over the nuclear program while Iran moves closer and closer to acquiring the most dangerous technology. Israel bears the brunt of this threat while having the least influence over the matter, short of using military means against Iran, which some say would plunge the region into a major crisis.
Yet hidden allies exist; Saudi Arabia fears that Iranian tentacles are reaching deep into the Gulf Arab states, Iraq and Yemen, not to mention fears regarding Iranian influence over the Arab Springs street protests.… Another positive development has been the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has faced internal threats to his regime from traditional elites seeking to remove him from power for corruption.
The most important next step remains for the world powers to read the latest report and to take it seriously, assuming the worst about Iranian intentions and working to place another round of stricter sanctions on the country.
IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROJECT
National Review, November 8, 2011
…The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [has] release[d] a report which…concludes that Iranian nuclear scientists have sought to create a nuclear-bomb trigger and conducted extensive computer modeling of a nuclear weapon. Such findings end the fiction that energy concerns motivate the Islamic Republic’s nuclear quest.…
While Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has said that the Islamic Republic harbors no nuclear-weapon ambitions, his denial is disinformation.… Many Iranian leaders—especially those close to Khamenei—embrace Iran’s nuclear goals openly. Almost a decade ago, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president whom many diplomats consider a pragmatist—declared, “The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while the same against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable.” On Feb. 14, 2005, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, the head of Iranian Hezbollah, declared, “We are able to produce atomic bombs and we will do that.…”
The IAEA’s findings are not only an indictment of Iran, however. They also reveal the fundamental corruption of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian diplomat who was the IAEA’s director general from December 1997 to November 2009. While his job was to administer a technocratic agency, ElBaradei repeatedly intervened to distort the inspectors’ findings. Rather than confront the Islamic Republic on its cheating, he coached Iranian officials on their public diplomacy. He also repeatedly ignored mounting evidence of secret Iranian facilities until these were publicly exposed by other means.…
The IAEA report should also embarrass Thomas Fingar, Vann H. Van Diepen, and Kenneth Brill. Fingar was concurrently chairman of the National Intelligence Council and deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Van Diepen, whom Secretary of State Clinton has taken under her wing, was national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; Brill was director of the National Counter-proliferation Center. Colleagues knew each as deeply political and agenda-driven. As analysts began to question the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which changed definitions and manipulated evidence to exculpate Iran, each hid behind righteous indignation that anyone might question his professionalism.…
Much of the 2007 NIE was fiction. The biggest difference between the 2003 NIE and its 2007 counterpart was the conclusion that Iran had stopped its weapons program. The 2007 NIE, however, went beyond normal intelligence analysis and actively sought to guide policy. Against a backdrop of speculation that Bush might use military force against Iran, the 2007 NIE concluded that Iran’s supposed decision to cease nuclear-weapons work was a result of diplomacy. Therefore, the estimate concluded, Iran was susceptible to diplomatic persuasion. If this was the consensus opinion of the intelligence community, it was a deeply flawed and tenuous conclusion. After all, 2003 also coincided with Iran’s shock at the speed with which American troops occupied Iraq and ended Saddam’s quarter-century rule. American troops had done in three weeks what Iranian troops had failed to do in an eight-year war. By falsely endorsing diplomacy’s effectiveness, committing America to an ineffective strategy for years to come, the 2007 NIE represented an intelligence failure.…
If there is a silver lining to the IAEA’s report, it is that Iranian intentions are now clear and Tehran’s insincerity has been exposed. The Islamic Republic is an ideological regime in pursuit of a revolutionary goal, one whose attainment presents a price too high for the United States and its regional allies to bear.… Incremental strategies will not influence Iran; only overwhelming pain will convince the supreme leader that the Islamic Republic cannot shoulder the costs of his quest.
(Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.)
AMERICA’S DEADLY DYNAMICS WITH IRAN
David E. Sanger
NY Times, November 5, 2011
Commuting to work in Tehran is never easy, but it is particularly nerve-racking these days for the scientists of Shahid Beheshti University. It was a little less than a year ago when one of them, Majid Shahriari, and his wife were stuck in traffic at 7:40 a.m. and a motorcycle pulled up alongside the car. There was a faint “click” as a magnet attached to the driver’s side door. The huge explosion came a few seconds later, killing him and injuring his wife.
On the other side of town, 20 minutes later, a nearly identical attack played out against Mr. Shahriari’s colleague Fereydoon Abbasi, a nuclear scientist and longtime member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Perhaps because of his military training, Mr. Abbasi recognized what was happening, and pulled himself and his wife out the door just before his car turned into a fireball.… Perhaps to make a point, Mr. Abbasi, now recovered from his injuries, has been made the director of Iran’s atomic energy program.…
Not surprisingly, the Iranians are refusing to sit back and take it—which is one reason many believe the long shadow war with Iran is about to ramp up dramatically. At the White House and the C.I.A., officials say the recently disclosed Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States—by blowing up a Georgetown restaurant frequented by senators, lobbyists and journalists—was just the tip of the iceberg. American intelligence officials now believe that the death of a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan earlier this year was an assassination. And they see evidence of other plots by the Quds Force, the most elite Iranian military unit, from Yemen to Latin America.
“The Saudi plot was clumsy, and we got lucky,” another American official who has reviewed the intelligence carefully said recently. “But we are seeing increasingly sophisticated Iranian activity like it, all around the world.” Much of this resembles the worst days of the cold war, when Americans and Soviets were plotting against each other—and killing each other—in a now hazy attempt to preserve an upper hand. But Iran is no superpower. And there are reasons to wonder whether, in the end, this shadow war is simply going to delay the inevitable: an Iranian bomb or, more likely, an Iranian capability to assemble a fairly crude weapon in a matter of weeks or months. For understandable reasons, this is a question no one in the Obama administration will answer publicly. To admit that Iran may ultimately get a weapon is to admit failure.…
Israelis have long argued that if Iran got too close, that could justify attacking Iran’s nuclear sites. Reports in Israel last week suggested that such a pre-emptive attack is once again being debated. The worries focus on renewed hints from top Israeli officials that they will act unilaterally—even over American objections.…
To many members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government—and, by the accounts of his former colleagues, to the Israeli leader himself—the Iran problem is 1939 all over again, an “existential threat.” “WHEN Bibi talks about an existential threat,” one senior Israeli official said of Mr. Netanyahu recently, “he means the kind of threat the United States believed it faced when you believed the Nazis could get the bomb.”
Israelis worry that as Iran feels more isolated by sanctions…it may view racing for a bomb as the only way to restore itself to its position as the most influential power in the Middle East. The fate of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi may strengthen that impulse. “One should ask: would Europe have intervened in Libya if Qaddafi had possessed nuclear weapons?” the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said on army radio last week, referring to the Libyan leader’s decision to give up his program in 2003. “Would the U.S. have toppled Saddam Hussein if he had nuclear weapons?”
To many in the Obama administration, though, the Iranian threat seems more akin to 1949, when the Soviets tested their first nuclear device. That brought many confrontations that veered toward catastrophe, most notably the Cuban Missile Crisis. But ultimately the Soviets were contained. Inside the Pentagon and the National Security Council, there is a lot of work—all of it unacknowledged—about what a parallel containment strategy for Iran might look like.
The early elements of it are obvious: the antimissile batteries that the United States has spent billions of dollars installing on the territory of Arab allies, and a new Pentagon plan to put more ships and antimissile batteries into the Persian Gulf, in cooperation with six Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. It was the Saudi king who famously advised American diplomats in the cables revealed by WikiLeaks last year that the only Iran strategy that would work was one that “cut off the head of the snake.”
The big hitch in these containment strategies is that they are completely useless if Iran ever slips a bomb, or even some of its newly minted uranium fuel, to a proxy—Hezbollah, Hamas or some other terrorist group—raising the problem of ascertaining a bomb’s return address. When the Obama administration ran some tabletop exercises soon after coming to office, it was shocked to discover that the science of nuclear forensics was nowhere near as good in practice as it was on television dramas. So if a bomb went off in some American city, or in Riyadh or Tel Aviv, it could be weeks or months before it was ever identified as Iranian. Even then, confidence in the conclusion, officials say, might be too low for the president to order retaliation.
The wisdom of a containment strategy has also taken a hit since the revelation of the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador. Emerging from a classified briefing on the plot, a member of Congress said what struck him was that “this thing could have gotten Iran into a war, and yet we don’t know who ordered it.” There is increasing talk that it could have been a rogue element within the Quds Force. If so, what does that say about whether the Iranian leadership has as good a hand on the throttle of Iran’s nuclear research program as Washington has long assumed?…
For all the talk about how “all options are on the table,” Washington says a military strike isn’t worth the risk of war; the Israelis say there may be no other choice.… All of which raises the question: how much more delay can be bought with a covert campaign of assassination, cyber-attacks and sabotage?…
[Furthermore,] now the element of surprise is gone. The Iranians are digging their plants deeper underground, and enriching uranium at purities that will make it easier to race for a bomb.… And as the Quds Force has shown, sabotage and assassination is a two-way game, which may ratchet up one confrontation just as Americans have been exhausted by two others.
I WON’T LET IRAN GET NUKES
Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2011
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report this week makes clear what I and others have been warning about for too long: Iran is making rapid headway toward its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons.
Successive American presidents, including Barack Obama, have declared such an outcome to be unacceptable. But under the Obama administration, rhetoric and policy have been sharply at odds, and we’re hurtling toward a major crisis involving nuclear weapons in one of the most politically volatile and economically significant regions of the world.
Things did not have to be this way. To understand how best to proceed from here, we need to review the administration’s extraordinary record of failure.
As a candidate for the presidency in 2007, Barack Obama put forward “engagement” with Tehran as a way to solve the nuclear problem, declaring he would meet with Iran’s leaders “without preconditions.” Whether this approach was rooted in naïveté or in realistic expectations can be debated; I believe it was the former. But whatever calculation lay behind the proposed diplomatic opening, it was predictably rebuffed by the Iranian regime.
After that repudiation, a serious U.S. strategy to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions became an urgent necessity. But that is precisely what the administration never provided. Instead, we’ve been offered a case study in botched diplomacy and its potentially horrific costs.
In his “reset” of relations with Russia, President Obama caved in to Moscow’s demands by reneging on a missile-defense agreement with Eastern European allies and agreeing to a New Start Treaty to reduce strategic nuclear weapons while getting virtually nothing in return. If there ever was a possibility of gaining the Kremlin’s support for tougher action against Tehran, that unilateral giveaway was the moment. President Obama foreclosed it.
Another key juncture came with the emergence of Iran’s Green Revolution after the stolen election of 2009. Here—more than a year before the eruption of the Arab Spring—was a spontaneous popular revolt against a regime that has been destabilizing the region, supporting terrorism around the world, killing American soldiers in Iraq, and attacking the U.S. for three decades. Yet President Obama, evidently fearful of jeopardizing any further hope of engagement, proclaimed his intention not to “meddle” as the ayatollahs unleashed a wave of terror against their own society.… Thanks to this shameful abdication of moral authority, any hope of toppling a vicious regime was lost, perhaps for generations.…
Recent events have brought White House fecklessness to another low. When Iran was discovered plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador by setting off a bomb in downtown Washington, the administration responded with nothing more than tough talk and an indictment against two low-level Iranian operatives, as if this were merely a common criminal offense rather than an act of international aggression. Demonstrating further irresolution, the administration then floated the idea of sanctioning Iran’s central bank, only to quietly withdraw that proposal.
Barack Obama has shredded his own credibility on Iran, conveyed an image of American weakness, and increased the prospect of a cascade of nuclear proliferation in the unstable Middle East. The United States needs a very different policy. Si vis pacem, para bellum. That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war.
I want peace. And if I am president, I will begin by imposing a new round of far tougher economic sanctions on Iran. I will do this together with the world if we can, unilaterally if we must. I will speak out forcefully on behalf of Iranian dissidents. I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option. I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. I will increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region. These actions will send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
Only when the ayatollahs no longer have doubts about America’s resolve will they abandon their nuclear ambitions.
(Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts,
is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.)