Iran: another Libya in the making — or worse?

It’s old news about the President’s missed intel briefings the week before and the day after the US Libyan Embassy bombing and murders, but while he’s just off his David Letterman gig, and Beyonce/Jay-Z fundraisers, perhaps he can be convinced to squeeze in some time between the celebrities, golf games, and saving GM (at the expense of Delphi) to pay attention to another tinderbox called Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made appearances last Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union and Meet the Press, where he laid out his case for stronger action against Iran, once again calling for the drawing of a red line, the equivalent of the “line in the sand.”  The Obama Administration, through White House spokesperson, Jay Carney, stated back on Sept. 10, “The line is the President is committed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and he will use every tool in the arsenal of American power to achieve that goal.”  Six weeks ago, Reuters was reporting that the “US still believes Iran not on the verge of a nuclear weapon.”  However, after reading the comments following the article, I don’t know who we should worry about more, the Administration or the people commenting.  As one person wrote, it’s just fine that Iran has nuclear weapons, “it’s their right” and or another trying to compare the nukes of a secular China and Russia vs. a theocracy-driven Iran.

What is indeed troubling and alarming is a recent assessment published by the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Critical Threats Project: “How Close is Iran to a Bomb.”  The assessment “does not assess Iran’s intentions to weaponize or to purse break-out scenarios, but rather focuses entirely on technical feasibility,” and it is the “product is an exposition of the technical data contained in numerous International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports informed by the discussions of experts in the field of nuclear proliferation.”   To quote three key points from slide 2 of the Study:

  • Iran would need 4.3 MONTHS to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 1.9 MONTHS to produce 15 kg of weaponsgrade uranium at the buried Fordow enrichment facility.* IT CAN CUT THESE TIMES SIGNIFICANTLY USING THE NEWLY INSTALLED CENTRIFUGES AT FORDOW.
  • Iran would need 3 WEEKS to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 1 WEEK to produce 15 kg of weapons-grade uranium at the larger Natanz enrichment facility.*
  • These estimates are based on data from Iran’s declared operating facilities. The existence of undeclared (covert) enrichment sites, which cannot be ruled out given Iran’s record of deception, would have an impact on breakout estimates.

*Estimates assume Natanz and Fordow are used with the operational capacity reflected in the August 2012 IAEA report. Iran may need 15-25 kg weapons-grade uranium for an implosion-type bomb design depending on its level of technical ability.

Meanwhile, the United States is among thirty countries taking part in elaborate anti-mine warfare drills in the Straits of Hormuz.  The fact that they are doing so indicates that the threat of a nuclear Iran is being taken seriously, and that any disruption to the oil routes would have tremendous impact on the world’s economy, not to mention the political fallout.  Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), believes that Iran possesses 2-3000 underwater mines, many of them “smart mines,” along with sophisticated mine-laying warships and submarines.  In a March 2012 analysis, he cautioned, “Iran’s ability to lay a large number of mines in a short period of time remains a critical aspect of the stated capability to deny U.S. forces access to the gulf and impede or halt shipping through the strait.”

Disruption to the oil routes would also have devastating effects on Iran’s economy as well, and mining the Straits of Hormuz, could be countenanced by Tehran only if Israel strikes.  But will it?

Dr. Emily Landau, an arms control expert for the Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post:

Responding to comments made by US President Barak Obama and senior administration officials, who said last week that states do not set red lines, and that red lines limit their freedom of action, Landau said, “States do set red lines, and Obama himself has done so twice over the past year.”

She added that Washington effectively set red lines in response to Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, and, more recently, “to Assad about moving chemical weapons in Syria or to Lebanon.” Red lines are routinely used in international diplomacy as effective ways to leverage pressure and means to deter the other side, she added.

Last week, The New York Times cited an Obama administration official as saying that America’s only red line on Iran is nuclear weapons.

But that position “is obviously not taken seriously enough by Iran,” Landau argued. With Tehran closely following the public tit-for-tat between Israel and the US, Iranian decision makers have concluded that “the US is projecting a sense that it does not want things to come to military force, and it will be willing to go to great lengths to avoid it.” This is further reinforced by the fact that, on the one hand the US is still publicly supporting diplomacy, but on the other, there is no sign of any negotiations on the horizon.

With the Obama Administration now pulling back from its ludicrous “it was the video” excuse for the murders in Libya and the violent flareups across the globe, they are still MIA when it comes to a viable foreign policy, not only with regard to Iran, but the potential ticking time-bomb in the Japan/China dispute.

It would have all the hallmarks of a Shakespearean tragedy, wouldn’t it, if Israel were to strike Iran and our Commander-in-Chief had to be interrupted during a fund-raising speech to learn of the attack.

November 6th.  The day we take our country back.

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