In 2004 I thought that Iran's nuclear facilities might be bombed by the US or Israel in the few months after the 2004 election. What I didn't know then was the difficulty of succeeding at this task, even if such a decision were to be made. And then there's the blowback in Iraq and Europe.
So what does the future hold on Iran? Amir Taheri may be right: Because Iran needs several years (1) to build nuclear bombs and (2) to get rid of Bush, Iran might take a strategic step backward. It might take a modest public retreat to soften up (the already soft) European resistance to its nuclear program. Amir Taheri in the Telegraph explains:
Last Monday, just before he announced that Iran had gatecrashed "the nuclear club", President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disappeared for several hours. He was having a khalvat (tête-à-tête) with the Hidden Imam, the 12th and last of the imams of Shiism who went into "grand occultation" in 941. . . .
Last year, it was after another khalvat that Ahmadinejad announced his intention to stand for president. Now, he boasts that the Imam gave him the presidency for a single task: provoking a "clash of civilisations" in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, takes on the "infidel" West, led by the United States, and defeats it in a slow but prolonged contest that, in military jargon, sounds like a low intensity, asymmetrical war.
In Ahmadinejad's analysis, the rising Islamic "superpower" has decisive advantages over the infidel. Islam has four times as many young men of fighting age as the West, with its ageing populations. Hundreds of millions of Muslim "ghazis" (holy raiders) are keen to become martyrs while the infidel youths, loving life and fearing death, hate to fight. Islam also has four-fifths of the world's oil reserves, and so controls the lifeblood of the infidel. More importantly, the US, the only infidel power still capable of fighting, is hated by most other nations.
According to this analysis, spelled out in commentaries by Ahmadinejad's strategic guru, Hassan Abassi, known as the "Dr Kissinger of Islam", President George W Bush is an aberration, an exception to a rule under which all American presidents since Truman, when faced with serious setbacks abroad, have "run away". Iran's current strategy, therefore, is to wait Bush out. And that, by "divine coincidence", corresponds to the time Iran needs to develop its nuclear arsenal, thus matching the only advantage that the infidel enjoys.
Moments after Ahmadinejad announced "the atomic miracle", the head of the Iranian nuclear project, Ghulamreza Aghazadeh, unveiled plans for manufacturing 54,000 centrifuges, to enrich enough uranium for hundreds of nuclear warheads. "We are going into mass production," he boasted.
The Iranian plan is simple: playing the diplomatic game for another two years until Bush becomes a "lame-duck", unable to take military action against the mullahs, while continuing to develop nuclear weapons.
Thus do not be surprised if, by the end of the 12 days still left of the United Nations' Security Council "deadline", Ahmadinejad announces a "temporary suspension" of uranium enrichment as a "confidence building measure". Also, don't be surprised if some time in June he agrees to ask the Majlis (the Islamic parliament) to consider signing the additional protocols of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Such manoeuvres would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director, Muhammad El-Baradei, and Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to congratulate Iran for its "positive gestures" and denounce talk of sanctions, let alone military action. The confidence building measures would never amount to anything, but their announcement would be enough to prevent the G8 summit, hosted by Russia in July, from moving against Iran.
While waiting Bush out, the Islamic Republic is intent on doing all it can to consolidate its gains in the region. Regime changes in Kabul and Baghdad have altered the status quo in the Middle East. While Bush is determined to create a Middle East that is democratic and pro-Western, Ahmadinejad is equally determined that the region should remain Islamic but pro-Iranian. Iran is now the strongest presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, after the US. It has turned Syria and Lebanon into its outer defences, which means that, for the first time since the 7th century, Iran is militarily present on the coast of the Mediterranean. In a massive political jamboree in Teheran last week, Ahmadinejad also assumed control of the "Jerusalem Cause", which includes annihilating Israel "in one storm", while launching a take-over bid for the cash-starved Hamas government in the West Bank and Gaza. . . .
On Monday, he was as candid as ever: "To those who are angry with us, we have one thing to say: be angry until you die of anger!"
His adviser, Hassan Abassi, is rather more eloquent. "The Americans are impatient," he says, "at the first sight of a setback, they run away. We, however, know how to be patient. We have been weaving carpets for thousands of years."
For other views (from Professor Bainbridge, Debka, and Mark Steyn), click to read the rest of this post.
Here's Professor Bainbridge questioning Hugh Hewitt's take:
I'd like to see Hewitt seriously engage the analyses offered by the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institutes's book Getting Ready for a Nuclear Iran. In particular, his analysis is refuted by George Perkovich and Silvia Manzanero's essay:
Experience with Iraq and, more speculatively, North Korea suggests that reliable intelligence will not exist on the exact location of Iran’s nuclear weapons and all relevant production infrastructure. The lack of high confidence that all desired targets could be identified and destroyed need not preclude attacks. Degradation of some but not all capabilities could still be deemed valuable enough to warrant attack, both to limit Iran’s capacities and to demonstrate resolve.
Yet, lack of high confidence in destroying all weapons and production capabilities would raise the major question of Iran’s potential use of surviving nuclear weapons against U.S. forces and allies. An attack on Iran would make Iranian counterattacks more likely. Many, especially in the Muslim world, would find such responses justified. This would affect the calculus of the long-term political and strategic effects of attacks on Iran. . . .
Iran does not lack means to deter and/or retaliate against military attacks against it. Iranian Revolutionary Guards reportedly have deployed action cells in Iraq. These cells appear not to have been activated yet, but rather are to provide capabilities to attack U.S. forces in the region if Iranian decisionmakers judge it necessary to respond to U.S. actions in Iraq and/or against Iran. ...
Here's Debka's take:
Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim of Iranian success in low-level uranium enrichment was more bombastic than frank. Before springing his disclosure at a sacred mausoleum in the northern town of Mashhad on April 11, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources disclose he paid a stealthy visit to Neyshabour in Khorassan, 38 kms to the southeast.
There, he inspected a project he omitted to mention in his Mashhad speech about low-level enrichment, namely, a top-secret plant under construction that is designed to run 155,000 centrifuges, enough to enrich uranium for 3-5 nuclear bombs a year.
This is Project B, or the hidden face of the enrichment plant open to inspection at Natanz.
This plant, due for completion next October, is scheduled to go on line at the end of 2007. According to our intelligence sources, running-in has begun at some sections of the Neyshabour installation, which is located 600 km northeast of Tehran. DEBKAfile’s sources reveal too that the Neyshabour plant has been built 150 m deep under farmland covered with mixed vegetable crops and dubbed Shahid Moradian, in the name of a war martyr as obscure as its existence.
Already hard at work at Iran’s most ambitious nuclear project are hundreds of Iranian engineers, experts and assistants under the instruction of foreign specialists in the technology of centrifuge operation. Neyshabour is guarded day and night by the special Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Ansar al-Mahdi unit.
In Moscow Thursday, April 13, US assistant secretary of state on arms control Stephen Rademaker calculated that, with 54,000 centrifuges, the Iranians could produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb in 16 days. He was referring to the statement by Iran’s deputy nuclear chief Mohammed Saeed, who said his government planned to expand its enrichment program to 54,000 centrifuges from the 164 used in the small scale process announced Tuesday.
According to this reckoning, the Neshabour installation, when ready to go in three years, will have three times the capacity of Natanz and be able to turn out 9-15 bombs a year.
The clerical rulers in Tehran have long suspected the Americans or Israelis would eventually bomb Natanz out of existence. Therefore, four years ago, they began constructing its mirror — albeit on a far larger scale –- in order to push ahead uninterrupted with enrichment for weapons, regardless of objections from the West, Israel and Arab neighbors.
Russian experts completed the initial plans in 2003 and construction began in early 2004. In late 2005, Bulgarian transport planes delivered tens of thousands of centrifuges from Belarus and Ukraine; they were transported directly to Neyshabour. In January 2006, 23 Ukrainian engineers arrived to start installing the equipment, joined in February by 46 Belarusian nuclear experts who are working in shifts to prepare the 155,000 P-1 and P-2 centrifuges for operation.
This compares with 60,000 in Nathanz –- of which 40,000 are accessible for inspection while 20,000 are hidden in closed subterranean chambers.
Neyshabour, however, still needs to undergo experimental stages, according to our Iranian sources. It is far from sure that the Ukrainian and Belarusian experts will be able to put together a well-synchronized centrifuge project that is workable in the long term. . . .
Here's Mark Steyn in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Happy Easter. Happy Passover. But, if you're like the president of Iran and believe in the coming of the "Twelfth Imam," your happy holiday may be just around the corner, too. President Ahmadinejad, who is said to consider himself the designated deputy of the "hidden Imam," held a press conference this week — against a backdrop of doves fluttering round an atom and accompanied by dancers in orange decontamination suits doing choreographed uranium-brandishing. It looked like that Bollywood finale of ''The 40-Year-Old Virgin,'' where they all pranced around to "This Is The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius." As it happens, although he dresses like Steve Carell's 40-year-old virgin, the Iranian president is, in fact, a 40-year-old nuclear virgin, and he was holding a press conference to announce he was ready to blow. "Iran," he said, "has joined the group of countries which have nuclear technology" — i.e., this is the dawning of the age of a scary us. "Our enemies cannot do a damned thing," he crowed, as an appreciative audience chanted "Death to America!"
The reaction of the international community was swift and ferocious. The White House said that Iran "was moving in the wrong direction." This may have been a reference to the dancers. A simple Radio City kickline would have been better. The British Foreign Office said it was "not helpful." This may have been a reference to the doves round the atom. . . .
It's not the world's job to prove that the Iranians are bluffing. The braggadocio itself is reason enough to act, and prolonged negotiations with a regime that openly admits it's negotiating just for the laughs only damages us further. The perfect summation of the Iranian approach to negotiations came in this gem of a sentence from the New York Times on July 13 last year:
"Iran will resume uranium enrichment if the European Union does not recognize its right to do so, two Iranian nuclear negotiators said in an interview published Thursday."
Got that? If we don't let Iran go nuclear, they'll go nuclear.