August 8, 2008
Number 08/08 #04
Iran provided an answer to the P5+1 proposal of various incentives for halting uranium enrichment, which was generally seen as simply stalling for time – various stories on the latest Iranian non-response are here, here, and here, and some comment is here and here. This Update looks at diplomatic prospects in the wake of this latest disappointment.
First up is Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Washington analyst who previously served as a CIA officer specialising in the Middle East, who argues that nuclear diplomacy now looks all but dead. He points out that the US got directly involved in the negotiations, but this led to no significant change, and also makes the point that hopes that differentiating between Iranian President Ahmadinejad and other centres of power in Teheran will help create a better outcome appear to be wishful thinking. He does hold out hope that truly “economy-crushing” sanctions might yet work, but has less hope that the Europeans will ever agree to them. For his largely pessimistic view of the prospects of stopping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, CLICK HERE.
Offering a different view is Victor Comras, formerly a veteran US diplomat and senior UN official dealing with counter-terrorism. Comras sees Iran’s latest offer in similar terms, but does see hope for strengthened sanctions, and is fairly specific about what they should consist of. He highlights “denying Iran investment and export credits, denying Iranian banks access to Euro facilities (they are currently cut off from dollar exchange facilities), curtailing access to shipping and maritime and freight insurance, denying landing rights to Iranian airlines, imposing an embargo on luxury items, dual use technology and refined petroleum products such as gasoline” and says that similar sanctions have been imposed by the UN before on other regimes, so there is no reason they cannot be imposed here. He also argues that if a UN scheme is impossible, European-American agreement to impose non-UN sanctions might be enough to do the trick. For this full argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton argues that, contrary to popular belief, it is not the case that continuing negotiations are doing no harm, even if they’re not stopping Iran. He says that Iran is stringing out the negotiations to make any military option more difficult, not least by making uranium hexafluoride gas and stockpiles of enriched uranium which it can disperse and then use to restart its program if its main facilities are ever damaged. He says diplomats need to consider these factors as they continue to sit waiting for a call from Iran that it will engage in serious diplomacy. For Bolton’s argument, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, the New York Sun editorialises that the failure to enforce previous deadlines on Iran’s nuclear program has contributed to the failure of the most recent diplomatic effort.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz for an “unlimited time” and brags of secret weapons in its latest round of sabre-rattling.
- Russia is denying it is on board for a new round of sanctions on Iran.
- Washington Post columnist David Ignatius expresses strong doubt that either the US or Israel is likely to engage in a military strike on Iran anytime soon.
- Some views on the Iranian nuclear problem from American diplomat Nicholas Burns and Israeli politician and former general Shaul Mofaz.
- Journalist, author and blogger Jeffrey Goldberg takes on the argument that the Iranian bomb is primarily an Israeli problem. Even Libya’s loopy leader Muammar Gaddafi agrees Iran is a problem.
- Some speculation about Ahmadinejad’s future after some manoeuvring in the Majlis (parliament) appears to have backfired.
- An interview with a leading Iranian dissident. Plus, Michael Ledeen argues the Iranian regime is essentially hollow.
- Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani says Iran is now moving on to nuclear fusion, the process behind the hydrogen bomb.
- Dr. Gerald Steinberg discusses the latest political developments in Israel, as the Kadima primary to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert looms. More Israeli comment on the Kadima leadership contest is here, here, here, and here.
- Some Israeli comments on human rights and the Beijing Olympics from Haaretz and former politician Yossi Sarid. Also interesting are pointers from China specialist Gordon Chang about what to watch for during the Olympics in human rights terms.
Iran to the West: Drop dead
by Reuel Marc Gerecht
Weekly Standard, 08/11/2008, Volume 013, Issue 45
On July 30, Ali Khamenei demolished what was left of George W. Bush’s Iran policy. Iran’s clerical overlord also put paid to Senator Barack Obama’s dreams of tête-à-tête, stop-the-nukes diplomacy. Ten days earlier the Americans, British, French, Germans, Russians, and Chinese had gathered in Geneva hoping to convince Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment. True to form, Khamenei told them all to stick it. The Islamic Republic will not cease and desist: “Taking one step back against the arrogant powers [the West] will lead them to take one step forward,” Khamenei replied. So much for the “significant” presence of William Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, who went to Geneva to show Tehran and the Europeans the United States’ willingness to have senior-level contacts with the clerical regime. (Note to the American left: If Ali Khamenei had even once sent a secret senior emissary to Washington expressing his conditional willingness to restore diplomatic relations, we would now have an embassy in Tehran. George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Bush Senior all would have–quite rightly–leapt at the opportunity.)
The mission by Burns, an accomplished “realist” diplomat, is exactly what Obama’s campaign had in mind when they said that a President Obama would approve “preparatory” meetings with Iranian officials before he sought to have a face-to-face with a worthy counterpart, which given the Iranian political system means either Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iran’s Expediency Council and the cleric who got Iran’s clandestine nuclear-weapons program rolling. Since the Illinois senator first broached the idea of personal diplomacy during a Democratic primary debate, Khamenei has unleashed a barrage of speeches against “Satan Incarnate,” “the Great Enemy,” and “the Enemy of Islam and all Islamic peoples” (all shorthand for the United States). Ahmadinejad, a more spiritual man than Khamenei, suggested to NBC’s Brian Williams in Tehran in late July that all the problems between the United States and Iran could be eliminated if Americans would just learn to live according to the dictates of the biblical and post-biblical prophets, who are all, according to Islamic theology, Muslim. Williams didn’t appear to realize that Ahmadinejad was making a call for America’s conversion. If he had realized it, he would probably have ignored it as perfunctory rhetoric of little real-world relevance.
But it is helpful to imagine the reverse: Suppose Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or John McCain were to call on Iranians to accept the teachings of Christ as practiced by America’s Christians. Religiously, culturally, and politically the idea is unthinkable, of course. This ought to give us some idea of the chasm separating Americans and Europeans from the leadership of the Islamic Republic. This ought to tell Senator Obama and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that face-to-face “preparatory” meetings with Iranians are irrelevant: American diplomats could talk for years to Saeed Jalili, the Iranian nuclear negotiator who is in the entourage of Ahmadinejad, and it would not disturb the universe in which Jalili lives and prays.
This gap isn’t just with Ahmadinejad, who some on the American left like to depict as a man without real power in Tehran. It’s with the entire oligarchy that runs the Islamic Republic. Look at the use of the word dushman, “enemy,” in the speeches of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. The usage is constant and nearly identical. The intensity of its use equals anything, I would argue, that ever came from Ruhollah Khomeini’s anti-American pen (which was vastly more elegant). Ahmadinejad has done well in Iran’s clerically dominated political system for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that he is Ali Khamenei’s soulmate. Khamenei really hasn’t had one since he became the rahbar, the guide for the Islamic Republic, on Khomeini’s death in 1989. Rafsanjani and Khamenei, who are in many ways brothers-in-arms, who have depended upon each other since the early days of the revolution, do not appear to be spiritual kin in the way that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are.
Iran’s current president and the rahbar are very different men with dissimilar backgrounds (no layman can ever truly be one with an alim, a mullah), but they are very close in how they judge right and wrong (they hate, though tolerate, corruption among their allies), in the way their Islamic-Iranian identity wraps around them, in their perception of threats–particularly the cultural threat of the United States and the West. If anything, it is Khamenei who is the more hardcore, whose spiritualism is less colorful, less peasant-playful, and more (in a Western sense) overtly and crudely political. Ahmadinejad can happily imagine women playing and enjoying soccer; with Khamenei, the image is more of women in chadors with assault rifles on their shoulders shouting anti-American slogans. Ahmadinejad probably doesn’t mind this image either, but he would allow the women time off to play soccer.
It’s a good guess that both of these men really want to tell the West, in earthy language, that they are going to get a nuclear weapon and there is nothing the Americans, the Europeans, and the Israelis can do to stop them. When both men talk about justice, and they mention it constantly, they are thinking of the imbalance in the world between devout Muslims, who follow the true path of God, and infidels, with their damnable technical superiority. By acquiring nuclear weapons, these men intend to restore that balance, allowing real Muslims, especially the faithful Iranian vanguard, to recapture the high ground throughout the Islamic world. Ahmadinejad was glad to see Ambassador Burns at the Geneva meeting not because he wants to reach a compromise with the United States, and welcomes the new, post-axis-of-evil “flexibility” of the Bush administration, but because he sees the Geneva meeting as another step in the West’s process of conceding a bomb to Iran. Ahmadinejad’s triumphalism, which is the mirror-image of Khamenei’s more tight-lipped glee, overwhelmed Brian Williams, who was reduced to asking the same questions repeatedly. When you think you’ve won, you don’t need to pretend with an American news anchor that you might, just possibly, compromise and give the West hope that diplomacy can continue.
There is yet a slight chance the Europeans can revive the Bush-Obama diplomatic track. But the Europeans would have to do what they have so far refused to do and may no longer be able to do: Immediately impose economy-crushing sanctions on the Islamic Republic (Tehran has been rapidly moving its financial assets out of Europe). Russia, China, and India–the key states in developing a suffocating, worldwide sanctions regime–are unlikely to help since they all seem to have concluded that a clerical Iran brought to its knees by the West is worse than an oil-rich, nuclear-armed (and grateful) Islamic Republic. With their dogged efforts to increase centrifuge production (two years ago Iran had one cascade of 164 centrifuges; now it may have 6,000 spinning), Khamenei and Ahmadinejad act as if they will soon have a weapon. And once the Iranians get the bomb and put, or just imply that they are putting, nuclear-tipped warheads on their ballistic missiles, how much resolve will the Europeans have to confront Tehran? Given contemporary European sentiments and habits, isn’t an effort to placate Tehran more likely?
Even under Angela Merkel, a relatively pro-American chancellor, the Germans are much more comfortable with a policy of Ostpolitik towards Tehran, which satisfies both Germany’s enormous commercial appetites and its pacifist sensibilities. And the Spanish and the Italians, who have substantial commercial dealings with Tehran? They have military bases in Herat province in western Afghanistan, and we have already caught them quietly negotiating with the Taliban in an effort to avoid casualties. Imagine if Iran, which is just over the border, were to put military pressure on them? Would they be inclined to look at the big picture or the small one, which has more Spanish and Italian body bags being flown home? And if the Germans cave, the French, who have been the most farsighted in discerning the fearsome strategic ramifications of a nuclear clerical regime, will probably, eventually, go with them.
It is now entirely reasonable to conjecture that Tehran will have nuclear-armed missiles before the United States is able to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. A year ago, the Bush administration, despite its rhetoric on the issue, had a rather uncoordinated and lackadaisical approach to advancing European missile defense. (The State Department and the Pentagon seemed to be representing two different countries.) Public diplomacy on the issue in Poland and the Czech Republic has been abysmal. The placement of interceptors in Poland may not happen because of differences that have arisen between Washington and Warsaw; putting these interceptors in Lithuania, which apparently has signaled its willingness to take them, may prove more difficult than many in Washington imagine; and the required radar base in the Czech Republic may not happen either, as the parliamentary vote in November on the deal signed this July is in danger of not passing. The Czech government needs 101 votes for the radar base to open; it has exactly 101 votes. Senator Obama has certainly not helped the cause of the Atlanticists in Prague who have put their political necks out with this unpopular issue (the Czechs’ neutralist bent rivals that of the Swiss) by his refusal to back the radar installation. Support from Obama might prove crucial in maintaining left-wing Czech support for the radar sites. For a presidential candidate who spends so much time talking about the growing Iranian threat, his failure to back European missile defense–a position the Democratic party will eventually embrace since it will have nowhere else to go short of preemptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities–shows the strategically underdeveloped nature of the Obama political team. Trumping John McCain with a loud endorsement of missile defense is also not a bad domestic political maneuver.
Even with a functioning antiballistic missile system in place to stiffen European spines, the mullahs may well be able to split the alliance once they have nukes. The allure of Iranian oil and gas is just too great. With Tehran suggesting that the Europeans have nothing to fear so long as they distance themselves from the United States in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, an American containment strategy on Iran, which necessarily has to involve the Europeans if it’s going to have any economic teeth, may well be stillborn.
Thoughtful Democrats have realized the havoc the Iranians could cause in the Middle East once they obtain nuclear weapons. But few Democrats–or Republicans, for that matter–have awakened to the potential for Iranian nuclear arms to destroy the very transatlantic ties that both Obama and McCain say need to be strengthened to confront the many problems before us. When he was president of Iran, Rafsanjani began a divide-and-conquer strategy toward the West, trying to bring in the Europeans for investment and trade, while confronting the United States and lethally attacking dissidents at home and abroad. This approach was especially important to the development of Iran’s then entirely clandestine nuclear-weapons program, since Rafsanjani didn’t want the West lining up against Iran at a time when the clerical regime needed to build up its program to a “break-out” potential. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad abandoned Rafsanjani’s and his successor Mohammad Khatami’s cautious and slow approach to developing nuclear weapons. For a time, this abrupt change caused concern in Tehran that the United States and Europe might actually deploy economy-crushing sanctions or, even worse, that the Bush administration might order a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the enrichment process had sufficiently advanced.
But the fear of George W. Bush has vanished. And we will now see whether Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have a correct understanding of Europe–whether it really still matters. Ironically, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad’s confrontational strategy could prove more effective at dividing the Europeans from the Americans than did the wry smile of Rafsanjani or even the warm, soft handshakes of Mohammad Khatami.
Yet, the Europeans might still surprise themselves and us. Concern about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear quest is palpable in Paris, London, and Berlin. Senior French diplomats who have been party to the EU-3 talks like to relate how Iran’s European embassies are paying their bills with big wads of cash these days since they can no longer transfer the required monies through embargoed banks. The Europeans might still be able to unleash a tsunami of sanctions, sanctions that even the Italians could be shamed into joining. And it is possible that George W. Bush might again follow his better instincts and ramp up the bellicose language, suggesting that he will indeed strike before leaving office. It is even possible that Barack Obama could come to appreciate that his Iran policy has utterly collapsed, too. With Khamenei, loudly advertised machtpolitik is an indispensable inducement to a peaceful suspension of uranium enrichment. Perhaps the contemplation of his administration having to figure out a containment strategy against a nuclear-armed Iranian theocracy might convince the senator of the need now for a bit of eloquent bellicosity.
And John McCain, who has been curbing his more aggressive instincts for fear of sounding too warlike for an electorate spooked by Iraq, might again powerfully suggest that diplomacy without the threat of force has no chance against mullahs who view the Lebanese Hezbollah as their beloved children. The Bush administration can have as many “one-time meetings” as Secretary of State Rice wants with Iranian officials–there is nothing wrong with these encounters, or the discussion of an American-manned interests section in Tehran, so long as no one believes that they reveal latent moderation among Tehran’s ruling elite. In the containment of the Soviet Union, the United States often made the Cold War quite warm. Apply the same logic: Bring back the aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf.
A betting man would, of course, go the other way. More likely, we will get to see whether an Obama or McCain administration has any idea of how to contain a nuclear-armed, oil-rich theocracy willing to deploy terrorism and guerrilla warfare to ensure that “justice” is brought to the Middle East and Afghanistan. This is assuming that the Israelis–increasingly desperate as they contemplate their future opposite nuclear-armed Muslim militants who see the Jewish state as an insult to God–don’t strike first and change everyone’s planning. Perhaps it is not too late to breathe new life and urgency into the critical need for a united Western front against Tehran.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
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By Victor Comras
Counterterrorism blog, July 28, 2008 10:46 PM
Iran has begun a new charm offensive to head off, or to mitigate, possible new international economic sanctions following its latest refusal to suspend, or even slow down its uranium enrichment program. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an interview to NBC news anchor Brian Williams, which was broadcast tonight, denying that Iran had any nuclear weapons ambitions and stating that Iran is ready to meet the United States, gesture for gesture, in improving relations. Playing up on the Bush Administration’s decision to have Under Secretary William Burns sit in on the latest round of nuclear negotiations with Iran, he stated that Iran would respond “positively” if the US, has, in fact, adopted a new “non confrontational” approach.
We should not be fooled by Ahmadinejad’s soft talk. Just a few days ago Iran rejected proposals put forth by the P5 Plus group (UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US) led by the EU’s top Iran negotiator Javier Solana. Those proposals included a beefed-up package of economic, trade and technology incentives for Iran along with a scenario for discussions that would have allowed Iran to continue its current enrichment activities pending further talks, provided that Iran would agree to take no new steps to enhance further its existing uranium enrichment program. The response was Ahmadinejad’s announcement July 26th that Iran had, in fact, accelerated its enrichment capacity, employing some 6,000 centrifuges in defiance of this latest “freeze in place” proposal. And there is no sign whatsoever, that, even if the US were to undertake direct talks with Iran, or drop any of its current trade restrictions or terrorism designations vis a vis Iran, that this would alter Iran’s nuclear activities or intentions. As Ahmadinejad, and his mentor, Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei have repeatedly indicated, they consider their uranium enrichment program “non negotiable.”
The basic questions to be considered in designing a response are (1) whether Iran’s enrichment program actually poses a serious threat to regional and international peace and security; (2) How long we still have to deal with this threat, (3) would we be willing to accept a nuclear armed Iran; and (4) if, not, what can we do about it.
Both Presidential candidates have stated that we cannot, and that we will not, allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Both have indicated that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is headed directly in that direction. Some experts tell us it will take several years before Iran could produce nuclear weapons; others put that date just around the corner. These doubts and differences on timing have directly influenced differing world leader responses. Some are still complacent, calling for greater patience and a willingness to accept slow pace negotiations. They believe the problem can be resolved incrementally. These leaders are reluctant to take any new steps that might harm their commercial interests, raise the price of oil, or otherwise exacerbate international tensions. Others are worried that a much shorter timeframe is available, and call for urgent measures to compel Iran to desist from enrichment. The options they would select range from new, more stringent sanctions to military action. The closer Iran gets to nuclear capability, the more likely a military option will be chosen. However, if there is still time, the application of well targeted stringent sanctions may be the key. Such a course would be far less dangerous and costly to all involved.
The UN Security Council has already passed three separate Chapter VII resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran. These measures were directed principally at impeding Iran’s acquisition of nuclear and missile related technology by targeting the specific sectors that are directly associated with these programs. Unfortunately, these limited measures have had little real impact on Iran. And Iran has successfully circumvented many of these measures by using cut-outs located in Dubai and elsewhere to handle transactions on behalf of the sanctioned entities. Ahmadinejad was quick, in his responses to Brian Williams, to point out just how well Iran has weathered these current sanctions.
It’s certainly time now (and hopefully not too late) to up the ante. We must go beyond targeting Iran’s nuclear development programs, and begin to target Iran’s leaders and Iran’s real economic vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities include Iran’s fragile financial system, and her energy sector, transportation and communication sector, and urban commercial class.
There is certainly an extensive menu of sanctions that could effectively be implemented against Iran and that would likely have a significant impact on its leaders, its economy and on its policies. These include, inter alia, such steps as denying Iran investment and export credits, denying Iranian bank access to Euro facilities (they are currently cut off from dollar exchange facilities), curtailing access to shipping and maritime and freight insurance, denying landing rights to Iranian airlines, imposing an embargo on luxury items, dual use technology and refined petroleum products such as gasoline. With a daily consumption of more than 18 million gallons of gasoline Iran must now import some 180 to 200 million gallons of gasoline per month. A travel ban on Iran’s ruling religious and political leaders, including members of the Majlis, IRGC, police, military and major parastatal organizations, and their families, could also be effective. These are only a few examples of the types of measures that might well have an important impact on Iran’s leaders, causing them to consider changing course. All of these measures have been employed in the past, under different UN sanctions programs. Why not now against Iran?
We should look first to the Security Council to take such appropriate sanctions actions. But, if the UN continues to falter, we should look to the EU and other likeminded countries to work with us to impose such measures. There is precedent for such likeminded action, which was employed with great success, for example, in dealing with the Milosevic regime in Serbia, and the Cedras regime in Haiti.
Europe remains Iran’s critical supply center and trading partner, especially Germany, Italy and Austria which continue to export more to Iran than they import. The question is whether Europe, and these countries in particular, can be convinced to undertake such measures. Both Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy have stated a willingness for the EU to act unilaterally, if necessary. But Germany’s Angela Merckel remains reluctant. Germany has joined with both Russia and China in calling for more patience and time in dealing with these issues. While their positions now seem commercially expedient, they may prove short-sighted in the long term. For all of these countries will lose even more if military confrontation becomes the only option.
The fact is that any confrontation with Iran – military or sanctions — is likely to have an impact on world oil markets. But, the sanctions option would likely do far less damage in this regard than a military strike. That’s because Iran cannot really afford, in a non military context, to curtail significantly its own oil exports. These oil revenues are just too important to sustaining Iran’s economy and the ruling regime. And, even if Iran decides to restrict its oil exports to countries perceived as “not participating in the sanctions,” the oil market could quickly adjust to such a re-allocation.
In any event, it should be clear that Iran is now actively buying for time – which it considers on its side. They view each day’s progress toward nuclear capability as irreversible and they obviously want to go as fast and far as they can while they hold us at bay through bluff and charm.
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By JOHN R. BOLTON
Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2008; Page A19
This weekend, yet another “deadline” passed for Iran to indicate it was seriously ready to discuss ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Like so many other deadlines during these five years of European-led negotiations, this one died quietly, with Brussels diplomats saying that no one seriously expected any real work on a Saturday.
The fact that the Europeans are right — this latest deadline is not fundamentally big news — is precisely the problem with their negotiations, and the Bush administration’s acquiescence in that effort.
The rationality of continued Western negotiations with Iran depends critically on two assumptions: that Iran is far enough away from having deliverable nuclear weapons that we don’t incur excessive risks by talking; and that by talking we don’t materially impede the option to use military force. Implicit in the latter case is the further assumption that the military option is static — that it remains equally viable a year from now as it is today.
Neither assumption is correct. Can we believe that if diplomacy fails we can still take military action “in time” to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons? “Just in time” nonproliferation assumes a level of intelligence certainty concerning Iran’s nuclear program that recent history should manifestly caution us against.
Every day that goes by allows Iran to increase the threat it poses, and the viability of the military option steadily declines over time. There are a number of reasons why this is so.
First, while the European-led negotiations proceed, Iran continues both to convert uranium from a solid (uranium oxide, U3O8, also called yellowcake) to a gas (uranium hexafluoride, UF6) at its uranium conversion facility at Isfahan. Although it is a purely chemical procedure, conversion is technologically complex and poses health and safety risks.
As Isfahan’s continuing operations increase both Iran’s UF6 inventory and its technical expertise, however, the impact of destroying the facility diminishes. Iran is building a stockpile of UF6 that it can subsequently enrich even while it reconstructs Isfahan after an attack, or builds a new conversion facility elsewhere.
Second, delay permits Iran to increase its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) — that is, UF6 gas in which the U235 isotope concentration (the form of uranium critical to nuclear reactions either in reactors or weapons) is raised from its natural level of 0.7% to between 3% and 5%.
As its LEU stockpile increases, so too does Tehran’s capacity to take the next step, and enrich it to weapons-grade concentrations of over 90% U235 (highly-enriched uranium, or HEU). Some unfamiliar with nuclear matters characterize the difference in LEU-HEU concentration levels as huge. The truth is far different. Enriching natural uranium by centrifuges to LEU consumes approximately 70% of the work and time required to enrich it to HEU.
Accordingly, destroying Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz does not eliminate its existing enriched uranium (LEU), which the IAEA estimated in May 2008 to be approximately half what is needed for one nuclear weapon. Iran is thus more than two-thirds of the way to weapons-grade uranium with each kilogram of uranium it enriches to LEU levels. Moreover, as the LEU inventory grows, so too does the risk of a military strike hitting one or more UF6 storage tanks, releasing potentially substantial amounts of radioactive gas into the atmosphere.
Third, although we cannot know for sure, every indication is that Iran is dispersing its nuclear facilities to unknown locations, “hardening” against air strikes the ones we already know about, and preparing more deeply buried facilities in known locations for future operations. That means that the prospects for success against, say, the enrichment facilities at Natanz are being reduced.
Fourth, Iran is clearly increasing its defensive capabilities by purchasing Russian S-300 antiaircraft systems (also known as the SA-20) directly or through Belarus. In late July, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and his spokesman contradicted Israeli contentions that the new antiaircraft systems would be operational this year. Assuming the Pentagon is correct, its own assessment on timing simply enhances the argument for Israel striking sooner rather than later.
Fifth, Iran continues to increase the offensive capabilities of surrogates like Syria and Hezbollah, both of which now have missile capabilities that can reach across Israel, as well as threaten U.S. troops and other U.S. friends and allies in the region. It may well be Syria and Hezbollah that retaliate initially after an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, thus making further strikes against Iran more problematic, at least in the short run.
Iran is pursuing two goals simultaneously, both of which it is comfortably close to achieving. The first — to possess all the capabilities necessary for a deliverable nuclear weapon — is now almost certainly impossible to stop diplomatically. Thus, Iran’s second objective becomes critical: to make the risks of a military strike against its program too high, and to make the likelihood of success in fracturing the program too low. Time favors Iran in achieving these goals. U.S. and European diplomats should consider this while waiting by the telephone for Iran to call.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).