It turns out that Iranian Minister of Mines and Industries Ali-Akbar Mehrabian wasn’t bluffing when he boasted last month that the West’s sanctions regime is a bust. Rising oil prices have devastated what little leverage the U.S. ever had to enforce oil sanctions, a point that the Iranians have taken to crowing about publicly. With no hope of changing Tehran’s cost-benefit calculus for pursuing nuclear weapons, the only question left was whether Western export restrictions would stop the mullahs and the IRGC from getting the technology they need.
A new study, published today by RAND Corporation researcher Gregory S. Jones and based on the IAEA may 24 report, answers that question in the negative. For years Iranian stooge and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei used the agency as a fig leaf to cover up Iranian nuclearization and undermine the Western case for action. Now that Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano is running the agency, the true extent of Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is becoming evident.
Based on IAEA data, Jones concludes that—surprise!—the Iranians are not only developing nuclear weapons, but they’ve been doing it for so long that any option short of military occupation is doomed to fail. They’ve actually accelerated their uranium enrichment 17 percent over the last few months, demonstrating that either they’ve shrugged off Stuxnet or the virus’s effects were always overblown. The regime is moving forward on building or upgrading their three known enrichment facilities—two at Natanz and one at Qom—and would need only two weeks to create enough HEU out of their legally-enriched uranium stockpiles to make a nuclear weapon.
The full report is here [PDF]. It’s filled with scenarios for clandestine enrichment pathways that Iran could be pursuing right now with zero Western knowledge, but those are secondary. Just based on Iran’s known stockpiles and facilities, Jones concludes that “Iran continues to make increasingly rapid progress towards acquiring the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons completely unimpeded by any Western counteraction. . . . Iran can now produce a weapon’s worth (20 kilograms) of HEU any time it wishes.”
The White House seems to be approaching Iran like they’re approaching the Fatah/Hamas merger, which is not dissimilar to how they approach entire swaths of the world. Having advocated engagement in the most obnoxious ways imaginable – like you’d have to be a neocon idiot not to realize that those were the policies what the US should be pursuing – they’re now left hoping against hope that they won’t have to deal with the consequences of their naivete. With the Fatah/Hamas merger they’re just keeping their fingers crossed that it will fall apart.
With Iran the White House might be watching for the Green Revolution to finally overthrow the regime, even though that would only target the mullahs and not the IRGC. Since the commitment to nuclearization extends down to the military – and, frankly, across the Iranian political hierarchy and to the reformers – a revolution won’t do much to stop Tehran’s drive for nukes. Even the White House’s hope-against-hope best case scenario, then, wouldn’t avert a nuclear crisis in Central Asia, with a wildly unstable nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East to follow immediately afterward.
In other recent Iran military news, Tehran has shared ballistic missile technology with North Korea, declared that the Gulf “belongs to Iran,” threatened to hit ships as far away as the Indian Ocean, sent deadly rockets to the Taliban, boasted about aiding Hezbollah while threatening to cut off all Middle East oil, armed IRGC units with a new indigenous ballistic missile, and of course insisted that Israel has to be wiped out to secure peace. Strange, they don’t seem to be amenable to engagement.