Hamas’s decision not to go along with their patron Iran’s determination to keep Bashar Assad in power in Syria broke up a profitable alliance that had worked well for both parties. But though the two may no longer be working in tandem, Hamas’s decision to launch a rocket offensive against Israel did a favor for the country that had supplied the terror group with cash and weapons for a decade: it diverted international attention away from the release of a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear program.
That’s fortuitous for Iran, since the IAEA’s latest findings about Tehran’s project more or less confirm the warnings that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued from the podium of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September. As Britain’s Guardian reports, all those pundits and kibitzers who mocked Netanyahu’s rhetoric and graphic display at the UN may need to rethink their position:
Iran has expanded its enrichment capacity and is enriching uranium at a pace that would bring it to what Israel has declared an unacceptable red line in just over seven months, according to a report by the UN nuclear watchdog. The red line drawn by Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, during his UN appearance in September, represented 240kg of 20%-enriched uranium, enough to make a warhead if further enriched to weapons grade.
The sensitivity of 20% uranium figure is that it can be turned into weapons grade relatively fast and easily. The last time the IAEA inspectors drew up a report, three months ago, Iran had made 189kg of 20% uranium. but had used nearly 100kg for civilian purposes, leaving an outstanding 96kg.
In the last three months, that stockpile has grown by 43kg and Iran has not diverted any more of it to civil uses. At the current steady rate of production, that would bring Iran to the Israeli red line by mid-June. But it also installed new centrifuges at its underground enrichment plant in Fordow, with which it could double its rate of production if it chose to do so.
The IAEA report should concentrate American minds on the fact that although the erratically enforced international economic sanctions imposed on Iran have caused great pain to the country, they have done nothing to weaken the resolve of the ayatollahs to stick to their nuclear plan. The June red line date gives President Obama only a few months to do something to vindicate his insistence that diplomacy can work to persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambition. Though the attention focused on Hamas’s war has diverted the press and the public from the question of Iran this week, Washington shouldn’t count on the Israelis being similarly distracted.
The fact that the Iranians understand this all too well is apparent in their attitude toward the fighting going on along the Israel-Gaza border. Though Iran’s vilification of Israel is second to none, it has not sought to do anything to ease the pressure on their former allies. While the Israelis are pounding Hamas, Iran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries have been suspiciously quiet. Iran could order Hezbollah to start firing its own rockets at northern Israel–something that could put a terrible strain on the Jewish state’s already heavily burdened missile defense systems. But they haven’t done so. The reason for this is that they know that if they did unleash Hezbollah, it would give the Israelis an excuse to launch an all-out offensive aimed at knocking out the Lebanese terror group’s offensive capabilities. That would mean that Iran would be deprived of a major deterrent to an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities.
Nevertheless, the bottom line here is that the UN group has confirmed that Netanyahu’s calculations about the moment when Iran would have the ability to create a weapon were largely accurate. That leaves the ball firmly placed in President Obama’s court. The clock is ticking down the moments until Iran passes the red line that will mark them as a potential nuclear power. It is also counting down the time that the president has left before he will be forced to choose between taking action against Iran or reneging on his campaign promises to stop them.