Commentary Magazine


Contentions

There’s No More Time to Waste on Iran

The best argument I’ve yet seen for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities imminently is a chilling new report from the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security saying that by the middle of next year, Iran will have reached “critical capability”–the ability to build a nuclear bomb completely undetected. In other words, by mid-2014, it will be impossible to mount a last-minute effort to stop Iran from sprinting for the bomb because, as the Jerusalem Post explains, “breakout times at critical capability would be ‘so short’ that there would not be enough time to organize an international diplomatic or military response.” This would be true even if Iran agrees to heightened scrutiny through measures such as remote monitoring and more frequent on-site inspections.

But aside from warning that time is running out, the ISIS report also undercuts some of the arguments made against military action, such as that nobody can be sure all of Iran’s nuclear facilities have been discovered, and hence an attack could easily miss some. And it particularly demolishes the main argument against a solo Israeli attack: that Israel lacks the capability to inflict enough damage on Iran’s nuclear program to set it back significantly.

That’s because the key component of critical capability is simply the number of centrifuges in operation. The more centrifuges Iran has, the faster it can enrich enough uranium for a bomb, so as soon as it has enough centrifuges, it will also have the ability to enrich enough uranium for a bomb faster than military action can be mounted to stop it. According to ISIS, the 3,000 advanced centrifuges that Iran announced plans to install earlier this year would be enough to give it this capability.

What that means, however, is that even if an attack doesn’t destroy every last bit of Iran’s nuclear program, as long as it destroys enough centrifuges to push Iran away from critical capability, this would suffice to prevent it from racing for the bomb undetected.

Clearly, that isn’t as good as permanently eliminating the program. But given the choice between buying a little more time and accepting the inevitability of a nuclear Iran, buying time is clearly preferable.

I’ve argued before that buying time is often more effective than commonly thought; Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor–which set Iraq’s nuclear program back just long enough for the 1991 Gulf War to finish the job–is a case in point. But buying time would be especially effective in this case, for the simple reason that an attack would convince Iran of something it currently doesn’t believe: that either the U.S., Israel, or both will prove to be serious about preventing it from obtaining nukes, even if doing so requires military action. And once convinced of that, Iran is less likely to rush to rebuild its capabilities.

ISIS, incidentally, doesn’t argue for bombing Iran; it argues for negotiating an immediate agreement “limiting the number and type of Iran’s centrifuges at Natanz, Fordow, or a site not yet finished.” But given Iran’s past history of dragging out negotiations ad infinitum without ever reaching a deal, the chances of reaching an agreement like that in enough time to stop it from obtaining critical capability are almost nil.

In short, either military action is taken in the coming months, or a nuclear Iran will be inevitable. There is no more time to waste.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.