The New York Times reports that, in the view of U.S. intelligence agencies, Iran has “possible breakout capacity” to enrich and weaponize its stockpile of uranium. The article further suggests a difference of views between Israeli and American intelligence, with the latter taking a more sanguine view of the danger. The article claims:
The American position is that the United States and its allies would probably have considerable warning time if Iran moved to convert its growing stockpile of low-enriched nuclear fuel to make it usable for weapons. …
The Israelis have argued that there could be little or no warning time — especially if Iran has hidden facilities — and they contended that in the aftermath of Iraq, American intelligence agencies were being far too cautious in assessing Iran’s capability.
Given how wrong U.S. intelligence was about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (minimizing the danger prior to 1991 and then exaggerating the danger prior to 2003), it is hard to know why anyone would credit the assurances of American officials that they “would probably have considerable warning time” before Iran went nuclear. For that matter, U.S. intelligence also failed to foresee Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons tests in 1998 and the North Korean test in 2006. What reason is there to believe that we have better knowledge of the inner workings of Iran’s program? If anything, all indications are that the Iranian program is even more opaque.
The upshot is that we should err on the side of safety—act as if Iran could go nuclear very, very soon, because it could. That means we need a more serious policy than hoping against hope that the Iranians will give up their program in return for the privilege of chatting with President Obama.