Two weeks ago, Israeli cabinet member Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon until 2013. But apparently, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is even more optimistic. In a summary given to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Meir Dagan assured his country’s parliament that Iran would not have nuclear capability until 2015 at the earliest. According to Dagan, a series of “malfunctions” have plagued the Iranian program, setting it back.
If true, that is certainly good news, and if the “malfunctions” are the result of Western or Israeli sabotage operations, such as the much-talked-about Stuxnet virus or the reported attacks on Iranian scientists, then so much the better. It gives both Israel and the United States a bit more breathing room to build an international coalition in favor of serious sanctions on Iran as well as more time to prepare less-diplomatic methods of ensuring that the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran does not obtain the ultimate weapon.
But the problem with such pronouncements is that they also tend to foster complacency about the deadly nature of the Iranian threat. After all, even if the Mossad is right (and like our own CIA, Israel’s vaunted spooks have been terribly wrong about a lot of things in the past), it still means that Iran will have the bomb in just four years. However little we may think of the Iranians’ scientific capabilities, the odds are that they will figure out how to solve the Stuxnet attack on their computers by then — and also how to toss a curve or two our way. Given the resources they have put behind this project and the limited impact of the weak Western sanctions that have been imposed on them, it is only a matter of time (and perhaps less time than we think) before they succeed.
Stuxnet is not a solution to the existential threat that an Iranian bomb poses to Israel in particular and to stability in the Middle East in general. It is just a delaying tactic. It is has been extremely difficult to awake a slumbering Western public to the danger that Iran represents. Iran has profited in the past by delaying tactics that were facilitated by the credulousness and inexperience of the Obama administration. The time that Stuxnet may have earned the West is valuable, but we need to curb our enthusiasm about it. Those who take too much comfort from pronouncements such as the one made by Dagan are liable to awake one morning and be confronted with the unpleasant reality of a nuclear Iran.