With the International Atomic Energy Agency about to release a new report detailing the military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program, the ground is slipping away underneath the feet of those claiming there is no reason for alarm about the issue. As a “news analysis” by David E. Sanger in today’s New York Times points ou,t recent developments undercut the arguments of those who say that a nuclear Iran can be contained. Even more troubling for Washington is, as Sanger writes, time may also be running out for covert efforts aimed at sabotaging Iran’s program.
Though Barack Obama has pledged that he will never allow Iran to go nuclear, the question today is what the U.S. is prepared to do about it even once the IAEA makes it clear there is no longer any doubt about Tehran’s intentions. That leaves Washington with a few unpalatable choices.
The tough international sanctions needed to stop Iran are certain to be blocked by Russia and China. The United States could enact more unilateral sanctions such as a ban on transactions with Iran’s central bank. But even that move, which should be done, won’t be enough. Sanger is right to note that the only measure that could actually force the ayatollahs’ hands is a ban on oil imports from Iran. But with good reason, he doubts that an administration already worried about a shaky economy will do anything that could raise oil prices in an election year.
The idea that covert activities such as the Stuxnet virus could solve the problem was also always an illusion. So, too, is the hope that assassinations of Iranian scientists could stop Iran. In both cases, such efforts may have delayed Iran’s progress, but the clock is still counting down toward the moment when the Islamist regime will be able to announce their first successful test of a nuclear device.
It is this dilemma that has given rise to another round of rumors about Israel taking military action to deal with this threat. No one believes for a minute Obama will ever use force to stop Iran even if he has promised that it would not get a bomb on his watch. And with Iran taking defensive measures that will make it harder in the future for their nuclear facilities to be attacked, the pressure to act sooner rather than later is clear. Iranian actions, such as the Washington terrorist plot, also undermine the notion that they are a stable regime that can be successfully contained.
Both Republicans and Democrats have paid lip service to the idea of stopping Iran from getting nukes. But in the coming 12 months, as Americans prepare to choose a president in an election in which economic issues will predominate, the country may be ignoring a critical threat that cannot be delayed or ignored much longer.