Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fordow

Fordow and Obama’s Iran March of Folly

As the deadline for the end of the Iran nuclear talks grows closer, the remaining gaps between the positions of the two parties are starting to be closed up. And as everyone expected, Iran is winning on every point. As the Associated Press first reported last night, the United States has now agreed to allow Iran to keep several hundred centrifuges operating at Fordow, the fortified mountainside bunker. In exchange, the Iranians have promised not to use these machines for nuclear work and have agreed to other limitations on their activities. But this is no equal tradeoff. Letting Fordow remain in operation with sophisticated machinery is an open invitation for Iran to cheat and to do so in a place where its operations are virtually invulnerable to attack. Once again, as it has been doing since it began negotiating with Iran in secret in 2013, the Obama administration has traded away a key Western demand in exchange for easily evaded promises. The negotiations have become a march of folly in which the president’s zeal for a deal is watering down an already weak agreement that is a gift to the Islamist regime.

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As the deadline for the end of the Iran nuclear talks grows closer, the remaining gaps between the positions of the two parties are starting to be closed up. And as everyone expected, Iran is winning on every point. As the Associated Press first reported last night, the United States has now agreed to allow Iran to keep several hundred centrifuges operating at Fordow, the fortified mountainside bunker. In exchange, the Iranians have promised not to use these machines for nuclear work and have agreed to other limitations on their activities. But this is no equal tradeoff. Letting Fordow remain in operation with sophisticated machinery is an open invitation for Iran to cheat and to do so in a place where its operations are virtually invulnerable to attack. Once again, as it has been doing since it began negotiating with Iran in secret in 2013, the Obama administration has traded away a key Western demand in exchange for easily evaded promises. The negotiations have become a march of folly in which the president’s zeal for a deal is watering down an already weak agreement that is a gift to the Islamist regime.

Heading into the final days of talks, Iran knew it was in a strong position vis-à-vis an Obama administration that is desperate for anything that it can call a foreign-policy triumph as the chaos in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen have rendered the president’s claims about having defeated Islamist terror a sad joke. So it was no surprise that, as I wrote yesterday, they have stood their ground in refusing to open up their military research facilities to United Nations inspections, a stand that makes it impossible for the West to know just how close they are to having the technology to make a useable weapon. Now with Fordow, Iran has managed to manipulate Western negotiators to give in on another matter that fatally undermines any hope that this agreement will do much to prevent the regime from getting a weapon if it chooses to try to evade its commitments.

It should be noted that the reported concession would not allow the Fordow centrifuges to enrich uranium. In so doing, the machines can’t be technically considered nuclear centrifuges. But it wouldn’t take much effort to repurpose them for uranium should Iran ever decide it needed to race to a weapon. Moreover, allowing the centrifuges to remain in place lets Iran continue to work on technology that can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Additionally, the placement of these machines at Fordow is crucial. The West wanted all nuclear technology taken out of that facility specifically because it is so invulnerable to attack. If the centrifuges were, as can easily be done, repurposed for uranium, what then could anyone do about it once sanctions on Iran were lifted and few in the West were eager to reimpose them or to take any action at all on an issue that we will be reassured is over and done with?

These concessions reflect two key elements of the administration’s negotiating strategy.

The first is that they will clearly do anything to preserve the chance of an agreement. There is no single point, no matter how crucial to the hopes of using a deal to foreclose the possibility of an Iranian bomb that President Obama won’t give up in order to keep Iran at the table. The Iranians know that and have acted accordingly.

Second, the administration’s belief in these compromises is not cynical. The president, Secretary of State Kerry, and the rest of the negotiating team truly believe they can trust Iran to keep its word. Given Iran’s behavior over the last 35 years since the Islamic Revolution, it is hard to believe that anyone would believe such a thing. But President Obama still believes in engagement with Iran and thinks that by allowing it to “get right with the world,” he can usher in a new era of understanding between the United States and the Islamist regime.

That is why it is a mistake to think of the nuclear talks as an end in and of themselves, as those who view their nuclear program as a danger to U.S. security and that of our moderate Arab allies, as well as an existential threat to the State of Israel, necessarily do. For Obama, it is just one piece of a puzzle by which he seeks to create détente with Iran. That is why he will do nothing to risk offending the ayatollahs even if it means agreeing to something that will allow them to get a bomb by easily evading such a deal or even through abiding by it. Appeasement isn’t so much a method for Obama as an end in itself.

That is the only way to understand these latest concessions to Iran and those that will inevitably follow them both before and after a deal is signed in the president’s march of folly.

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Temper the Optimism About Fordow Blast

Iran’s official denial of reports of a major explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow is heartening for those who are hoping that the rumors about a setback for the Islamist regime are true. The optimistic scenario would be based on the notion that if Iran is bothering to deny the stories of something bad happening, then something must have happened. But the unconfirmed rumors with details about hundreds of workers being trapped in the underground facility may also be a matter of hope being father to the wish, as many in the West would like to believe that some sort of covert intelligence activity or computer virus will be so successful as to relieve either the United States or Israel of the need to take overt military action to neutralize the Iranian threat.

If there is one place in Iran that Western observers would like to see spontaneously explode it is Fordow, where hardened bunkers built into the side of a mountain house Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. As the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last fall, it is there that the Iranians have stepped up their activity, enriching uranium at a rate that might soon accumulate enough material to allow Tehran to begin amassing their own nuclear arsenal. But even if the reports about an explosion are true, it is: a) by no means certain that the event was not an accident rather than part of a daring operation conducted by American and/or Israeli intelligence forces, and b) no guarantee that the Iranian program has been dealt anything more than an insignificant setback.

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Iran’s official denial of reports of a major explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow is heartening for those who are hoping that the rumors about a setback for the Islamist regime are true. The optimistic scenario would be based on the notion that if Iran is bothering to deny the stories of something bad happening, then something must have happened. But the unconfirmed rumors with details about hundreds of workers being trapped in the underground facility may also be a matter of hope being father to the wish, as many in the West would like to believe that some sort of covert intelligence activity or computer virus will be so successful as to relieve either the United States or Israel of the need to take overt military action to neutralize the Iranian threat.

If there is one place in Iran that Western observers would like to see spontaneously explode it is Fordow, where hardened bunkers built into the side of a mountain house Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. As the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last fall, it is there that the Iranians have stepped up their activity, enriching uranium at a rate that might soon accumulate enough material to allow Tehran to begin amassing their own nuclear arsenal. But even if the reports about an explosion are true, it is: a) by no means certain that the event was not an accident rather than part of a daring operation conducted by American and/or Israeli intelligence forces, and b) no guarantee that the Iranian program has been dealt anything more than an insignificant setback.

The objective lesson here is the widespread optimism within the U.S. government in late 2011 when the reports about the Stuxnet computer virus were first published. The assumption that the Iranians were either too unsophisticated or too dumb to cope with the virtual attack proved ridiculously optimistic. Stuxnet may have delayed the Iranian program, but it wasn’t stopped. Indeed, the Iranians not only redoubled their efforts in the subsequent year but also counterattacked with their own computer virus attacks against U.S. banks.

Thus, whether the Fordow rumors are substantiated or debunked in the coming weeks and months, no one should assume that this resolves the question about what to do about Iran’s nuclear threat. Making sure that Iran is–as President Obama promised in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney–deprived of a nuclear program will require more than cloak and dagger operations. An outcome that removes the danger of an Iranian nuke will mean that either Iran surrenders its nuclear option on its own in a verified program or a full-scale air assault on all of the Iranian facilities that would ensure that it would take many years and more treasure than the Iranians can amass to rebuild them.

Given the apocalyptic stakes involved in a potential nuclear weapon being placed in the hands of the religious fanatics in charge of Iran, the United States and Israel are justified in any effort they undertake to stop the Iranians, up to and including the use of force. That’s why Israelis are hoping that if President Obama is ever truly convinced that diplomacy won’t work, an American attack using Massive Ordinance Penetrator bombs that the Jewish state doesn’t possess will do the job at Fordow. But while we hope that all efforts to stop the Iranians, including diplomacy, sanctions and covert action, are successful, reliance on any measure that falls short of a comprehensive attack or verifiable and complete diplomatic surrender is probably nothing more than wishful thinking.

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