This weekend, the deadline for an Iranian nuclear deal comes due. There will be no deal. The original deal allows for a six month extension of the original deadline. Over nearly a decade, Iranian efforts to “rope a dope” for more time has been a repetitive pattern, not to mention a highly successful one.
The current Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, is the former chief nuclear negotiator for Iran. He famously taunted the P5+1 for allowing the time necessary for Iran to close in on nuclear status. Iran needed time and they got it. If past serves as prologue, Iran will get more time this time. The arrangement will produce outrageous Iranian counterproposals that are unacceptable to the West. As western frustration grows, Iran will offer a glimmer of hope leading to more negotiations, more time, and more jeopardy of a terrorist state with a nuclear weapon.
Make no mistake: This is not about “peaceful nuclear power.” The evidence is Iranian insistence on a heavy water reactor plant. The only purpose of building a heavy water nuclear facility is to produce plutonium. The only reason to enrich uranium beyond 5% is for weapons production. Peaceful nuclear reactors require enriched uranium between 3.5% and 5%. So why is Iran seeking 20% enrichment?
The nation was already at 20% when this “deal” was struck. They agreed to oxidize that 20% inventory, but the unenriched fuel can quickly be restored to 20% enrichment. Enrichment is a geometric progression: It may take years to get to 20% but only months to get to weapons-grade materials. Iran could have weapons grade material in three to five months from the point the centrifuges begin to spin again, if they ever really stopped.
Further evidence of the nation’s non-peaceful intentions is the secret facilities that have been exposed over time — Arak in 2002, and Fordow in 2009. Additionally, Natanz is a hardened underground facility and the facility at Parchin is the subject of unsatisfied IAEA interest. That’s a lot of time, money, and subterfuge in pursuit of “peaceful use.”
The West has long offered Iran as many light water nuclear facilities as it wished. The West has even offered to supply low-enriched uranium. The Iranian reaction has always been a resounding no. Iran contended that they had the “right” to their own enrichment capability and that they should not be reliant on outside sources. This contention is outside of international norms. That right has only one objective: highly enriched uranium or plutonium appropriate for nuclear weapons grade material.
It’s a simple question. Why has Iran has been willing to suffer massive economic displacement over a supposedly peaceful program? When the current “deal” partially lifted sanctions, Europeans fell over each other to get to Iran to do business. Crippling sanctions will not be easily resurrected. Why suffer such massive economic disruption when “peaceful” options have been offered for at least seven years? The answer is simply that Iran sees a nuclear weapons capability to be in their strategic best interests. Iran as a nuclear power is, however, in no one else’s self-interest.
There is little question that Iran is on track to a nuclear weapon, and the West has facilitated their progress by allowing the time necessary to solve the inherent technical problems. Careful analysis of Israeli capabilities indicate that, acting on their own, Israel has, at best, a 50/50 chance of setting Iran back five years. There is only one nation with the capability to deliver a devastating blow to the Iranian program: the U.S. Our will to do so is in severe question.
There are other scenarios that call for punishing Iranian capabilities to the extent that it is no longer worthwhile to maintain a weapons-grade program, but considering what Iran has already been willing to suffer, the results of such punishments are, at best, questionable.
Will Iran react to an attack on their facilities? Yes they will, but we should not assume that Iran or their surrogates are ten feet tall, when they are much punier than that. Middle Eastern politics will in all likelihood result in Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others taking a step back to survey their own self-interest. Hamas is already being defeated in Gaza, Hezbollah is never a certainty, and other surrogates may back away from exposing themselves to a conflict where overwhelming force could be used against them as well. Iranian military activity in and around the Straits of Hormuz can be muted, defeated, or reversed within ten days. There is much bluster but minimal capabilities compared to a Navy battle group. Iranian costal facilities could be destroyed within a matter of hours and should be as a preventative measure.
It comes down to a question of strategic analysis, a determination that in the face of existential threats, action has to follow rhetoric. It is also a case of political will. Iran has counted and continues to count on the absence of that political will and the courage to apply it.