One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Iran Said to Have Nuclear Fuel for One Weapon, says the New York Times:

The figures detailing Iran’s progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country’s main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium.

Several experts said that was enough for a bomb, but they cautioned that the milestone was mostly symbolic, because Iran would have to take additional steps. Not only would it have to breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors, but it would also have to further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design — a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved.

“They clearly have enough material for a bomb,” said Richard L. Garwin, a top nuclear physicist who helped invent the hydrogen bomb and has advised Washington for decades. “They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well, that’s another matter.”

Nuclear weapons are 1940s technology. Hell, for a simple gun system, I know how to design a bomb, at least to a first approximation. And do we really think that they couldn’t have a secret engineering shop working on this while they tell the Keystone Kops IAEA that, no, really, these are all the nuclear sites we have, honest? Formally breaching their agreements and expelling the inspectors hardly seems like a speedbump for a regime that’s okay with, oh, invading an embassy, just for starters.

Let’s remember, too, that while I’m sure Iran would love to have their own home-built nuclear-tipped IRBM to destroy Tel Aviv threaten and deter their enemies, a big clunky ISO container bomb would do the job quite nicely.

The question, of course, is what do we do about it? Apparently, the chances of an Israeli strike have gone up, and the United States might not get in the way:

TimesOnline: Bush and Olmert to meet over Iran’s nuclear ambitions

The timing of the talks, between two lame duck leaders with only weeks to go before they leave office, is intriguing. Israel has stated repeatedly that it would be unacceptable for an Iranian regime to acquire nuclear weapons. Although Tehran insists that its uranium enrichment programme is for peaceful purposes, President Ahmadinejad has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.

Intelligence sources have told The Times that the prospect of Israel taking preemptive military action to knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities appears to have become significantly more likely in recent weeks. Such an operation would require at least tacit US cooperation because it would almost certainly involve Israeli warplanes flying through US-controlled airspace in Iraq.

Jerusalem Post: Israel won’t let Iran go nuclear

Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Security Bureau, has stressed to The Jerusalem Post in an unusually hard-hitting interview.

For now, Israel is backing diplomatic and economic efforts to thwart the Iranians, Gilad added, but it doubts these will work and it is keeping all options open.

Asked about the complexities of any resort to military action, particularly since Iran has built its facilities to withstand a repeat of the IAF’s 1981 destruction of Saddam Hussein’s
nuclear reactor at Osirak,
Gilad replied, tellingly, that domestic critics 27 years ago said the Osirak raid “couldn’t be done. And the fact is, it succeeded.”

President-Elect Obama has said that “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon I believe is unacceptable. We have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.” Is an Israeli strike with tacit US cooperation and a heavy sigh of relief from all the neighboring countries “international” enough?

I can see Obama and company breathing a heavy sigh of relief themselves if Israel does something to stop Iran before the Inaugural. That way, he can cite a fait accompli and avoid having to see if his “forceful diplomacy” passes the world laugh test.

4 thoughts on “One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day

  1. Rob

    And do we really think that they couldn’t have a secret engineering shop working on this while they tell the Keystone Kops IAEA that, no, really, these are all the nuclear sites we have, honest?

    That would be the IAEA that was right about Iraq not having restarted development on nukes/WMD, right, as opposed to our intelligence agencies being outrageously wrong?

    But hey, if you can’t trust the Bush Administration (famous last words: Iraq will pay for its own liberation out of oil revenues), who CAN you trust?

    Let’s remember, too, that while I’m sure Iran would love to have their own home-built nuclear-tipped IRBM to destroy Tel Aviv threaten and deter their enemies, a big clunky ISO container bomb would do the job quite nicely.

    I don’t see why the Iranians would want to do this (yes, I know about the Iranian President being the Shiite equivalent of a Pentecostal Holy Roller who believes in the Rapture and End Times- it’s irrelevant because he doesn’t get to press the shiny red button). Their ayatollahs don’t want Teheran melted into glass, which is what’s going to happen if a nuke blows up anywhere in Israel. The Israelis have sub-launched ICBMs. Fat chance of blowing THOSE up before they get you, if you’re the Iranian Defense Ministry.

    Mutually Assured Destruction isn’t pretty, but it does work with respect to states. This, of course, assumes they get a nuke. That may be unavoidable, absent a workable nuclear non-proliferation regime (which the Iranians, the North Koreans, the US under Bush, the Israelis, the Pakistanis and the Indians have all helped to undermine in recent history, through various actions).

    However, I think the Iranians CAN be worked with. After all, we were sending them missiles through the Israelis just a few short years after that embassy invasion, right?

    Realistically, short of a whole scale war with Iran, there’s simply no way to ensure they stop development of nukes absent diplomacy. The Israelis may be able to set things back a piece, but Osirak was followed by Gulf War I in all of 9 years. I am not particularly sanguine about the consequences for the US if we decide the sequel to pouring a trillion dollars of blood and treasure down a rathole in Iraq is another trillion or two in Iran… but I dare say that it’s darkly amusing to see supposed conservatives ignore their Burke while they emulate Woodrow Wilson. I say “supposed” because other conservatives I read actually seem to have this in correct perspective.

    And I can tell you right now… I very much doubt Iraq will stay quiet if it’s very blindingly obvious that Iraqi airspace was overflown to bomb their fellow Shi’ites. It will make it very clear that the Iraqi government is a stooge of the US, and the Arab street HATES their governments being shown up as American puppets. So no, I very much doubt President-elect Obama wants to be handed an Iraq on full-scale TILT in the middle of the US’s biggest economic crisis in 70 years.

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  2. Bryan Lovely Post author

    That would be the IAEA that was right about Iraq not having restarted development on nukes/WMD, right, as opposed to our intelligence agencies being outrageously wrong?

    First off, it was everybody’s intelligence agencies being wrong, which suggests that maybe Americans weren’t uniquely stupid or evil in this case. And second, I mean the IAEA that had no idea that Libya even had a nuclear program on the one hand and the IAEA that issued a report saying the knew Iran was cheating but could do nothing about it on the other.

    If Khamenei wanted us to know that Iran could be “worked with,” he would have said so.

    (And those missiles were part of a secret deal where we gave them missiles and they gave us what exactly? “Working with” means quid pro quo — of course they’ll take a deal where we give them weapons and they pretend to try to get their stooges to do us a favor.)

    As far as I know, the mullahs have never repudiated Khomeini’s policy: “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”

    Israel is faced with a mortal threat, coming from a state known to operate outside the norms of international relations. Mutually Assured Destruction only works with states that operate rationally, and neither we nor Israel have anything stronger than wishful thinking to tell us that Iran is rational.

    (Plus there’s the problem that MAD may or may not have actually worked at all in that the Soviets didn’t necessarily buy into it — after the fall of the USSR, released documents on Soviet doctrine suggest that they never bought the concept at all. Those may have been for internal consumption, but we just can’t tell. Nukes may have been just big artillery to them. MAD was based on what we thought unacceptable losses were, and we just assumed that a country with 20 million war dead would think the same way.)

    Realistically, short of a whole scale war with Iran, there’s simply no way to ensure they stop development of nukes absent diplomacy.

    The Iranians treat diplomacy as exactly what it is: bullshit. They’ve been stringing along the EU for six or seven years now with promise after promise, while they’ve steadily been building their nuclear weapons capability. What is diplomacy good for again, when the target doesn’t care what you think?

    And the author of the link you posted seems to think that any fighting between Iran and Iraq means the US Army is ipso facto immediately defeated. Does he really think Iran could cut our supply lines? The only reason the Iranian Navy (such as it is) isn’t on the bottom of their harbors is they haven’t pissed off the USN yet. I have a hard time taking his analysis seriously.

    Iraq will stay quiet if it’s very blindingly obvious that Iraqi airspace was overflown to bomb their fellow Shi’ites.

    Americans seem to think that Shi’ite solidarity is paramount (your link author above assumes that as well, I guess). Everything I’ve read from Iraqis and Americans who have spent time in Iraq is that Arab Iraqis hate Persians with a deep and abiding passion. Since Iraq’s government and the Iraqi people fear Persian hegemony, I expect they would publicly bitch and privately cheer if Israel struck. Hell, they might even look the other way while Israel used a deserted airfield in the desert somewhere.

    Otherwise Iran gets a nuke. What do you think should be done about it?

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  3. Rob

    I would point out that the Israelis THOUGHT they could walk all over Hezbollah in Lebanon a couple of years ago, once they sent in the tanks. Ooops.

    Remind me, who trains Hezbollah?

    I don’t doubt that we have a lot of superiority over the Iranians- but a creative opposition could definitely be a problem for us in the Straits of Hormuz.

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  4. Bryan Lovely Post author

    The 2006 Lebanon campaign is generally thought to be a failure due to poor strategy (several weeks’ air campaign followed by a hasty yet over-cautious ground campaign) and timid command, not to any superiority or even near-equality of Hezbollah fighters vis-a-vis the IDF.

    The US military *says* it can keep the Straits open even if the Iranians try to close it — just for an example we’ve deployed a lot better anti-missile defenses since 2002. We’ve got a whole lot of naval and Marine power floating around with nothing to do, not to mention the USAF also pretty much sitting around.

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