• Two new studies have confirmed that this fear is justified. Iran will be able quickly to produce nuclear weapons fuel even under the terms of the JCPOA.

  • Iran can emerge in 15-20 years, or less, as a nuclear power with the potential, at a time of its choosing, "to make enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons within a few weeks." – David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

  • If sanctions failed to do the job, and if Iran engaged in future illegal nuclear activity -- no matter how serious -- would the U.S. use military force? When the U.S. and its allies discovered that North Korea had illegally built a nuclear weapon and massively cheated on the agreed framework, did anyone use military force to stop its effort? No.

  • The likelihood is far greater that the U.S. will look the other way in order not to admit that the deal it agreed to is a dud.

  • Iran has already repeatedly attacked the United States, from the murder of 241 Marines in Lebanon in 1983, to the attack on Khobar Towers; the murder of Americans over Lockerbie; the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya; the attack on the USS Cole; has been complicit in the attacks of September 11, 2001; is still holding four Americans hostages and, openly, is daily threatening America again.

Congressional supporters of the nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and the P5+1 partners, seem to see matters from the perspective of whether the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) and allied intelligence agencies will be able to detect future Iranian cheating.[1]

Possibly feeling confident that they will be able to, Congressional supporters may have concluded that the agreement will buy the United States and its allies sufficient time to re-impose sanctions to ensure future Iranian compliance with the deal.

Let us assume for argument's sake that the IAEA and allied intelligence services will, in fact, readily detect Iranian cheating on the new nuclear deal. This anti-cheating detection capability -- critically important as it is -- would largely entail determining that Iran was enriching more uranium than allowed or keeping such enriched material, contrary to the terms of the agreement.

However, is this self-assurance adequate to be sure we will not be facing a future Iranian nuclear capability? No.

Remember the supporters of the JCPOA told Congress in April and May that they would not agree to a bad nuclear deal but would walk away from the table and agree to no deal as an alternative? Whatever happened to that?

According to the President of the United States, in 12 years the breakout time will be near zero. Although the Secretary of Energy subsequently sought to clarify that breakout time could never be zero, the "nuclear beans," so to speak, were spilled.

The real issue, then, is what nuclear weapons capability Iran will have if or when its rulers decide to break out of the JCPOA agreement. In short, does the deal in the out-years put Iran in a better position than today to then break out and produce a small nuclear arsenal? Yes.

Two new studies have confirmed that this fear is justified. Iran will be able quickly to produce nuclear weapons fuel even under the terms of the JCPOA.

First, David Albright, the respected head of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), in a new assessment explains, "A critical criteria [sic] of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a twelve month breakout timeline for Iran's remaining gas centrifuge program."

However, he continues, "this 12 month criteria [sic] does not hold if Iran were to re-install the advanced IR-2m centrifuges during a breakout. Breakout timelines of seven months result if these centrifuges are re-installed."

Furthermore, says Albright, the JCPOA's most serious shortcoming is that it almost ensures that Iran can emerge in 15-20 years as a nuclear power with the potential, at a time of its choosing, "to make enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons within a few weeks."

Second, according to Greg Jones of Proliferation Matters, the Arak heavy water reactor will produce spent fuel that, according to the JCPOA, should be sent out of Iran "within one year from the unloading from the reactor or whenever deemed to be safe for transfer by the recipient country."[2]

"A reactor of this design," Jones explains, "will certainly generate weapons-grade plutonium as part of its operation."[3]

A reprocessing plant constructed surreptitiously at a military base could extract the plutonium from this spent fuel and be converted to a metal sphere required for a nuclear weapon in a week, in a facility the size of a "few glove boxes."

Once the plutonium sphere is completed, "it could be mated with the non-nuclear components in a matter of hours."

The Arak heavy water reactor, in Iran, is capable of producing plutonium. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

When the U.S. and its allies discovered that North Korea had illegally built a nuclear weapon and massively cheated on the agreed framework, did anyone use military force to stop its effort? No.

Now, let us again concede for argument's sake that the reason the U.S. did not use military force against North Korea was that the capital of South Korea, Seoul, happens to be 35 miles from the DMZ, and faces up to 17,000 North Korean artillery tubes. It was assumed that if the U.S. used military force to shut down North Korea's nuclear activity, North Korea would retaliate by attacking South Korea. So the United States, it was argued, was deterred by the North Korean threat.

But, we are assured, with Iran things would be different because sanctions would be put back in place.

However, the "snap-back" of sanctions, which are meant to enforce elements of the deal if Iran starts cheating, will realistically not snap back.

First, the other members of the P5+1 all want to do business with Iran's new "market" and the $100-150 billion they expect will be coming to Iran for these expected massive purchases.

And second, as all the business deals initiated prior to the snap back of sanctions will remain unaffected, the immediate result of "snap back" sanctions will be minimal at best.

If one looks at the record since 1979, one would not have a lot of confidence that the U.S. will take effective action, or even action of any kind, against Iran. If sanctions failed to do the job, and if Iran engaged in future illegal nuclear activity -- no matter how serious -- would the U.S. use military force?

Iran has already repeatedly attacked the United States, from the murder of 241 Marines in Lebanon in 1983, to the attack on Khobar Towers; the murder of Americans over Lockerbie; the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya; the attack on the USS Cole; has been complicit in the attacks of September 11, 2001; is still holding four Americans hostages and, openly, is daily threatening America again.

Iran is also responsible for killing between 500 and 1000 American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with its explosive devices.

This list of Iran's murder of Americans, and others, does not even include many years of Iran illegally violating its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Did the U.S. ever take subsequent military action? No.

Would Iran's retaliatory capability before -- or especially after -- having nuclear weapons preclude future U.S. and allied military action? In April 2012, a Washington Post story said retaliation could be problematical, warning "Iran bolsters retaliatory capability in the Gulf."

Since then, Iran's military capabilities have markedly increased and will only continue to do so.[4] This will be especially true with the eventual elimination of the current embargoes on Iran receiving conventional weaponry and missile technology. On top of that, Iran will receive over $100 billion in escrowed oil revenue, in addition to the vast new revenues it is expected to receive from all the new business it is expected to do.

Supporters of the Iran deal, however, say they are absolutely certain that if Iran breaks out of the agreement, the U.S. will stop Iran by implementing "snap back" sanctions. The likelihood is far greater that the U.S. will look the other way in order not to admit that the deal it agreed to is a dud.

So far supporters of the JCPOA claim there is no alternative but going to war with Iran. In reality, the war choice may well be between a bad war now, when Iran has conventional weapons, or a worse war later, when Iran has a nuclear capability. Or doing nothing militarily -- which is largely what the West seems to have chosen for the past 36 years. Some would suggest that now that option is tantamount to surrender.

There are other choices, but the West seems not to have wanted to take them. It is not known if the current administration even investigated them.

What seems clear is that the current administration hoped Iran would become a regional partner and assumed this deal would get them there. But what if it does not?

What the current administration muscled though with a contorted vote from a partisan minority may end up creating a hostile Iranian regional hegemon that is eventually armed with nuclear weapons.[5]

Supporters say that even if Iran will able to produce nuclear weapons and have tens of billions more to fund conventional weapons, ballistic missiles and terrorism, the delay is worth the time bought. At least for a decade or more (but in reality, possibly far less) there will be no Iranian nukes appearing on the horizon.

That indeed is the nub of the issue. Although the West thinks it is buying a temporary contraction in the Iranian nuclear weapons fuel production capability (if one assumes there are not, nor will be, any clandestine enrichment facilities), in return what the West gets in the future is an expanded Iran nuclear military capability that the West hopes Iran will not exercise.


[1] See for example these essays: "Why Saying 'Yes' to the Iran Deal Is Safer Than 'No'," "Senator Corker and the Nuclear Agreement," "Iran deal increases chance of armed conflict," and "Nuclear Distraction: Inattention Has Put The U.S. In Danger"

Critically important as well is the history of our intelligence community downplaying Iran nuclear weapons developments. The US intelligence community incorrectly assured us for years that Iran did not have a serious nuclear program -- as they also did with North Korea and Libya. We are now assured that the community will absolutely discover whatever bad stuff Iran is up to, even knowing full well -- if Iran does not subsequently stop whatever it is that we discover-- such information could lead to war. The Iran National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 is very illustrative of this problem as well. It was designed to forestall military action against Iran as it concluded that Iran's nuclear program had stopped in 2003. We know the "stopped" description referred to warhead design work only at one facility that had been discovered (and likely moved elsewhere) and not uranium enrichment and other nuclear activity. The NIE report was part of a campaign to take Iran policy off the political table as an issue in the upcoming Presidential election campaign. If there was no military nuclear program, then there need not be any debate over whether military force was required to be used to stop the program. See Wall Street Journal, "Panetta Warns of Iran Threat," by Jay Solomon, June 17, 2010.

[2] Gregory S. Jones, "An Iran Nuclear Deal That Spreads Nuclear Weapons," August 10, 2015.

[3] Personal communication with the Gregory Jones by the author.

[4] James Clapper, "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the United States Intelligence Community", Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Testimony before the Select Committee on Intelligence, January 29, 2014.

[5] Walter Russell Mead reports that the Washington Post examined the administration's Iran policy and concluded, in Mead's words, that "... in the course of the negotiations, the Obama administration has declined to counter increasingly aggressive efforts by Iran to extend its influence across the Middle East and seems ready to concede Tehran a place as a regional power at the expense of Israel and other U.S. allies." See "Why the White House Is Getting Lonelier on Iran," The American Interest, Feb 6, 2015.

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Related Topics:  Iran, Iranian Nuclear Program, National Defense
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