The Iranian Supreme Leader announced last week that further negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program are ended, asserting that "jihad" will continue until America is destroyed.
Whatever the future of a nuclear "deal" with Iran, still missing are both an analysis of what specific deal is technically required to end the Iranian nuclear weapons program compared to what is now on the table, and whether the assumptions many in the West bring for an agreement to succeed hold up under scrutiny.
To answer the first problem, an analysis by Gregory Jones of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) explores the faults with the current proposals.
First, according to Jones, Iran can still quickly produce Highly Enriched Uranium [HEU], the stuff from which nuclear weapons are built. As Jones emphasizes, "this means Iran is already a de facto nuclear weapon state." Any agreements, therefore, must "deny Iran access to HEU either in the short or long term," as well as prevent Iran's Arak nuclear reactor from being "reconverted to be able to produce" plutonium from which nuclear bomb fuel can be made.
The Arak heavy water reactor, in Iran. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Second, under the terms of the interim deal, Iran "will have an unrestricted centrifuge enrichment program," thus legitimizing Iran's desire for such a program, as well as any other country that desires nuclear weapons. Jones explains that IAEA inspections also must provide for the "timely detection" of any diversion of produced nuclear fuel.
Third, Iran should therefore have no "centrifuge enrichment capability" precisely because "commercial scale centrifuge enrichment facilities can produce HEU so quickly that these facilities are unsafeguardable as timely detection of diversion is impossible." Jones also emphasizes that just because there has not been any diversion of nuclear fuel to date, does not mean that no such diversion will ever take place in Iran in the future.
The second critical issue is whether the assumptions of those convinced an agreement with Iran is possible at all are correct. These assumptions vary but they usually fall into six categories.
1) Iran will never use a nuclear weapon, even if it has one.
2) Iran is simply trying to defend itself from a bullying United States that has a history of pushing for regime change.
3) Any use of a nuclear device would easily be detected as to the country of origin, including Iran.
4) Similarly, Iran's ballistic missiles -- designed to deliver a nuclear warhead -- are simply a deterrent needed in a bad neighborhood and their use could be readily attributed to Tehran.
5) Should Iran decide to build a nuclear warhead, US intelligence will readily detect such a move.
6) There are no real options other than "diplomacy," and if we could talk to the Soviets during the Cold War, we can certainly talk to the Iranian mullahs now.
But are these assumptions true?
On assumptions #1 and #2: Iran has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and a "world without" the United States. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's former President, for example, has stated that "the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
On assumption #3: The U.S. has made progress on nuclear forensics but does not have the ability accurately to detect the origin of a nuclear explosion. Worse, an electromagnetic pulse [EMP] bomb would not leave any nuclear debris to be analyzed.
On assumption #4: Iran's ballistic missiles can be instruments of coercion, blackmail and terror, even if never launched. Tens of thousands of Iranian-built rockets and missiles have been transferred to Hamas and Hezbollah for just that purpose.
Also, such weapons can be launched surreptitiously, masking the country of origin, for instance if launched from an ocean-going freighter. Terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, regularly launch rocket attacks on Israel, but because they are not "recognized state actors" launching rocket attacks on another sovereign state, we do not put them in the same category. All terrorist groups, therefore, get a free pass when attacking a state. Where is any international outcry?
On assumption #5: Detecting a nuclear weapons program is not easy: the U.S. intelligence community already failed to detect the Iraqi nuclear program in 1991; the construction of a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2009; the North Korean nuclear enrichment program in 2000-1, and the Libyan nuclear centrifuge purchases in 2005. That is quite a record.
Major elements of Iran's nuclear program were discovered by internal Iranian dissidents who shared the information with the West. Can one count on such help in the future?
And as to assumption #6: Terrorism is Iran's tool of choice. Iran's affiliated terror groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, attack, or threaten to attack, the U.S., U.S. "interests" and U.S. allies.
An Iranian nuclear device in the hands of such terror groups -- chosen precisely because they cannot be readily identified as working for, or connected to, a state -- can therefore be used in an attack with impunity, totally undermining the assumption that such weapons in the hands of Iran are "only for deterrence."
A rocket launched from mid-ocean has no return address. Detonated 70 miles above the eastern seaboard of the United States, a nuclear device leaves no signature.
Such an EMP attack - - its origin always unknowable -- would plunge millions of Americans into a pre-industrial stone-age, equivalent to the early 19th century, according to both former Director of Central Intelligence, Ambassador R. James Woolsey and EMP expert Peter Pry.
Unless we end the Iranian nuclear weapons program now, we will probably only know if a threat is "real" after it is too late.