Iran One Year Away from Assembling Nuclear Device

Tonight 60 Minutes aired an interview with U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. In that interview, the Secretary of Defense made several important and provocative statements. These statements include:

  1. The fact that there have been efforts to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program
  2. The American intelligence community’s belief that the Iranians have “reached a point where they can assemble a bomb in a year or potentially less.”
  3. A warning that if the Iranians proceed with developing a nuclear weapon, the United States will prevent them from doing so.

It seems the purpose of the Defense Secretary’s interview was two-fold. First, he was using 60 Minutes as a medium to communicate a clear and unambiguous message to the Iranian leadership: stop pursuing the development of nuclear weapons or the United States would take action to halt Iran’s program. Second, he appeared to be making the Obama Administration’s case to the American people for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program.

In my opinion, this interview marks the next phase of American strategy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. The first phase, which I consider the diplomatic phase, began in 2003. During this phase, the European Union sought to convince the Iranians to abandon their nuclear program. Not surprisingly, this campaign failed.

The second phase began with a series of economic and political sanctions of increasing severity over the past five to eight years. While these sanctions have had a crippling effect on the Iranian economy, and have greatly increased the difficulty of acquiring nuclear components for the Iranian regime, they have not deterred the mullahs from developing a nuclear capability.

The third phase, or sabotage campaign, began sometime in 2009 or 2010, and included the unleashing of the enigmatic Stuxnet virus, as well as the targeting killing of Iranian nuclear scientists. While this campaign may have delayed the advent of an Iranian bomb, it seems that it hasn’t been enough to stop the program entirely.

The fourth phase will likely be direct action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. It could include either a comprehensive bombing campaign on Iran’s air defense and nuclear assets, or a precision strike focused primarily on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Key targets would likely be those facilities essential in the uranium enrichment process.

Iran is about to cross a red line, in which American military action will inexorably follow. 2012 will be an interesting year, indeed.

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About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Conservative clean energy crusader, national security hawk, financial analyst, engineer, and former military officer.
This entry was posted in Defense, Energy Security, International Security, Nuclear Power, Nuclear proliferation, Policy, Politics, War and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Iran One Year Away from Assembling Nuclear Device

  1. pino says:

    Iran is about to cross a red line, in which American military action will inexorably follow. 2012 will be an interesting year, indeed.

    I tend to resonate with Ron Paul on Iran. Who are we to say that a sovereign nation can not obtain a nuclear weapon?

    • A nuclear Iran will likely initiate a nuclear proliferation spiral in the Middle East. 6-7 nuclear-armed countries in close proximity of the majority of the world’s oil reserves is a recipe for disaster. Our economy (and food supply) requires unfettered access to these energy resources. Should we lose access to these resources through an oil shock triggered by an accidental nuclear launch or miscalculation, there will be chaos in this country as the ability to produce and transport food supplies rapidly diminishes. The last time a country lost access to fuel, 10% of its population died of starvation. Like it or not, what happens in Iran has a direct impact on what happens in America.

      • pino says:

        The last time a country lost access to fuel, 10% of its population died of starvation. Like it or not, what happens in Iran has a direct impact on what happens in America.

        I resonate. However, a domestic energy policy failure on our part doesn’t seem to trump Iran’s search for technology that many many other nations posses. I know WHY we don’t want them to have the bomb, I just don’t think we can use force to justify it.

  2. efgd says:

    As much as I agree that Iran as an unstable country run by a theocratic dictatorship is a potential danger in the crises infested Middle East, there is also other countries that are hostile to Iran – and have nuclear weapons. They may well be so called allies of the US but when push comes to shove those countries will ignore US pleading and do what they have to to divert a threat. Real or imagined. The US desire to bomb any and every country that they disagree with is far from practical or intelligent. Force will always beget force. The outcome also is far from certain – Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan were costly and deadly wars that the US started – for whatever reason. Is the loss of life again worth it? Is the chance of a very serious backlash against an aggressive first strike US policy worth the risk? I do not know the answers. I am not an American. But violence because of consumer opportunities lost seems a pretty thin line to tread. One day we will all have to accept we cannot control another nations resources at will regardless. My only prayer is that common sense and not gung ho will prevail in the end. A war against Iran will be a huge mistake on all counts. The ominous leading towards WW3 is still a reality. What a pity if it was instigated by a so called democratic civilised country out of fear.

    • “They may well be so called allies of the US but when push comes to shove those countries will ignore US pleading and do what they have to to divert a threat. Real or imagined. The US desire to bomb any and every country that they disagree with is far from practical or intelligent.”

      If I were the Iranian military, I would also be intent on developing nuclear capability. I also agree that countries like Israel will “ignore US pleading and do what they have to to divert a threat. Real or imagined.” And I think that is part of the problem. If Iran goes nuclear, there is an increased chance that the Israelis miscalculate and start a nuclear war simply because they fear for their own survival.

      “The US desire to bomb any and every country that they disagree with is far from practical or intelligent.”

      I agree here. The problem is that we’ve been quietly at war with Iran for most of the last decade. The single largest killer of American troops are IEDs, the most lethal of which were designed by Iranians and imported into Iraq specifically to kill American troops. Additionally, a nuclear Iran will have unusual and disproportionate sway in the Middle East. What would the US do, for instance, if an emboldened nuclear Iran seized the Strait of Hormuz through which ~20% of the world’s oil supply passes?

      In my view, a nuclear Iran is unacceptable for a number of reasons, many of which are tied to our national survival. Like it or not, the United States economy runs on fossil fuels. We use them to plant and harvest crops more efficiently, and to ship food and products to market. A spike in oil prices to $1,000 a barrel any time the Iranians want to increase oil profits would be enough to throw the American economy into a death spiral. Furthermore, you have the proliferation spiral I mentioned earlier.

      I don’t advocate starting a full-blown war with the Iranians. What I do advocate is clearly outlining to the Iranian regime that their nuclear program is an unacceptable developement for the United States’ and global interests. Futhermore, we need to clearly communicate that our only “beef” with Iran is with their nuclear weapons program. If they halt it, we no longer have a problem. Furthermore, the international community has exhausted 8-years of diplomatic efforts trying to convince the Iranians to abandon a nuclear problem to no avail. The world has tried everything but force to end the program. Any action in Iran should be limited to targeting that country’s nuclear infrastructure. Living with a nuclear Iran is simply not an acceptable option, in my opinion.

      “But violence because of consumer opportunities lost seems a pretty thin line to tread.”

      This isn’t about consumer opportunities. It is about regional stability and our own national survival (in terms of a threat to our crude oil supply).

      The bottom line is that I understand your reluctance about rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. That said, I think the costs of inaction are worse than those of action. Believe it or not, I ran the numbers using a game theoretic analysis in my masters thesis. Rolling back Iran’s nuclear program is the US’s dominant strategy in game theoretic terms and based on my calculations.

  3. Pingback: Covert Effort to Destroy Iran’s Nuclear Program Continues: Part II | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  4. efgd says:

    Maybe it is time the US looked at its own energy resources: http://itmakessenseblog.com/2011/02/27/the-us-can-and-should-be-energy-self-sufficient/
    This would take the consumer pressure off reliance on oil from Iran. Consumer opportunities relate to energy and goods produced from oil. Thus a move to self reliance is a probability. This would leave Middle East dysfunction between nations of ideological differences – so much like which way up one should crack open a boiled egg, that if it was not so serious one would just say get a life children and old men. Get out a bit even. It is of course serious and tragic that religious and theocratic man made dogma run amok. I believe in a higher being but not one made in our own image with our own sexual urges and need for greed implied.

    Until such time I can only hope that things turn out for the best – in the end – as you say the end justifies the means. I hope so.

    Can you enlighten me as to how your game theory thesis went? If you want to that is. I am ignorant in game theory exercises and probability results.

    • “Maybe it is time the US looked at its own energy resources”

      I completely agree. The United States should not only fully exploit its own traditional sources of energy, but also move toward transitioning its infrastructure away from a fossil-fuel economy. The problem with oil is that it is tied to an international market. Even if we made enough oil to support our needs, oil companies would still be incented to sell their oil to the highest bidder. It is capitalism, after all. Though the more oil we develop on our own, the higher the supply, and the lower the cost.

      “Can you enlighten me as to how your game theory thesis went? If you want to that is. I am ignorant in game theory exercises and probability results.”

      The bottom line is that if you looked at probable Iranian actions if they had a nuke vs. Iranian actions if they did not, it turns out that a nuclear Iran could result in a neo-Cold War in the Middle East that would cost the United States trillions of dollars to ensure we had a stable oil supply. Taking out the nuclear infrastructure, while scary and dangerous, turns out to be a far cheaper proposition that keeping large US forces in the region to hedge against emboldened Iranian adventurism.

  5. dedc79 says:

    That the world would be a better place without an Iranian bomb is, I think, pretty indisputable. What steps to take to prevent them from getting one is where it gets complicated.

    As to those who say it’s only fair for iran to have the bomb because israel has it, I’d ask, is the world a safer place because both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons? Is that a situation we want to emulate anywhere else on the planet?

    • efgd says:

      Once nuclear weapons came on the scene it was obvious that countries would want it. The same as countries improve their armoury in relation to other countries. It is a bit like saying we can have tanks but you must have vans. A non sequitter I think. It is not about what we want but what they want. We want peace and a market system that is fair, a wage that matches the work load and the opportunity to have the things considered the norm in ones country – not the best or the latest but the norm at least. Again a non sequitur. It is not going to happen. We can aim at those things, but unless it is an agreed notion by all and sundry it will not happen. And we know all and sundry aim to keep things in their pocket and not give an inch. The nuclear debate is like that. We all know that nuclear weaponry is evil but no one is going to give theirs up. So, human nature will promote other countries getting nuclear weapons, like all other technological advances. You got it, we want it. I do hope the common sense and peaceful concepts would win out. Human nature tends to override common sense especially when led by dogmatic notions.That is of course why we try to have negotiations and impose sanctions, do they actually work? So I agree totally that a bad and delicate agressive dysfunctional situation is not one we would want to emulate, but I fear we are beyond that now.

      • We just can’t have this discussion without talking about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The line of rationale in your post is very reasonable, but it’s the same one we saw in 1950, when most people thought that every modestly wealthy nation would have nukes by 1980. The NPT prevented it from happening. The conservative approach, it seems to me, is to rely on time-tested, effective policies. Nothing’s perfect, least of all in international relations & law, but we have to be mindful of what we’ve done in the past to stave off proliferation.

        Also, we have to treat predictions of an imminent Iranian bomb with a great degree of humility. Here’s a small excerpt from a list of predictions gone awry:

        October 1992: “Warning the international community that Iran would be armed with a nuclear bomb by 1999, Peres told France 3 television in October 1992 that ‘Iran is the greatest threat [to peace] and greatest problem in the Middle East … because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militantism.’”
        Source: Then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in an interview with French TV, as described in the book “ Treacherous Alliance .”

        November 1992: “But the Israelis caution that a bigger threat to Middle East serenity — not to mention their own country’s security — lies in Teheran, whose regime they say is sure to become a nuclear power in a few years unless stopped.”
        Source: New York Times, “Israel Focuses on the Threat Beyond the Arabs — in Iran”

        January 1995: “Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought, and could be less than five years away from having an atomic bomb, several senior American and Israeli officials say.”
        Source: New York Times, “Iran May Be Able to Build an Atomic Bomb in 5 Years, U.S. and Israeli Officials Fear”

        1995: “The best estimates at this time place Iran between three and five years away from possessing the prerequisites required for the independent production of nuclear weapons.”
        Source: Benjamin Netanyahu, in his book “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat the International Terrorist Network”

        February 1996: “On February 15, 1996, Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak told members of the UN Security Council that Iran would be able to produce nuclear weapons within eight years.”
        Source: Barak comments reported in “ Treacherous Alliance ” …

        August 2003: “Iran will have the materials needed to make a nuclear bomb by 2004 and will have an operative nuclear weapons program by 2005, a high-ranking military officer told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.”
        Source: Jerusalem Post, “Iran can produce nuclear bomb by 2005 – IDF” …

        November 2009: “General Baidatz argued that it would take Iran one year to obtain a nuclear weapon and two and a half years to build an arsenal of three weapons.”
        Source: Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, an Israeli military intelligence official, in conversation with an American defense official, as described in a WikiLeaks cable.

        • Great point. I think Iran, unlike North Korea is also a NPT signatory as well. In other words Iran is likely in violation of the treaty. Thanks for also posting all the examples of Iran getting nukes imminently. When I wrote my Masters thesis on the topic in 2006, many experts were saying Iran was 18 months away from acquiring a bomb.

          Whether or not Iran is close, it looks like the Obama administration is starting to go full throttle with sanctions. It looks like it will turn out to be an interesting year.

  6. Pingback: The Conflict over Iran’s Nuclear Program Continues | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  7. Pingback: The Conflict over Iran’s Nuclear Program Update | Reflections of a Rational Republican

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