In the past few weeks the world has been treated to a barrage of bombast from Iran. The first rhetorical salvo was blasted off by President Ahmadinejad with the claim that his country was already working on advanced methods to enrich uranium.
This was taken to mean that copies of the P2 centrifuge design of Pakistan’s renegade nuclear weaponeer, A.Q.Khan, had been built by Tehran’s scientists and more would be coming on line swiftly, thus substantially enhancing their ability to produce enriched uranium. The implication therein was that Iran would have the ability to produce a nuclear weapon in under five years.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, jumped into the act by announcing that Iran was “ready to deal with” any military threat from the United States. This verbal weaponry was accompanied by Iranian naval maneuvers in the Gulf that purportedly revealed new high speed torpedoes and missiles capable of striking enemy ships.
The display of Persian military chest thumping reached a crescendo when Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly suggested to an eager listener, the visiting President al Bashir of Sudan, that Tehran was prepared to transfer its nuclear technology to anyone it wished.
The purpose of this round of bellicose propaganda would appear to be an effort by the Iran regime to exploit anti-war sentiment in U.S. politics to force a perceived weakened Bush presidency to deal less forcefully with the prospect of a potentially nuclear armed Iran. The logic, strained as it might be, is that the image of Iran speeding inexorably toward advanced nuclear technology substantiates its claim to be able to do anything it wishes with that ability. Without saying it, nuclear weaponization is implied as the “natural” outgrowth.
The Iranian leadership appears to be counting on the fact that a large body of influential American strategic opinion believes that the U.S. would have to launch some form of nuclear attack in order to prevent development of a Persian bomb in heavily protected and hardened nuclear sites. Such a military action would not be possible, according to Iranian reasoning, without destroying America’s position as the world’s political and moral leader — and no American president would do that!
This leaves economic sanctions as the only recourse. No matter the hardships created, Iran’s theocratic leadership believes it has enough control over its civilian sector and leverage with Russia and China to outlast and outwit any program of international sanction sought by the West.
If this is the Iranian equation, Tehran has made an essential error regarding the military option even though it may be quite correct in respect to economic sanctions. The 300 possible sites that reportedly make up Iran’s national nuclear research, development and manufacturing complex are quite vulnerable to U.S. conventional weapons. In the most hardened of sites deep underground it is not necessary to penetrate all levels in order to destroy their operational capability and deny access and egress. American conventional — albeit sophisticated — weapons have that ability.
While Iran may be making the mistake that the U.S. won’t attack because Washington believes it only could do so with nuclear weapons, American strategists would also make a mistake if they think the rank and file of the Iranian people does not want to have nuclear weaponry. The ordinary Iranian is well aware of the fact that his country is surrounded by the nuclear powers, Israel, Russia, and Pakistan. This is to say nothing of the nuclear- armed American navy and air force operating in the Gulf and its environs.
There is nothing strong enough within the structure of today’s Iranian political culture that will hold back Ahmadinejad’s ambition for the first Shia nuclear weapon system. The idea that the U.S. and its European allies have time as an advantage holds no legitimacy. Time is on the side of Iran’s mullahs and their favorite radical son. They are not about to wait till Washington becomes less encumbered by its commitment in Iraq.
The United States is faced with three deadly choices: One is to wait and work for an Iranian regime change in the near future to halt Tehran’s current drive toward nuclear armament. The second is to accept the concept of a nuclear-armed Iran and make the best of it. The third is to move militarily to crush Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. In any case there is only a window of a few years.
Perhaps Clint Eastwood said it best. “Are you feeling lucky today?”