Is Iran Able To Build A Nuke?

That’s what the UK Times is reporting:

Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.

The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.

Of course, what we don’t know about Iran’s capability could fill a book. We’ve seen it variously reported that they a year away to ten years away – a good indicator that for the most part intelligence agencies haven’t a clue in reality.

However, as we know, nuclear bombs are old technology. The genie has been out of the bottle way too long to believe that Iran can’t build a bomb if it dedicates the time and resources to do so. And it certainly seems to have done both.

So now what?

That’s the salient question now. Let’s assume Iran has a bomb by this time next year – then what?

Well here’s the apparent game plan:

If Iran’s leader does decide to build a bomb, he will have two choices, intelligence sources said. One would be to take the high-risk approach of kicking out the international inspectors and making a sprint to complete Iran’s first bomb, as the country weathered international sanctions or possible air strikes in the ensuing crisis. The other would be to covertly develop the materials needed for an arsenal in secret desert facilities.

Last week, during a series of high-level US visits to Israel, officials outlined Washington’s plans to step up sanctions on Iran, should Tehran fail to agree on talks. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and General James Jones, the National Security Adviser, said that Iran had until the end of next month, when the UN General Assembly is to meet, to make a positive move towards engagement.

If Tehran fails to respond, Washington aims to build a tough international coalition to impose harsh sanctions focusing on petroleum products — an area where Iran is particularly vulnerable because it sends almost all of its crude abroad for refinement.

The feeling, of course, is if these sorts of sanctions can be imposed, it will hurt the regime even further by adding more unrest among a population already not happy with the election outcome. And, per the Times, hit directly at the Revolutionary Guards Council, which is the main exporter of terrorism through its surrogates in various parts of the world.

Of course what isn’t mentioned by the Times is the one big fly in the ointment of getting this done – China. No China, no sanctions. And China has developed a pretty close relationship with Iran based on petroleum trade. In 2004 it signed two huge oil and gas deals with Iran. Presently 45% of China’s crude imports come from the Middle East and that’s expected to rise to 70% by 2015. In 2008, China finalized a $70 billion deal to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field in exchange for the supply of liquefied natural gas. And much, much more.

So China is not going to be keen to cripple a nation which it has invested so much time and money in developing a relationship with – especially if it wants to maintain its own economy (and keep its own internal unrest to a simmer) during recessionary times.

Bottom line? My guess is a lot of tough talk and fist shaking at Iran, but in the end, nothing much happens and Iran ends up with its nuke. The play will be made in the UN where China has a seat on the Security Council and I’d almost bet the house that nothing comes out of that organization with any teeth whatsoever or China won’t vote for it.

Bottom bottom line – Israel, who we seem bound and determined to have worse relations with, is probably going to have to find a way to destroy the capability on their own. Militarily they’ve been quietly developing the strike capability for some time. And Saudi Arabia, which is very worried about an Iranian nuke and what it would do to the balance of power in the region, has given Israel a subtle nod that it would turn its back should the Israelis fly over their territory to strike Iran – unprecedented in the history of the region and an indication of the depth of fear the Saudis harbor.

But reliance on the UN and “sanctions”? I just don’t see that happening.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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