October 12, 2010


Iran, the Paper Tiger (ROGER COHEN, 10/11/10, NY Times)

The Iranian president is into his sixth year in office, the Islamic Republic is more divided than ever, Iranian youth have been brutalized, and there’s a nuclear program that, a bit like the Middle East “peace process,” goes on and on and on, defying definition even as it defies termination.

I read with interest in a recent piece by my colleagues John Markoff and David Sanger that “in the past year Israeli estimates of when Iran will have a nuclear weapon had been extended to 2014.” Given that various Israeli leaders have predicted that Iran would have a bomb in 1999 or 2004 or just about every year since 2005, that’s a decade and a half of the non-appearing wolf at the door.

Sure, such predications are necessarily haphazard, the Natanz centrifuges may now be Stuxnetted by computer worms, and Iranian scientists have resembled Iranian pistachios: up for sale. Still there is a dangerous pattern here of Israeli and U.S. alarmism.

Cool heads are needed. Untenable Nazi allusions, rampant in the case of Iran, demean victims of the Holocaust and lead to disastrous wars. A bloody war has been fought in Iran’s western neighbor. So let’s recall that Saddam Hussein told his captors he had cultivated nuclear ambiguity as a deterrent even though his program was precisely zilch.

And what of Iran’s program? Iran remains a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are at Natanz; the number of centrifuges being used to make low-enriched uranium (far from weapons grade) has dropped 23 percent since May 2009 and production has stagnated; U.S. intelligence agencies hold that Iran has not made the decision to build a bomb; any “breakout” decision would be advertised because the I.A.E.A. would be thrown out; the time from “breakout” to deliverable weapon is significant.

I’m with Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who this year told the Washington Post: “Iran will muddle along building its stockpile but never making a nuclear bomb because it knows that crossing that line would provoke an immediate military attack.” The Islamic Republic is a study in muddle but lucid over a single goal: self-preservation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 12, 2010 2:58 PM
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