The Point of No Return
by MARK SILVERBERG
January 24, 2012
Debkafile recently disclosed that it was Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, not the Obama administration, who decided to call off the largest joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise Austere Challenge 12 ever planned between the two countries. That exercise had been scheduled for April 2012, and was to have tested the level of coordination between the two armies in missile defense in the event of a war with Iran or a regional conflict.
Netanyahu’s concern was and is that the presence of a large U.S. military contingent in Israel would inhibit his country’s ability to conduct a preemptive strike on the Iranian nuclear reactors. It would appear that Israeli military strategists have concluded that the U.S. is unwilling to undertake such action regardless of how many “red lines” are crossed.
His decision to postpone the exercise was based on several recent developments not the least of which was Washington’s having taken no action against Iran for its capture of the RQ-170 stealth drone on December 4th; silence from Washington over Iran’s initiation of 20% uranium enrichment at the underground Fordo facility near Qom; Obama’s reluctance to send any U.S. aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz until March for fear of provoking a confrontation with Iran that could lead to skyrocketing oil prices in an election year and an increase in Iranian-backed terrorist attacks against U.S. military forces pending their withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan; U.S. Secretary of Defense Panetta’s recent condemnation of the latest assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran hinting at Israel’s involvement – a suggestion seen by many Israelis as an attempt to appease Iran, and Obama’s hesitation in approving immediate sanctions on Iran's central bank and energy sector.
Netanyahu is also concerned that U.S. hesitation in striking at Iran’s nuclear reactors seems to be based on the assumption that Iran has not yet made the decision to build a nuclear weapon. Even if true, reports on recent Iranian advances in uranium enrichment suggest that the time lag between a decision to construct a bomb and its actual construction may be only a matter of weeks. From Netanyahu’s perspective, by kicking the can down the road and postponing that decision, the U.S. is risking a dangerous eleventh hour nuclear confrontation given that Iran has already made the decision to become a nuclear power. The only question is when, and the reality is, it can do so whenever it chooses…..and quickly.
The U.S may be prepared to take that risk in the slim hope that it can force the Iranians to back down at the last moment, but Israel cannot accept such a risk given the existential nature of the threat posed by a fanatical Iranian Islamist regime that embraces the Shia tradition of martyrdom, is about to become armed with a nuclear weapon, and is ideologically committed to Israel’s destruction. Jewish history has taught the country that when an enemy says it intends to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” it must be taken seriously.
Even if the Iranians have not actually constructed a nuclear weapon, there is little doubt that they have chosen a path that will lead to its construction in a very short period of time. In February 2010, intelligence reports began surfacing that Iranian nuclear engineers, under deep cover, were working full speed on the uranium enrichment centrifuge facility at Natanz (producing 20% enriched uranium – far in excess of what Iran’s civilian needs required) and at the Parchine nuclear and military laboratories in northeast Tehran where much of the work on nuclear bomb components and operational warheads was being conducted – most notably research on a neutron initiator using Uranium Deuteride, the sole purpose of which is to trigger a nuclear reaction in a warhead. On August 25th, 2011, the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that North Korea had in fact supplied Iran with a highly precise computer to help simulate such a nuclear reaction.
Anticipating a possible attack on its nuclear facilities, Iran announced its intention to shift its uranium enrichment production to a deep underground mountain bunker at Fordow near Qom and to enrich uranium to 20% purity – far beyond the amount needed for nuclear power and about 90% of the way to nuclear-grade fuel.
Concern was expressed in a November 2011 Report issued by the Wisconsin Project. That Report noted: “Based on the amount of low-enriched uranium Iran has stockpiled, and the amount it is believed to be producing each month, the Wisconsin Project estimates that by December 2008, Iran had accumulated enough U-235 to fuel one bomb - assuming Iran decided to further enrich the low-enriched material to weapon-grade. The Project further estimates that by the end of 2009, Iran had enough U-235 to fuel a second bomb; that Iran had enough of this material for a third bomb by August 2010; that Iran had enough of this material for a fourth bomb by April 2011; and that Iran had enough of this material for a fifth bomb by November 2011 - in each case assuming that Iran decides to raise the level of U-235 in its low-enriched uranium stockpile (3.5% U-235) to weapon-grade (90% or more U-235).”
At the same time, an exhaustive report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) just concluded that Iran’s atomic experiments are “specific to nuclear weapons” and “include the placing of radioactive material into a warhead and developing missiles.” “This information”, it said, “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
In January 2012, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization added fuel to the fire when he told Iran’s Kayhan daily that the Fordow Uranium enrichment site was about to become operational. In response,Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director-General of the IAEA wrote: “If Iran decides to produce weapons-grade uranium from 20%-enriched uranium, it has already technically undertaken 90% of the enrichment effort required. Growing the stockpile of 3.5% and 20%-enriched uranium, as Iran is now doing, provides the basic material needed to produce four to five nuclear weapons.”
In short, Iran's nuclear timeline no longer hinges on the calendar; it rests entirely upon a decision in Tehran to produce an atomic bomb - within weeks if desired.
Nor is the production of an atomic bomb the only area of interest to the Iranians. In February 2008, Heinonen gave a highly classified briefing in which he revealed Iranian documents that detailed how to design a warhead, possibly nuclear, for their 1,300-kilometer-range Shahab-3 missile that could be detonated at an altitude of 600 meters. Former CIA double agent Reza Kahlili who spent time as a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps added in his book A Time to Betray that the Iranians have conducted numerous advanced ballistic missile tests off ships in the Caspian Sea – tests consistent with an electro-magnetic pulse-style attack.
For the U.S., these developments should represent the sum of all its fears – the possible detonation of an Iranian nuclear device high in the atmosphere off the East coast, the effect of which could send a massive electro-magnetic pulse over much of the eastern seaboard shutting down virtually all U.S.-based electronic defense systems, destroying America's electrical grid, and shutting down everything from cars to computers to airplanes and refrigerators – not to mention the enormous loss of human life that would result from such a detonation. (Cynthia E. Ayers, “The First Battle of the Next War”, Family Security Matters, January 11, 2012)
With each passing day, it becomes more apparent that the sanctions designed to bring Iran’s economy to a stand-still and to force it to cease its nuclear enrichment efforts, combined with the covert campaign involving sabotaging parts of Iran's nuclear supply chain, the string of explosions at Iranian missile testing sites, the assassination of key Iranian nuclear scientists, and the use of Stuxnet cyber attacks to stymie the logic board that controls the spinning centrifuges at its enrichment facilities have failed to stop the mullahs’ quest for nuclear weapons.
Should Iran achieve its protective nuclear shield, it will be free to advance its Islamist revolution throughout the world with impunity from attack. The mullahs may be fanatics, but they are neither blind nor stupid. They understand the benefits of a nuclear shield and will not be dissuaded from their goal. After all, a nuclear-armed North Korea shelled a South Korean island, sank a South Korean destroyer, engaged in state-sponsored terrorism and criminal activities, and has committed gross violations of human rights, yet it has not only enjoyed impunity from any sort of military action, but it has engaged in high-level diplomacy with the world's great powers to bargain for economic aid and fuel deliveries for its cash-strapped country.
For years, U.S. Administrations have assumed that economic sanctions and diplomacy would produce a pliable negotiating partner in Iran, but in the final analysis, Iran perceives U.S. and European efforts at compromise as symptomatic of Western fear and weakness. Enhanced incentives have not only failed to entice Iran to give up its nuclear program, but they have had the reverse effect of validating its uncompromising policy against making any concessions in the nuclear arena.
Iran’s messianic quest
To understand the Iranian quest for nuclear capability, one must understand the mindset of the regime that rules in Tehran. Iran has become a martyrdom-obsessed state run by religious fanatics bent on spreading Shiite Islam throughout the world. Any country that threatens to wipe out other countries, peoples or cultures should not be underestimated nor should the West assume that Iranian ambitions can be “contained”. An aggressive Islamic theocracy armed with the bomb would cast a dangerous shadow over the region's political transition. Iranian hegemony in the Middle East under a nuclear umbrella will not only threaten the world’s oil supply, but facilitate Iranian Islamic influence throughout the world.
The twentieth century was the deadliest century in history primarily because the West failed to assess the danger posed by madmen. One insane leader can cause the death of millions of people, and Ahmadinejad’s intentions have always been clear. Difficult as it may be for Western leaders to comprehend, Ahmedinejad believes he is on a messianic mission to create the apocalyptic chaos necessary to lay the foundations for the Coming of the 12th Imam or Mahdi and the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate – a mission that is expressed through the incessant hum of thousands of Iranian centrifuges enriching uranium in his hidden and rapidly hardening nuclear facilities.
Each day those centrifuges run brings Iran closer to achieving military nuclear capability and a nuclear shield under which it’s Islamic revolution will be exported to the world. Sixty million people died during World War II with weapons far more primitive than can be produced today. If lone suicide bombers are willing to sacrifice themselves for religious fanaticism, why then is it not beyond the realm of possibility that a leader like Ahmedinejad, protected by a nuclear shield would be willing to sacrifice millions for the same beliefs?
These Islamists have done it before. This is the same regime that encouraged the “martyrdom” of thousands of Iranian children by placing yellow plastic “keys to Paradise” around their necks and having them run through Iraqi minefields during the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s; the same regime that counts 15% of its population as "volunteer martyrs"; and whose President proudly states that no art "is more beautiful . . . than the art of the martyr’s death."
An Iranian Islamist regime armed with nuclear weapons will trigger a regional nuclear arms race, destroy the non-proliferation treaty, and increase the danger of miscalculation that could bring on a nuclear exchange. A nuclear shield will allow it to escalate its destabilizing influence throughout the region and the world, threaten Israel and moderate Arab regimes, manipulate energy markets to its benefit and pose as “guardian” of Muslim communities even beyond the Middle East. Over time, it may even share its nuclear technology with its non-state proxies. Given the mindset of those who rule the Islamic Republic, containment and deterrence are pipe dreams.
The Wikileaks cables from last year reveal that our conflict with Iran is about more than the nuclear issue. It is a sweeping theological confrontation permeated with imperialist overtones. The mullahs have been at war with the West since seizing power in Iran in 1979. It is the West that has failed to appreciate the true nature of this war. We are confronted with a barbaric theological Islamist movement that will accept nothing less than the submission of Western civilization to Sharia law.
Time is running out, negotiations have proven fruitless, sanctions have yet to be proven effective, and Iran is stalling for time while enriching uranium to weapons-grade quality and closing in on a nuclear weapon, a delivery system, and a nuclear shield under which it intends to establish a global Islamic caliphate under its control. With Iranian Islamic imperialism on the march, we have reached the point of no return in deciding whether or not to allow such a regime to go nuclear.
Mark Silverberg is a foreign policy analyst for the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel). He is a former member of the Canadian Justice Department, a past Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress (Western Office) based in Vancouver, a member of Hadassah's National Academic Advisory Board and a Contributing Editor for Family Security Matters, Intellectual Conservative and Israel National News (Arutz Sheva). He also served as a Consultant to the Secretary General of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem during the first Palestinian intifada. His book "The Quartermasters of Terror: Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Jihad" and his articles have been archived under www. marksilverberg .com.