Is Iran’s nuclear program on track? How can the West stop it?

May 21, 2010

Nearly ten years ago, an Iranian friend told me with impressive confidence that the Iranian regime of the Ayatollahs would be toppled within eighteen months. I wanted to believe him but bet him, nonetheless, a dinner in the best restaurant in Los Angeles that the clerics would still be in power. I should claim my dinner. More recently, I listened to some friends and Iran experts as the Greens took to the streets of Tehran. The experts convinced me that the Regime’s grip on the country was loosening. I think the experts, and I, were once again too optimistic; the Regime will probably survive a deal longer.

Non-experts depend on the experts but the problem, of course, is that they all differ in the details of their analysis. But I think experts seem to be in agreement that Iran is at present out-maneuvering the United States by building up support outside Europe-witness Iran’s successful wooing of Brazil, Venezuela, Turkey, Syria. There is also enough evidence to show that Iran is cooperating with al-Qaida, and conducting a covert war against US interests in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some experts seem to interpret Iran’s public boasting of having enriched a quantity of uranium to 20% radioactivity, approaching the 90% needed for warheads as a sign that Iran’s nuclear program is not going well. Why? Well, it is argued, normally nations working on nuclear programs do not reveal anything let alone issue periodic progress reports until they are ready to detonate a finished bomb. The Regime is boasting to raise the temperature, and deliberately provoke an attack from Israel or the United States in order unite the country, shaken by the recent protests, against enemy aggression.

Again, experts seem divided as to if and when Israel or the United States or NATO will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. But our experts are agreed that a war with Iran would be a considerable undertaking simply from a military point of view. Even NATO’s war against Serbia, a country incapable of retaliation, involved 38000 combat missions- admittedly NATO’s aims were much wider than simply knocking out some facilities but Iran’s capacity to retaliate are far greater, and would have to be taken into account, which, in turn, could escalate the war.

Surely, the West could devise some effective sanctions, targeting, for example, Iran’s import of gasoline, as a better alternative to a disastrous war with heavy civilian casualties.