Tuesday, September 4, 2012

There's still no need to panic over Iranian nukes

It’s that time again. A new report on Iran from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) means a new bout of panic. 

The Australian, deciding that the facts weren’t quite exciting enough, declared that: “Iran is stockpiling weapons grade uranium” (it’s not).

 The New York Times, quivering with excitement, announced: “Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack”.

Iran is said to be on the brink of the “zone of immunity”, the point at which – according to Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak – “Iran’s accumulated know-how, raw materials, experience and equipment … will be such that an attack could not derail the nuclear project”.

The problem with this concept is that it doesn’t quite make sense.

First, what does “derail” mean? If it means terminate, then too late: Iran is in the zone already. As the top US military officer Martin Dempsey explained yesterday, an Israeli attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran's nuclear programme”. This is unsurprising, as Iran has the know-how to produce weapons in secret even if its known facilities were obliterated.

More importantly, what exactly is putting Iran further into this zone of immunity? Yes, its underground enrichment facility at Fordow is hardened, but there is vanishingly little evidence to suggest that it’s getting more impenetrable over time. Read More