Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday 9 March 2009

One nuclear weapon

The ABC's Washington correspondent Kim Landers reported last Monday, ‘The United States' top military officer [Admiral Mike Mullen] believes Iran has stockpiled enough nuclear fuel to make a bomb’. ‘The International Atomic Energy Agency,’ she continued, ‘reported last month that it believed Iran had built up a stockpile of nuclear fuel which could be enough for one nuclear weapon.’

It may come as a surprise that one US official’s belief about the IAEA’s belief is deemed so newsworthy, particularly when Mullen’s boss, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, claims ‘They're not close to a stockpile.’

Waxing hysterical in response to the same announcement, the American Jewish Committee’s tireless Executive Director David A. Harris opined,

A nuclear Iran presents a grave, perhaps catastrophic, threat to the Middle East and beyond. While we welcome the international consensus that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal, as reflected in numerous UN Security Council resolutions, the window of opportunity to prevent this from happening is closing fast…We must not wake up one morning and find ourselves in a new era where Iran has the bomb and the means to deliver it…Iranian terrorist proxies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, seek a "dirty bomb"; and Iran's neighbors rush to embark on their own nuclear programs to confront the Iranian threat.

In AJC-speak, it’s self evident that the Lebanese nationalist Hizballah and the Palestinian nationalist Hamas are ‘Iranian terrorist proxies’, but this is the first I’ve heard about those outfits seeking a dirty bomb. A quick search reveals that some crackpot posting under the name Iqbal Latif alleged in a comment on Sara Roy’s review of a book about Hamas that both organisations were hiding dirty bombs in mosques. Doubtless ample evidence for David Harris.

As for Iran’s immediate neighbours, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan, we know for sure that one of them will not be rushing to embark on its own nuclear weapons program, because Pakistan’s program culminated in a successful test 11 years ago. Another nearby country, already endowed with tested nukes, long range missiles, and a world class air force, a country that unconditionally refuses any IAEA inspections whatsoever and hasn’t even signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, has been threatening Iran for years. But it’s inconceivable that the UN Security Council’s ‘goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery’ applied to Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which could never instigate a regional arms race.

Anyway, there’s no need for Harris to be so worried. A few weeks ago, Philip Sherwell reported in The Telegraph that Mossad has matters well in hand.

Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst with Stratfor, the US private intelligence company with strong government security connections, said the strategy was to take out key people.

"With co-operation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear programme and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain," she said.

Mossad was rumoured to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran's Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported "gas poisoning" in 2007.

Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli "hits", intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the programme, according to Western intelligence analysts.

Israel has also used front companies to infiltrate the Iranian purchasing network…The businesses initially supply Iran with legitimate material, winning Tehran's trust, and then start to deliver faulty or defective items that "poison" the country's atomic activities.

Harris concludes by magically transforming Mullen’s belief, ‘His assessment follows a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had understated by one third the amount of uranium it has enriched.’

The source of Mullen’s hyperbole is the most recent IAEA report on their quarterly inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities.

The IAEA report showed a significant increase in Iran's reported stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) since November to 1,010 kg -- enough, some physicists say, for possible conversion into high-enriched uranium for one bomb.

But according to IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming,

The (IAEA) has no reason at all to believe that the estimates of LEU produced in the (Natanz) facility were an intentional error by Iran. They are inherent in the early commissioning phases of such a facility when it is not known in advance how it will perform in practice.

In other words, if Iran were planning to build nuclear weapons, and if they had enough centrifuges to enrich the ‘stockpile’ to the required degree, and if they could do this without the IAEA noticing, and if they had the knowledge and technology to weaponise the uranium, they might at some stage be able to produce a nuclear weapon. At least according to ‘some physicists’.

In reality, not only has Iran denied such an intention, but the US National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate reported, ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’

The IAEA ‘has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, including all declared low enriched uranium.’ Fleming asserts that ‘Iran has provided good cooperation on this matter’. Furthermore, ‘No nuclear material could have been removed from the facility without the agency's knowledge since the facility is subject to video surveillance and the nuclear material has been kept under seal.’

Significantly, the NIC also reported,

We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame…All agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015.

It’s worth remembering that a country with enough Highly Enriched Uranium to build one bomb is not in a position to threaten anyone with it, as they would have to test it before risking nuclear annihilation for shooting off a dud. It doesn’t even have deterrent value. If I’m not mistaken, no country has ever announced that it was developing a nuclear weapon. There are accusations, of course. But, although North Korea provided six days’ warning of its 2006 test, the successful test is the announcement. And you don’t carry out the test until you’ve built more than one bomb, which you can’t do with just enough LEU to process into enough HEU to build one bomb.

Typically evenhanded, the ABC report concludes, ‘Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-related purposes.’

But they can’t fool cluey American ‘Likely Voters’, 77% of whom told Rasmussen in a poll conducted on 29 and 30 January that they believed Iran's nuclear program was ‘for weapons development’.

Taking a leaf out of the push pollsters’ book, what Rasmussen asked was,

Iran says its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful energy purposes. The U.S., Israel and the European Union believe it is intended to develop nuclear weapons. Do you believe Iran's nuclear program is for energy purposes or for weapons development?

Only 6% believed a rogue pariah state like the Islamofascists in Iran, when credible sources like the cuddly US, Israel and the EU contradict them. The US, that is, except for the National Intelligence Council.

In a demented reprise of the old ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ trope, Rasmussen went on to ask,

Before a meeting is allowed between the President of Iran and the President of the United States, should Iran be required to stop developing nuclear weapons capabilities?

While 56% said President Obama should not condescend to meet Ahmedinejad until Iran stops developing nuclear weapons capabilities, 27% said he should, and 17% weren’t sure, 100% of those answering the question at all accepted that Iran was in fact developing nuclear weapons capabilities.