National Security Network

IAEA Iran Report – What’s at Stake

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Report 7 November 2011

Iran Iran IAEA nuclear weapons

This week the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will present a report with new details on components of Iran's nuclear program that have long been a concern.  The report will not, apparently, contain a "smoking gun," and it will not answer what intelligence officials say is the critical question: has Iran made the political decision to obtain a nuclear weapon. Before the report is even out, bellicose rhetoric has ramped up, based on what security experts say is the false assumption that a limited aerial strike - rather than a full-scale invasion - could eliminate the nuclear program and avoid harming America's security and that of our allies. Experts say that this saber-rattling may actually make an Iranian decision to weaponize more likely.  

New IAEA report to detail components of Iran's nuclear program publicly:  significant concerns, not "smoking guns." According to Reuters, "The report will flesh out and expand on concerns voiced by the IAEA for several years over allegations that Iran had a linked program of projects to process uranium, test high explosives and modify a missile cone to take a nuclear payload. It is not believed to contain an explicit assessment that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability. ‘The IAEA's report will not likely contain any smoking guns,' said Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace." "The primary new information is likely to be any work that Iran has engaged in after 2003 ... Iran is understood to have continued or restarted some research and development since then," said Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association, a U.S.-based advocacy group. The sources familiar with the document said that among other things it would support allegations that Iran built a large steel container for the purpose of carrying out tests with high explosives applicable to nuclear weapons." The Washington Post further notes that, "Although the IAEA has chided Iran for years to come clean about a number of apparently weapons-related scientific projects, the new disclosures fill out the contours of an apparent secret research program that was more ambitious, more organized and more successful than commonly suspected. Beginning early in the last decade and apparently resuming - though at a more measured pace - after a pause in 2003, Iranian scientists worked concurrently across multiple disciplines to obtain key skills needed to make and test a nuclear weapon that could fit inside the country's long-range missiles, said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who has reviewed the intelligence files. ‘The program never really stopped,' said Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security." [Reuters, 11/6/11. Peter Crail via Reuters, 11/6/11. Washington Post, 6/11/11]

Intelligence officials continue to assess that Iran has not yet made a decision to build a nuclear weapon. As The Washington Post notes, "U.S. intelligence officials maintain that Iran's leaders have not decided whether to build nuclear weapons but are intent on gathering all the components and skills so they can quickly assemble a bomb if they choose to." In fact, James Clapper, director of national intelligence testified in March that, "We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." DNI Clapper further noted that this makes "the central issue its political will to do so." [Washington Post, 6/11/11. James Clapper, House Armed Services Committee, 3/10/11]

Experts say an aerial strike would likely fail, leading to wider war and pushing Iran to go all the way to weaponization. Lieutenant Colonel Leif Eckholm, who works in the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explains: "The regime has devoted considerable effort to hide, diversify, and protect its nuclear assets, and the regime's determination to acquire nuclear weapons actually may well increase after such a strike...Proponents of a more comprehensive military intervention will argue that a full-scale invasion is the only means by which to crush the regime and its military apparatus, guarantee total elimination of the Iranian nuclear enterprise, and create a window for democratic change. But the price of invasion would be astronomical, and the nationalistic reaction would be fierce; thus, the projected cost in life and treasure must be weighed against the envisioned, yet unpredictable, advantages of a new regime in Tehran."

The Guardian summarizes, "The regional consequences of an aerial strike are daunting. It would be not one strike but many, with unforeseeable consequences. Heavy civilian casualties and an Iran reunited around its leadership are just two. Ground troops might well be needed to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. This would be war. Nor would it be one but potentially several, as missiles rained down on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza and Iran retaliated on targets in Iraq. Further, if the Iranian intention to construct a nuclear bomb was covert before such an attack, it would surely be overt after it."  As Haaretz reported last week, "A large majority of Israeli citizens believe that a military operation in Iran will lead to a regional flare-up with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah to the north of Israel in Lebanon, a Haaretz poll revealed Thursday. According to a Haaretz-Dialog poll, 80% of respondents said they believed an attack on Iran will lead to war with Hamas and Hezbollah." [Leif Eckholm, Hoover Institution, 8/1/11. The Guardian, 11/2/11. Haaretz, 11/3/11]

What We're Reading

Three bombs ripped through a sprawling Baghdad market, killing eight people at the beginning of a Muslim religious holiday and just hours after the prime minister warned of Iraq's continued danger.

The Arab League called a crisis meeting on Syria's failure to implement its peace plan as regime forces killed at least 13 protesters after prayers on one of Islam's holiest days.

The death toll from attacks by a radical Muslim sect in northeastern Nigeria rose to more than 100, and the United States Embassy warned that the sect might be preparing to bomb three luxury hotels frequented by foreigners in Abuja.

The killing of the top commander of Colombia's largest guerrilla group dealt what might be the most severe blow yet to the four-decade-old insurgency, but security experts said that the rebels still had the ability to regroup and carry on the fight.

Greek Prime Minister George A. Papandreou and his chief rival agreed to create a new unity government, under a new prime minister, that will move ahead with the country's debt-relief deal with the European Union and then hold new elections.

A strong correlation exists between unemployment, tough economic conditions and the nature of suicide attacks carried out by Palestinians in recent years, according to a new study, the first comprehensive research of its kind.

Pentagon critics are panning congressional testimony by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and his top officers, who warned of catastrophes if the military is forced to cut $1 trillion if congressional budget talks fail.

Eritrea has rejected a Kenyan accusation that it might be arming Somalia's Islamist al Shabaab rebels, and said a threat by Kenya to take unspecified action in response was "unfortunate."

Commentary of the Day

The Boston Globe editorializes that there is no justification for mandatory military tribunals.

Elizabeth Palchik Allen explains why President Obama's intervention in Uganda isn't just about humanitarianism.

Gordon Chang examines the Chinese housing market and its collapsing prices and asks, is this a crash?