Mohamed ElBaradei, outgoing chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has called the Iranian threat “hyped,” saying there is no proof the Islamic republic will soon have nuclear weapons.
“In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped,” ElBaradei told the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in an interview released Tuesday.
“Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and international community,” he told the Chicago-based magazine. “But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far.”
No, there’s no absolute proof that Iran will soon have nuclear weapons. But if the hypothetical weapons are aimed at you, then you are very concerned about the probability that Iran will have them at a given point in the future.
Iran’s intermediate-term goal seems to be to extend its sphere of influence over the whole Middle East. A nuclear capability would provide an umbrella to keep the US, Israel and Europe from interfering with Iran’s exercising a free hand in the region. Their problem is how to get there without triggering a preemptive response.
The only real threat to Tehran’s going nuclear is Israel. The US administration believes that it has too much to lose and too little to gain from a military operation against Iran. It won’t happen. Effective economic sanctions are impossible because Iran’s trading partners in Europe and Asia won’t allow them. Only Israel, with its back to the wall and convinced that its survival is at stake, might intervene.
So if you were an Iranian leader, what you do?
One thing is to try to determine what Israel’s red lines are and stay behind them. If possession of a deliverable weapon is a red line, then don’t possess one. Just make sure there is enough enriched uranium or plutonium available, and that all the associated technologies are far enough along so that a bomb could be put together quickly. Keep up the missile development.
Another thing is to temporize. Keep promising to talk to the Americans, and when it’s not enough to just promise, then talk. And talk. As long as this is going on the Americans will be motivated to restrain Israel (they are pretty well motivated in this direction already).
Finally, keep up the pressure on Israel from Hamas, from Hezbollah, from Syria.
And what should Israel do?
Do not be diverted. Continue to develop a plan to attack the Iranian installations if it becomes necessary. Assume that the US will be hostile to the idea, so an attack will need to reach a point of no return before the US finds out about it. This is one of numerous tough problems, like refueling, penetrating underground bunkers, target intelligence, forestalling retaliation from Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, etc.
Iran will know that these preparations are ongoing. That might deter them from actually assembling a weapon, although parallel development will occur.
Talk about carrying heavy responsibilities! How would you like to be Israel’s PM, Defense Minister or Chief of Staff? I wouldn’t.