Mar 08, 2009
As the U.S. economy sank ever lower, a huge brouhaha erupted this week over claims that Iran might have nuclear weapons.
The new CIA director, Leon Panetta, said "there is no question,
they (Iran) are seeking that capability." The Pentagon chief, Admiral
Mike Mullen, claimed Iran had "enough fissile material to build a
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had claimed Iran posed an
"absolutely unacceptable threat." However, to Harper's credit, he just
admitted that Afghanistan is a no-win war.
While Rome burns, here we go again with renewed hysteria over
MWMD's -- Muslim weapons of mass destruction. War drums are again
beating over Iran.
The czar of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, Admiral Dennis
Blair, stated Iran could have enough enriched uranium for one atomic
weapon by 2010-15. But he reaffirmed the 2007 U.S. National
Intelligence Estimate that Iran does not have nuclear weapons and is
not pursuing them. Defence Secretary William Gates backed up Blair.
Public confusion over Iran comes from misunderstanding nuclear enrichment and lurid scare stories.
Iran is producing low-grade uranium-235 (LEU U-235), enriched
to only 2.5%, to generate electricity. Tehran has this absolute right
under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its centrifuge enrichment
process at Nantaz is under 24-hour international inspection. Iran's
soon-to-open nuclear plant at Bushehr cannot produce nuclear weapons
Today, some 15 nations produce LEU U-235, including Brazil,
Argentina, Germany, France, and Japan. Israel, India and Pakistan, all
nuclear weapons powers, refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty.
North Korea abrogated it.
UN inspectors report Iran has produced 1,010 kg of 2% to 3%
enriched uranium for energy generation. Theoretically that is enough
for one atomic bomb.
But to make a nuclear weapon, U-235 must be enriched to over
90% in an elaborate, costly process. Iran is not doing so, say UN
Highly enriched U-235 or plutonium must then be milled and
shaped into a perfect ball or cylinder. Any surface imperfections will
prevent achieving critical mass. Next, high explosive lenses must
surround the core and detonate at precisely the same millisecond. In
some cases, a stream of neutrons must be pumped into the device as it
This process is highly complex. Nuclear weapons cannot be
deemed reliable unless they are tested. North Korea recently detonated
a device that fizzled. Iran has never built or tested a nuclear weapon.
Experts believe Israel and South Africa jointly tested a nuclear weapon
Even if Iran had the capability to fashion a complex nuclear
weapon, it would be useless without delivery. Iran's sole medium-range
delivery system is its unreliable, inaccurate, 1,500-km ranged
Shahab-3. Miniaturizing and hardening nuclear warheads capable of
flying atop a Shahab missile is another complex technological
It is inconceivable that Iran or anyone else would launch a
single nuclear weapon. What if it didn't go off? Imagine the
embarrassment and the retaliation. Iran would need at least 10 warheads
and a reliable delivery system to be a credible nuclear power.
Israel, the primary target for any Iranian nuclear strike, has
an indestructible triad of air, missile and sea-launched nuclear
weapons. An Israeli submarine with nuclear cruise missiles is on
station off Iran's coast.
Off the map
Iran would be wiped off the map by even a few of Israel's 200
nuclear weapons. Iran is no likelier to use a nuke against its Gulf
neighbours. The explosion would blanket Iran with radioactive dust and
Much of the uproar over Iran's so far nonexistent nuclear
weapons must be seen as part of efforts by Israel's American partisans
to thwart President Barack Obama's proposed opening to Tehran, and to
keep pushing the U.S. to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure. They and
many Israeli experts insist Iran has secret weapons programs that
threaten Israel's existence.
The hawkish Hillary Clinton's naming of veteran Israel
supporter Dennis Ross as her new legate to Iran adds to the confusion
over administration policy towards Iran. Who is in charge of foreign
policy? What's the plan?
© 2023 Eric Margolis
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