We are now in a fast count-down to Iran’s first nuclear test. The only issues left are:
1) When it will take place, and
2) What kind of nuke will be used.
If Iran’s nuclear test happens this spring, the device will be a plutonium-fueled, implosion triggered, bomb of North Korean design and fissile material. If the test happens in the fall, there will probably be two devices - one each of each of Plutonium and Enriched Uranium. The plutonium bomb will be North Korean and the enriched uranium bomb will have a mix of Iranian fissionables and “world market pre-enriched” uranium feed stock. In either case the Iranian test sites will be infested with North Korean technicians – North Korea’s nukes will be tested in Iran to give China plausible deniability concerning its role in these matters.
Tom Holsinger, in his The Case for Invading Iran, and Rafi Eitan (former Israeli Intelligence chief) in a Jerusalem Post article, both contend Iran possesses operational nuclear devices today. I predicted here on Winds of Change in April 2004 that Iran would have nuclear weapons by the spring of 2006. It will be spring in five more weeks.
”The Americans were aghast to learn last year that while engaging in disarmament talks, North Korea had made enough plutonium to amass a stockpile of about 43 kilograms, perhaps as much as 53kg. For the first time since the nuclear crisis began in 1994 it has sufficient fissile material to sell some to its ally while retaining enough for its own purposes.
Plutonium is the element used to fuel the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in 1945. Between 7kg and 9kg are needed for a weapon. According to Siegfried Hecker, the eminent American nuclear scientist, officials in North Korea intend to restart a reactor that will produce 60kg a year.
Iran already has a nuclear program devoted to plutonium research, according to John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations. In a 2004 speech Bolton said the Iranians were building a research reactor “optimal for the production of weapons-grade plutonium”.And Iran has officially restarted its enrichment of weapons-grade uranium.
We have not only have the London Times, Rafi Eitan, and Tom Holsinger saying Iran has nukes, but we also have the public testimony of National Intelligence Director Negroponte before Congress - that it is the consensus of American intelligence that Iran "probably does not yet have a nuclear weapon.” Given our intelligence community’s past performance, we can expect them to get it horribly wrong when it counts the most.
Iran’s possession of at least a few crude but working nuclear weapons, awaiting only testing before more can be designed for delivery by ballistic missile, means that bombing alone cannot stop Iran from testing the nukes it already has. Bombing can at best delay Iran’s production of better nukes capable of delivery by the missiles it already has, again mostly courtesy of North Korea.
And we can’t be sure just how effective Iran’s nukes already are, because the Chinese and Pakistanis might have sold them designs for better weapons just as they sold designs for cruder and older designs.
Tom Holsinger contended that Iran would delay its first nuclear tests until it had backfilled a complete nuclear weapons production line, from unprocessed uranium, to fissionables being cooked at every stage, and to finished weapons-grade fissionables being fabricated into weapons. But Iran doesn’t have to wait that long. It would be prudent to do so, but it doesn’t have to wait if it already has some working nuclear weapons made with North Korean materials and assistance.
What do we do if, after we bomb Iran’s known nuclear facilities flat, over the 4-6 week period needed to be really thorough, and ride out Iran’s expected retaliation – mining of the Straits of Hormuz, attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, uprisings by its covertly controlled militias in southern Iraq, etc., Iran then does a nuclear test anyway a few months later, with a nuke it has had all along?
And says that, if we attack again, it will nuke Kuwait and the oil ports of Saudi Arabia? Because it is still getting, from North Korea, everything it needs to build more nuclear weapons. Because we’re letting North Korea be an invulnerable sanctuary for Iran’s nuclear weapons enrichment, while Iran provides the sites for North Korean nuclear tests.
What can merely bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, without overthrowing its mullah regime, buy us but THE CERTAINTY OF NUCLEAR WAR?
We might find out in as little as a month. We might find out in six months. But this year we will learn something we never wanted to know.