Fears of Non-Existent Weapons Program in Iran Persist

Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, but this hasn't quieted war mongers

by John Glaser, March 10, 2012

Even as U.S. and Israeli intelligence has concluded with high confidence that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons and has demonstrated no intention to do so, fears continue to linger about Tehran’s enrichment program, lending credence to foolhardy calls for war.

In a Washington Post “Iran fact sheet” on the nuclear program, it is reported that, while no evidence exists to say Iran is even planning to develop a bomb, “significant questions remain uncertain, fueling fears of worst-case scenarios and calls for new Mideast military action.”

Again, U.S. officials have stood by a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which concluded that Iran had halted all efforts to weaponize their nuclear program in 2003. That conclusion was reaffirmed in a 2011 estimate and is continually validated through extensive covert spying efforts on the ground inside Iran.

Really, the only official estimate giving any credibility to politicians’ hysterical allegations of Iran’s quest to build nuclear weapons is that of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last November. But the IAEA’s report has been widely criticized.

Former IAEA director and nuclear engineer Robert Kelley, who saw first hand the mistakes in Iraq, wrote in January that “the evidence, contained in a November report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is sketchy.” Beyond that, the report’s speculation was not enough to change their estimate that Iran has not diverted any declared nuclear material to facilities potentially engaged in weaponization.

“The U.N. nuclear watchdog,” reports the Post, “says there are credible indications Iran is researching the intricate technology needed to turn a core into an actual bomb.” But “Tehran denies it, and there’s not conclusive proof or any sign it has actually succeeded, but the research alone if confirmed would be seen as clear proof of Iran’s intentions.” Indeed it might, if there were any proof it existed.

The Post points to a number of areas of concern. First, that Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment in the past few years. Iran says it’s for “peaceful energy production and medical research.” This expansion would make it easier, the Post explains, for Iran to develop weapons, if it ever chose to do so. This is true for a number of states with enrichment programs.

But there is no evidence Iran’s leaders have made this decision and “there is no indication that Iran has moved beyond the 20 percent threshold.” Even if Iran made this decision, it would still be several years away from having the technological capability to get a bomb.

Another area of concern the Post points to is the fact that Iran has moved two of its enrichment facilities underground. Both of these facilities have been inspected by the IAEA and neither show any weaponization activity or diversion of nuclear material. The suspicion is that Iran is moving them underground because it plans to enrich weapons-grade material there, but it’s clear the reason is to protect them from U.S.-Israeli attack (something that is constantly alluded to).

As the Post points out, highly enriched uranium isn’t all one needs to develop nuclear weapons. One also needs to conduct tests for “containment casings and triggers to start the bomb’s atom-busting chain reaction.” There is “no confirmation of such weapons-related work under way in Iran,” which makes concern about Iran’s low-enriched uranium rather mysterious.

In sum, using the IAEA report as a basis for pushing an attack on Iran is inappropriate. The IAEA claims that they have been “unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities in Iran.” In other words, a lack of evidence for nuclear weapons is the primary concern.

Unfortunately, the discussion about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear program has allowed for an implicit recognition in the West that – if those concerns were found to be legitimate – an attack would be justified. But by any measure, this would be a preventive war – not preemptive. To attack a country on the basis of some potential future capacity to threaten or deter the U.S., which they may or may not attain is ridiculous and cannot be justified.

Furthermore, any preventive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would undoubtedly lead Tehran to quickly reconstitute its defunct nuclear weapons program in secret, so as to acquire a deterrent for the next attack. From the war hawks’ perspective, this is patently counterproductive.

The Post report claims that Iran’s uranium enrichment “is at the heart of the confrontation with the West and its allies.” Clearly, this is not true. The enrichment is low-grade and the program is entirely civilian in nature. Iran’s nuclear program is an irrelevancy. If it were relevant, unilateral attack would be out of the question, instead of in the headlines everyday.

At best, the program serves as a pretext for war on Iran. What remains to be seen is whether the truth will invalidate the calls for war, or whether the intelligence will again be bent around what war-mongers claim.

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