Jeffrey LewisAt The Crossroads With Iran

An observer, who wishes to remain nameless, sends along this dispatch on the recent drumbeat to war with Iran:

For some reason, everyone and his cousin are suddenly seized on the idea that there must be an urgent need to (at a minimum) contemplate whether to bomb Iran. No one can quite say why now, though. As Ari Shavit writes in Ha’aretz, with an impressive combination of eloquence and lack of substance:

For the past decade it has been clear that we are facing an Iranian deadline. Time after time the deadline has been put off. But it is real and it is imminent. Unless an international miracle, or an interior-Iranian miracle takes place, we will reach the crossroads.

‘When we stand at the crossroads we will have two options – prevention or deterrence. To launch a military offensive or to emerge from nuclear ambiguity. One way or another, all chaos will break loose in the Middle East. One way or another, all chaos will break loose in Israel. What was will be no more. A new era will begin.’

But just what technical or political fact has brought the deadline to the crossroads?

Why, exactly, is there an insistence that Iran is racing up to some sharply defined point where its adversaries, Israel included, must either strike preventively or accept an uneasy relationship of mutual (nuclear) deterrence? If Iran is racing, so were Achilles and the Tortoise. It’s more like tiptoeing.

Shavit is now the umpty-teenth commentator, Israeli or otherwise, who apparently cannot imagine that nuclear opacity or ambiguity could apply to states other than Israel. Of course, at different times, it has applied to a number of other states: India, Pakistan, Iraq, South Africa, North Korea. Perhaps others as well. So why not Iran?

Avner Cohen, the historian of the Israeli nuclear weapons program, put his finger on this point about four years ago, in December 2007:

The route of ambiguity is very convenient for Iran precisely because it is a signatory to the NPT. It will gain the political advantages of having a nuclear option, deterrence and prestige, and it will attempt to reduce its friction with the outside world. Iran will continue to claim that its program is for peaceful purposes only, and it has a right according to the NPT to control all the components for producing nuclear fuel, but at the same time it will encourage the rumors that it is on the verge of producing weapons (or even that it has a bomb in the basement), and therefore it should be considered a nuclear nation for all extents and purposes.

I also can’t do better than to quote what Cohen wrote almost two years ago, in Feb. 2010:

The seriousness of the challenge requires as open and thorough a public discussion as possible. But unfortunately, such a discussion has been virtually nonexistent, even on a basic conceptual level. Instead of a public discussion there has been a belligerent press, which makes demagogic use of statements that intensify the message of the politics of fear. These include expressions such as “Iran is galloping toward a bomb” and a “second Holocaust” that Israel must prevent. Such discourse creates a feeling that if Iran is not attacked, and soon, we have no choice but to accept a nuclear Iran.

Could Iran someday withdraw from the NPT and test a nuclear device, as North Korea did in 2003? Certainly. And look at where that’s gotten North Korea. For the reasons Cohen articulated in Dec. 2007, Iran is unlikely to follow suit in the foreseeable future, absent some jarring event. Such as, for example, having its nuclear facilities bombed.

None of this relieves us of the burden of having to grapple with Iran’s nuclear program. From the brainiest wonk to the hardest-working motorcycle assassin, we all await new information on weaponization R&D activities with great interest. But let’s stop trying to convince  ourselves that this is a championship basketball game whose outcome is poised to turn on a buzzer-beating three-point shot. It’s not like that at all. Whatever sort of game it is, it’s one of inches and half-inches, of years and perhaps decades to come.


  1. shaheen (History)

    Re: Iranian choices and Cohen 2007. This is our perception of what Iran’s “best choice” would be. We should however refrain from making projections in this regard. The Iranian definition of what its optimal choice is might differ from ours.

    Many in the US intel community were convinced, in the early 1960s, that Israel would not cross the threshold, because it was “not in its interest”.

  2. Drew (History)

    Regardless of the Iran issue, kudos for the Robert Johnson picture and reference. Made my Monday morning.

    • Christoph (History)

      Didnt Johnson make a deal with the devil to become the best there ever was….?

  3. Dan Joyner (History)

    I couldnt agree with this more. I have long seen Iran’s strategy as essentially one of nuclear hedging. Combined with the important insight of intentional ambiguity that you mention here, this makes the most sense in describing Iran’s likely current and future tragectory. I simply dont buy the idea that Iran will act any less rationally and strategically with its nuclear program than Israel has. And thats why I’ve never subscribed to the oft recited idea that the world simply cant live with a nuclear Iran – meaning either an Iran that has the capacity to manufacture, or has actually manufactured nuclear weapons. Do we want to live with a nuclear Iran? No more than we want to live with a nuclear Israel or India or Pakistan. All have reasons to hate and fear their neighbors, but so far all have behaved essentially rationally with regard to their nuclear weapons. I think that Iran would most likely do the same. But again, this is still the worst case scenario and we are still far from it.

  4. Mark Lincoln (History)

    Netanyahu has been lusting for a war with Iran since he took office. Obama has never failed to submit to anything Netanyahu demanded.

    The mentality is very similar to that of the Bush Administration in 2002. The belief is the same as that advanced by Hitler when his generals questioned the wisdom of attacking the Soviet Union: “All we have to do is kick the door in and the whole rotten edifice will collapse.”

    That failure would ensure an Iranian bomb, as well as eliminate our best source of intelligence is not considered for a moment.

  5. b (History)

    “For some reason, everyone and his cousin are suddenly seized the idea that there must be an urgent need to (at a minimum) contemplate whether to bomb Iran. No one can quite say why now, though. ”

    That is probably an easy one. It is, in my view, all local politics in Israel as well as in the U.S. Those currently in power want to divert from social movements and the general economic problems. Hyping a foreign “enemy” is quite helpful doing so and it helps to get reelected.

    Away from that. The Washington Post today mentions one Vyacheslav Danilenko as a “former Soviet scientist” and as “nuclear scientist” working with Iran.

    Vyacheslav Danilenko has worked on detonation nanodiamonds since 1962, he invented parts of the process, and is still affiliated with an Ukrainian company that makes nanodiamonds.

    Iran has done research on nanodiamonds and plans to build an industrial scale production facility for them.

    There are certain relations between nuclear weapons and detonation nanodiamonds. The second were found while researching the first. But there are also quite some differences.

    I find Danilenko working with Iran on his major expertise field much more plausible than him working with Iran on nuclear stuff.

    Can anyone here point me to something that supports the Danilenko is a “nuclear scientist” allegation?

    (I have linked some factual support on the above in

    • rwendland (History)

      Interesting looking at Danilenko’s powerpoint presentation from 2010, that you link to. In it Danilenko proposes the use of old ammunition (bombs/shells?) under water in a closed pool to create the pressure to make micro-diamonds. If this is his sole focus for creating shock compression, it does not seem a very promising technology for precise compression of HEU:

    • hass (History)

      Danilenko is a specialist in making nanodiamonds using detonations tanks, not nuclear weapons, and has even lectured in the US about that. This is not proof of anything except that Iran has a nanotech program, which it is quite proud of.

    • b (History)


      The detonation nanodiamond direction also explains the “satellite photos of a bus-size steel container used by Iran for some of the explosives testing” that were reported by AP a few days ago.

      Pictures of detonation tanks used by nanodiamond companies show them as “bus-size steel container”.

    • SW (History)

      Are nanodiamond production detonation tanks specific to nanodiamonds, or can they be used in any research/production activity involving detonations? If the latter is true, then the nanodiamonds research could be quite an inspired cover.

      Why would it be necessary to produce industrial nanodiamonds at a known military facility, specialising in missiles and munitions?

    • b (History)

      Julian Borger at the Guardian just published a bit more about Danilenko:

      Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Russian former atomic scientist, was alleged in the Washington Post to have provided advice on explosives to Iranian scientists which was incorporated into Tehran’s design for a nuclear warhead.

      Sources close to the IAEA confirmed he was the “foreign expert” referred to in its past reports on Iranian weaponisation.

      It said he had given lectures over a number of years to Iranian specialists on how to rig simultaneous explosions: mastering such explosive force is critical in building an implosion-type nuclear device, in which high explosives compress highly enriched uranium or plutonium until it reaches critical mass, triggering a chain reaction. However, in interviews with the IAEA, Danilenko is said to have insisted that he had been under the impression his advice would be used for purely civilian applications of explosive technology, sources close to the agency said.

      Although he did not specify what those applications were, he now works for a company called Nanogroup, based in the Czech Republic, which specialises in the use of explosives to make tiny diamonds for industrial purposes. On its website the company describes itself as “the first industrial manufacturer of nanodiamonds in the world market”.

      Danilenko, who is said to be writing a theoretical textbook on high explosives, did not respond to requests for comment.

      Can we close that case?

    • Alan (History)

      Just posted this in the wrong place further down the blog – the Russians confirmed to the IAEA that Danilenko once worked on their nuclear weapons program.

  6. Mark Gubrud (History)

    If Israel is going to attack Iran, why don’t they go ahead and do it already? Why are we getting these Ominous Warnings from Peres, the media campaign, etc.? Isn’t this giving away the element of surprise? And really, since when is it likely for an Israeli attack to be timed to an IAEA report? I’m supposed to believe Netanyahu is waiting to hear from Amano whether Iran is a serious threat or not?

    Haven’t we gotten used to this Iran war drum being beaten at regular intervals, or every time it looks like internal unrest over economic conditions, or external pressure to resolve the Palestine stalemate, threatens the Israeli government’s comfort level?

    I think they’ve already done the calculation and figured out that attacking Iran would be disastrous for Israel as well as the rest of the world. This is politics as usual.

    • John Schilling (History)

      As Andy points out below, Israel cannot conduct the sort of (conventional) strike that would do more than postpone Iran’s nuclear program by a few years. At the expense of A: ensuring that once it is reconstituted, Iran’s nuclear program will acquire actual nuclear weapons at the earliest possible date and B: greatly increasing the probability that such weapons will be used against Israel.

      The United States could, in principle, reliably and permanently denuclearize Iran. It would require a Desert Storm level air campaign, minus the ground forces but including the follow-on no-fly zone and periodic minor bombardments a la Desert Fox. I do not believe the United States is presently up for this level of effort, and I do not believe the United States is presently foolish enough to do an inadequate job of bombing Iran.

      I do suspect that Israel’s posturing, to the extent that it is not intended for purely domestic consumption, may be a means of feeling the US out on this front: “Are you up for it yet? If we make the first move, will you finish the job?”

    • mike (History)

      Without significant ground troops and all that brings with it you can never be certain that the air campaign is a success except against known soft targets. Further, for how many decades is the US prepared to continue the no-fly/we bomb anything looking nuclear zone?

      If the US survived the USSR and China having nukes (now N. Korea too) and Pakistan and India have not blown each other to bits I think that Israel and Iran can manage to do the same when that day arrives.

    • John Schilling (History)

      The US was willing to do the “no-fly/we bomb” thing over Iraq for at least a decade, and when the somewhat-diminished coalition reinvaded in 2003 it was pretty clearly with the expectation that they would not be met by a barrage of covertly-developed nuclear missiles.

      Nuclear weapons production is a substantial industrial endeavour; it will not fit in e.g. a camoflaged spinning factory or an underground bunker. Individual elements like centrifuge cascades, yes, but the attacker doesn’t have to destroy everything. Rather, the target has to keep everything working, and that’s a tall order when the enemy has air supremacy, persistent surveillance, and precision strike capability. In an absolute sense, there might always be some residual doubt that some combination of targets that have been overlooked or insufficiently pummeled might add up to a complete nuclear-weapons production complex, but in practice an air campaign similar to that waged against Iraq really would reduce the probability of a successful Iranian nuclear arms program to an insignificant level.

      Also in practice, the probability of the United States chosing to do such a thing is similarly insignificant. So, yes, we will eventually get to watch and see how well a nuclear Israel and a nuclear Iran coexist.

  7. Andy (History)

    Leaving aside the political questions, I’d like to focus on practical matters: In short, what would a strike achieve?

    Advocates for a military strike seem to assume that it would actually be effective in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The problem is that there is very little evidence to support that view. One big advantage to a centrifuge-based weapons program is that it is much, much more resilient to a military attack than a plutonium-based program. So even if Israel managed to destroy all the known nuclear-related targets (and that is a dubious assumption by itself), at most that would delay the Iranians. They will still have uranium. They will still have centrifuges and the ability to make more.

    So it seems to me that a strike is just plain dumb since any nation doing so will suffer all the downsides and risks of military action while failing to achieve the purpose. Some Israeli officials correctly view the limits of Israeli capabilities, and so does the US defense establishment.

    My fear is that political considerations will drive this bus. I think of the Japanese in 1941 who felt compelled to go to war with America even as many knew it would end in disaster.

  8. Ricardo (History)

    “All have behaved essentially rationally” doesn’t mean anything. Intentionality can change overnight and (in the case of Iran) we should focus on trends and in the evolution of the whole nuclear program, especially offensive capability-building and non-compliance with the IAEA. We have made the mistake of focusing on intentionality before (remember Pakistan’s promises to the U.S. during the Russia-Afghan war?).

    Let’s not forget that, in the case of Iran, ambiguity has been wisely combined with clandestine activities, illicit procurement of nuclear/missile technologies, development of ballistic missiles and behavior that has outplayed many in the nuclear arena. Gaining strategic advantage through the nuclear weapons “option” instead of developing nuclear weapons, would actually match Iran’s current behavior and strategic interests in the Middle East.

    An Israeli intervention wouldn’t be cost-free and they certainly know that. A good example was the decision of “not emerging from nuclear ambiguity” (as Mr. Shavit stated) during the Yom Kippur war in the 70s when Israel had the Egyptian army advancing in the desert (just a few miles from the nearest town). Israel decided not to unveil the nuclear taboo. Israel’s use of conventional/nuclear force against Iran’s nuclear program will only delay Iran’s capabilities and, at the same time, accelerate the bomb-option. Israel would eventually suffer the consequences of its actions in the form of war and unconventional warfare, they know that.

    This is getting too long and boring. Anyway, Mr. Shavit should understand that covert action, cyber warfare (remember Stuxnet?), diplomacy, second-track diplomacy, are also options available, right? Plus, we are not even near the “crossroads”, Mr. Shavit.

    • A. Different Anonymous (History)

      Ricardo said: “Israel’s use of conventional/nuclear force against Iran’s nuclear program will only delay Iran’s capabilities.”

      This is only true if Israel decides to use conventional or a limited nuclear strike. A total nuclear strike targeting population centers and industrial facilities would destroy Iran as a functioning nation state. No one wants this outcome. But it is one risk.

  9. Nick (History)

    Assuming Amano’s report will refer to these allegations in his report, is there an explanation why the 2007 NIE got it wrong? Moreover, Clapper also said with high confidence that the weapon’s program work has not restarted, earlier this year to the Senate Committee.

    If the essence of Amano’s report is to say that there has been work after 2003, then Clapper and the IC have some explaining to do. It seems very bizzare to me that the Agency with its limited resources can do a better job than the IC.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Nick: “Assuming Amano’s report will refer to these allegations in his report, is there an explanation why the 2007 NIE got it wrong?”

      According to the IAEA report the 2007 NIE didn’t get it wrong.

      Here is the money-shot from the IAEA: “The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the above activities took place under a structured programme. There are also indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing.”

      That is, indeed, a roundabout way for the IAEA to admit that the 2007 NIE was correct (i.e. there was a full-on weapons PROGRAMME pre-2003, but only some super-suspicious “ongoing activities” post-2003).

  10. John Schilling (History)

    North Korea’s having gone from ambiguous to openly nuclear may not have done North Korea any good, but tolerance for North Korea’s nuclear ambiguity got us an openly nuclear North Korea – and I don’t think anyone considers that a good thing. I suspect part of the reason for the hard line on Iran is the desire to not repeat that mistake. Which, of course, is a mistake in its own right if the circumstanes are substantially different.

    The other issue, and it is a point of similarity between North Korea and Iran, is the percieved offensive nature of the proliferation. The other ambiguous states faced an arguably existential threat in the form of enemies with large conventional armies and/or nuclear arsenals of their own which had waged war on them within the past generation and plausibly threatened to do so in the future. It is fairly easy to tolerate e.g. an ambiguous Israeli bomb that one expects will only be used in the unlikely event of a Yom Kippur rematch.

    Iran and North Korea seem to face no such threat, which leads to enhanced suspicion about just what they want to do with the bombs they may or may not have. And the public comments of their leaders hardly engender warm fuzzy feelings on that count. There is a perception, which I have argued elsewhere is wrong but is certainly real and understandable, that Iran wants nuclear missiles so it can kick off the aforementioned Yom Kippur rematch on even terms.

    Of course, “Iran and North Korea seem to face no such threat” is a much more comforting sentiment for Americans (and Israelis/South Koreans). We know that we have no wish or plan to attack a non-nuclear Iran/DPRK, and we are fairly confident that our countrymen and allies are on the same page. The Norks and Iranians themselves are presumably not so confident regarding their national security.

    So, a perceptual mismatch that makes it rational for Iran to desire nuclear ambiguity and for the US and Israel to very much want Iran to be unambiguously non-nuclear.

  11. Ben (History)

    Finally some common sense on this issue as oppose to the recent journalistic hype. I know Jefferey has already previously written that the Israeli’s would bomb the Arak reactor before it went critical, but I’ll always have my doubts, particularly in the absence of a reprocessing facility. As Jeffrey says, Iran has already crossed certain thresholds, Bushehr going critical, enough LEU for more than one weapon…so the material is there…if you were adamant about a strike (and 100% sure there wasn’t a crude reprocessing facility or centrigufe plant hidden inside a tunnel) you would do it before these assets came online. Striking after makes it much harder to scheive success.

    Aside from that, I think one of the reasons anyone is unlikely to strike is simply because no one can be sure if the Iranians haven’t already bought an off the shelf weapon from Russia (or Ukraine or Kazakhstan) following the Soviet collapse, Pakistan or North Korea (look at Lavrov’s recent comments). That’s the real unspoken case of nuclear ambiguity in the case of Iran.

    • kme (History)

      This last suggestion is verging on the fantastic. Modern militaries in a middle-power like Iran operate the same the world over: rigid hierarchies, an order-of-battle, strict processes and training, and carefully planned doctrine. They don’t operate on the basis of jury-rigging a weapon that fell off the back of a truck in the Ukraine 20 years ago. Militaries don’t purchase a ballpoint pen if it hasn’t got the right part number and associated mountain of paperwork.

      (That is not to say that they wouldn’t purchase such a gadget, but the purpose would be to take it apart to see how it ticks).

      Really, if such a threat was at all credible then the Iranians wouldn’t need to bother with centrifuges or HWRs to generate ambiguity at all – they’d just quietly seed such rumours themselves.

  12. Anon (History)

    Just to be clear, this wasn’t meant as a forecast of what Iran might do in the future. It’s an interpretation of what they’ve been doing since 2002.

  13. A Rawson (History)

    I thought the Israelis couldn’t even really reach Iran’s nuclear facilities with any sort of meaningful weapons load. In this case I am referring to their ability to conduct a conventional strike with F15E/F16 fighters. I know they have purchased several of our (American) GBU penetrator bomb models, but they are heavy. Can they refuel in midair over Iraq? I would assume the Iraqis would take a dim view of such an action.

    The long and the short of this: 1. Can the Israelis even pull off an airstrike?

    2. Whether or not an attack is successful, would they not then push the Iranian powers that be to go ahead and weaponize any HEU they possess or could make in a short time? Or to commence a conventional war with Israel via Syria/Iraq/Lebanon (Shi’a coreligionists in the region)?

    The earlier comments about ‘nuclear hedging’ make a lot of sense to me. I cannot believe any nation would deploy a nuclear weapon without a test. There is too much at stake once you have crossed that line.

    • Daryl Press (History)

      The best studies that I’ve seen suggest that some Israeli F-15s and F-16s can reach many targets of interest in Iran.

      Israel would probably refuel in the air over the Med right after takeoff to top off their fuel tanks (taking off with heavy bomb loads consumes a good amount of fuel). Some of the IAF aircraft have conformal fuel tanks which extend their range significantly. Using the conformal tanks, plus external fuel tanks under the wings which would be jettisoned en route, gives the IAF aircraft more extensive coverage over Iran that it would initially appear to be the case.

      The devil is in the details of course. It depends on what route they choose. They’ve trained in the past over Turkey. They presumably gathered information as they did so on Turkish radar coverage. Ironically, the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations may make an attack through Turkish airspace **easier** for Israel than it would have been if they had had war relations. Regarding range, the challenge for Israel might be to fly as high over Turkey as one safely could (i.e., where there was spotty radar coverage) to save fuel, and fly low only where necessary. How far exactly they can reach into Iran depends on a variety of assumptions about their altitude at various parts of the flight and their specific bomb loading.

      There are some clever things Israel could do with refueling aircraft to top off its aircraft on their way home, too. Some of Israel’s aerial refueling aircraft, if my memory is functioning, have upgraded engines which extend their range and create some very creative refueling options on the way home.

      The best open-source article on this is by Raas and Long in the journal International Security a few years ago. Raas and Long looked carefully at aircraft range as a function of weight and altitude of flight. I did my own painstaking, time-consuming analysis of this same question once a decade ago (i.e., altitude v. bomb load v. range) and came to conclusions consistent with Raas and Long.

      Bottom line: This would be a difficult, complex operation for Israel, with significant risks of military failure. Many things could go wrong for Israel in the course of the military strike. It would be a heck of a military gamble — putting aside even the political issues or the longer-term strategic ones. But from a near-term military feasibility perspective, the principal hurdles seem to me to be (a) target identification, and (b) ability to do much damage to some of the more deeply buried targets. Range is an issue, but I think that’s solvable from the Israeli perspective.

    • Andy (History)


      That’s my sense too. I would add the lack of a restrike capability as a major feasibility issue. They would have only one shot at it with little margin for error.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Israel also has the Popeye Turbo cruise missile, suitable for air or submarine launch and with a range of up to 1500 km. And they’ve demonstrated the ability to conduct submarine operations out of Eilat on the Red Sea, which puts the Arabian/Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean on the table as launch sites. On the other hand, Popeye Turbo is probably only a soft-target weapon.

      If the Iranians were to put all their nuclear eggs in one basket, the Israelis could probably destroy that basket – once. Osirak all over again. However, the Iranian program appears to be substantially more robust than Iraq’s, so this is a non-issue unless Israel can convince the United States (or, possibly, Russia or India) to join in the fun.

  14. b (History)

    @SW – “Are nanodiamond production detonation tanks specific to nanodiamonds, or can they be used in any research/production activity involving detonations? If the latter is true, then the nanodiamonds research could be quite an inspired cover.

    Why would it be necessary to produce industrial nanodiamonds at a known military facility, specialising in missiles and munitions?”

    From what I gather from Danilenko’s presentation, reading a bit on the issue and the pictures of such tanks from companies involved in nanodiamonds these seem to have specific ins and outs that are not found on detonation chambers used in explosion engineering.

    But I am certainly not an expert on this.

    Parchin is a general ammunition factory. A detonation chamber there would be not astonishing at all, nanodiamonds or not, as such is helpful in testing explosives and ammunition. Missouri S&T, for example, has several of those. (

    If the newly reported detonation tank is in Parchin for detonation nanodiamonds it also makes sense. Why transport dangerous explosives through the countryside when one has space to do the nanodiamonds experiments next to the explosives factory?

  15. Joe (History)

    Iran acquiring nukes is clearly their most rational course. They have seen what we have done to all of their neighbors and fully understand that a nuke is the only real deterrence to American imperial ambitions.

    What is seldom commented on in the whole Iran-Nuke discussion is that we, and the Israelis, made them do it for purely defensive reasons.

    • Andy (History)

      There’s a certain irony in the view that Iran needs nukes as deterrence against Israel and the US. Talk of the US and Israel attacking Iran didn’t just materialize out of thin air. The reason it’s even being considered is due to the nuclear program itself…which you say Iran “rationally” needs to deter the US and Israel from attacking. In short, it’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

      Secondly, your timing is off. Iran’s nuclear program was restarted back in the 1980’s as a consequence of it’s war with Iraq. The US sold weapons to Iran via Israel and Iran and Israel cooperated in several areas against Iraq, notably the various attacks against Osirak. Until the US toppled Saddam, Iraq was Iran’s primary enemy and Iran’s defense establishment was structured to deter another Iraqi invasion and, failing that, re-fight the Iran-Iraq war. The US and Israel were secondary and tertiary concerns respectively. The argument that Iran’s nuclear program was a response to the US and Israel completely ignores this strategic and historic reality.

      Third, the idea that Iran needs nukes to defend against Israel doesn’t make a lot of sense. Israel has no capability to do much to Iran beyond using it’s own nuclear arsenal which is an “ambiguous” deterrent force. Israel doesn’t have proxy forces to attack Iran. It doesn’t have enough ground forces or manpower to invade Iran. It doesn’t have a Navy capable of blockading Iran. It’s Air Force only has the capability for a very limited one-off raid against a few targets inside Iran and that’s it. This is the “threat” Iran needs nukes to defend against?

      Well, you might say, what about the US? Again, the US and Iran, despite being enemies, have managed to coexist for over 30 years. The US, for all its military capabilities, doesn’t have the capability to topple the Iranian government through force of arms even if it wanted to. Iran knows this.

      The real reason Iran began it’s nuclear program in the 1980’s had nothing to do with Israel or the US and everything to do with Iraq. That program was a rational response to the Iraqi threat not only because the Iraqi’s had chem and bio weapons and a large and capable conventional army, but also because Iraq was perfectly willing to use them all aggressively against Iran. Additionally, Iran knew Iraq was working on nukes and could not afford to let that threat go unanswered. When Iraq fell to the US invasion, Iran’s primary strategic threat disappeared. The strategic motivation for a nuclear capability should have disappeared along with it.

      Here’s where I will do some finger-pointing at the US and Israel. The overthrow of Saddam was a missed opportunity. Hass mentions the deal offered by Iran as an example. We don’t know for certain, but the information I’ve seen indicates the offer was genuine. We could have offered Iran the chance to come clean on all its nuclear activities (ie. an amnesty), recognized them for what they were – a rational response to the now non-existent threat from Iraq – and made a deal whereby Iran ratifies the AP to provide credible assurance that Iran will not secretly keep pursuing a weapons capability into the future. That outcome was not guaranteed, of course, but I think it was achievable and would have been a nontrivial silver lining to the strategic debacle that was the invasion of Iraq.

      Instead the US, with Israel and the gulf states on its coattails, compounded the mistaken invasion by missing that opportunity. Furthermore the US could replace Iraq as a strategic threat great enough to justify a nuclear deterrent in the minds of the Iranian leadership. And this is where the self-licking ice cream cone comes in, because the cycle grows and feeds on itself. Fortunately the US has made it pretty clear in the past four years that it doesn’t have any interest in attack Iran assuming Iran’s weaponization activities remain frozen. That’s not sufficient, however, to break the cycle and IMO it’s long past time for the US and Iran to sit down and play “let’s make a deal” but there seems to be little hope for that.

  16. sek (History)

    This is probably a naive question but if the main issue for Iran is to hedge and to develop a latent capability as well be in a position to rapidly break out if necessary, why then (as suspected) focus on an implosion mechanism for triggering nuclear weapons rather than work on a gun type system? An implosion mechanism would also require Iran to conduct a test which is not necessary for a gun type system?

    • A Rawson (History)

      A gun type system would be heavier than a modern implosion design. Bottom line, it is harder to deliver for less yield. They are heavier and less efficient than a comparable yield implosion device. That being said, the science is a lot easier for a gun type. Given a sufficient critical mass, a group of high school honor students could assemble a gun-type weapon. But to actually get it to the target is more difficult. And I reiterate that no nation would bet its national survival on an untested nuclear weapon. The response would be massive and debilitating. Assuming a gun type system, could they mount it on any of their currently existing ballistic missile systems and get it to a target untested? Or mate it to an aircraft as a gravity bomb? I would doubt that seriously. I guess you could assemble one and get some ‘volunteers’ to drive it by truck to the target. It would probably work, assuming it was undetected. But I doubt you could pull off such an operation and be free from retaliation.

    • Spruce (History)

      Not to mention that gun-type weapon is inherently unsafe. Since you have enough material in a gun-type weapon to become critical without compression, any physical damage to the weapon carries a risk that the fissile material start moving – and perhaps end up in critical configuration. With implosion weapon, physical damage almost certainly actually makes the weapon less likely to go critical. The difference is important in any kind of accident that the weapon might go through.

    • Johnboy (History)

      A Rawson: “I guess you could assemble one and get some ‘volunteers’ to drive it by truck to the target. It would probably work, assuming it was undetected. But I doubt you could pull off such an operation and be free from retaliation.”

      Wouldn’t you ALSO be free from retaliation simply by taking your too-big-by-half nuke and testing it on your own soil?

      After all, that’s what the North Koreans did, and it immediately stopped all talk of military action against them.

      They can’t deliver it atop your head?
      Heck, nobody’s gonna put that theory to a test.

    • John Schilling (History)

      I would disagree that a gun-type system is substantially heavier than a modern implosion design, and certainly that it would be so heavy as to require ground delivery. The American W-33 was a gun-assembly uranium bomb with 5-10 kt pure fission yield, weighing ~100kg and fitting in a 20cm diameter case. This would trivially fit on any of Iran’s strategic missiles.

      The W-33 seems to have been a rather sophisticated double-gun design, but the TX-8 family (basically evolved Little Boys) included the ~360kg W-9 and the ~720kg Mk-10, both under 30cm diameter. South Africa’s bombs came in at ~1000kg and 60cm diameter; given the choice of aircraft delivery there was no real incentive to try for anything smaller. Building gun-assembly bombs that can fit in Iranian missiles is a straightforward technical exercise, and I would be surprised if the legacy of Iran’s pre-2004 program did not include a contingency plan for such.

      The major difference between gun-assembly and implosion assembly is that a gun-assembly bomb requires 50+ kg of HEU, compared to ~15 kg for an implosion bomb. Iran does not have vast quantities of HEU; if some technical inability to produce implosion devices forces them to resort to gun-assembly missile warheads, they will probably be delayed six months to a year in producing enough HEU for their first weapon and their arsenal from that point forward will be diminished by two-thirds.

    • Yossi (History)

      Let’s suppose an improbable scenario in which Iran breaks out and builds one or two crude bombs in order to take revenge on a particularly vicious attack.

      Even if the bombs can be delivered by missile the Iranians might not risk them being intercepted by an anti-ballistic missile. A better alternative might be a submarine sneak attack that will launch a long range torpedo to the enemy shore near some large city. Some torpedoes are big and it would be possible to fit a nuclear device inside.

      Iranian warships and subs sail in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea but there may be no worthy target on their shores. They had entered the Mediterranean in the past via the Suez Canal but there is no public record of Iranian subs doing so.

      I wonder if they could circumnavigate Africa accompanied by a support ship and go for Western Europe or sneak via Gibraltar to take their revenge.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Iran’s ability to conduct submarine operations is limited. They posess three Kilo-class boats which have the range and payload for such an operation, but operational readiness and crew quality are questionable. Submarine operations are the most technically challenging aspects of modern warfare, generally only mastered via an extensive “apprenticeship” to a navy that already has that skillset, and require constant maintenance and training. And while Iran has not been wholly negligent in those areas, what effort they have devoted to the issue seems focused on local operation, in particular interdiction of the Straits of Hormuz.

      An Iranian submarine sortie into the Mediterranean would perhaps be barely possible in peacetime, with enough overt logistical support to render the stealth aspect of the submarine largely moot. Such a sortie performed using covert replenishment, and with covert passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and Sicilly, in time of war or extreme crisis, is probably not within their current capabilities. Even the Red Sea is probably off limits in time of hostilities, due to the extremely narrow southern entrance.

      Nuclear torpedo attacks in the Persian Gulf or Gulf of Oman are plausible, with the US 5th Fleet base in Bahrain and the Saudi oil terminal at Ras Tanura being the most likely targets – presuming Iran wants to engage in nuclear warfare with the US or Saudi Arabia.

    • Yossi (History)

      Thanks to John Schilling for the informative reply.

      I wish to speculate a little bit further. Although the end result may be barely possible it has such far reaching implications that it should be considered seriously.

      Iran doesn’t have a strategic first strike option and probably wouldn’t have it for a long time. It however may soon have a potential covert second strike capability.

      This possible development may be viewed positively as a re-balancing factor returning the Middle East to stable equilibrium and sanity or as a cause for alarm to those who enjoyed the temporary unstable state.

      What is this potential covert second strike capability?

      Suppose for example that Syria do buy the two Amur-1650 submarines to be safely stationed in the Russian section of the Tartus port. Suppose further that the subs are bought with Iranian funds. Now in the case of a nuclear attack on Iran it can quickly build a crude bomb inside a 533 mm diameter long-range torpedo and fly it to Syria. This one torpedo launched from a submarine to a certain shore practically creates a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) situation thus “neutralizing” a nuclear arsenal of hundreds of warheads from being used offensively.

      Such a scenario ensures that the Samson Option really become a last resort defensive measure and never used as a means to compel others to give up vital interests.

      I wonder if this may be one hidden agenda behind the Iran debate that otherwise seems quite irrational. It may fill up some logical lacunae in the arguments.

      My personal view as an Israeli is that such a situation is good for Israel but very destructive to US interests.

  17. b (History)

    @Jeffrey – good question – I don’t know – I haven’t seen the sat pictures.

    – Is the tank already installed or has only been delivered and is waiting for installation (often happens with large heavy stuff here)?
    – Are there building foundations visible around the tank? May they want to build around only after having put the heavy tank there?
    – Are their water or other installations leading to/from the tank?

    Danilenko used ice-cooled charges but also charges in water.

    The Elit company tank seems to have some waterpipes

    The ice-cooled stuff is mentioned here:
    I don’t have the book and do not know what patent footnote 27 refers to. Would be interesting to know.

    Anybody here with library access to “Ultrananocrystalline diamond: synthesis, properties, and applications
    By Olga A. Shenderova, Dieter M. Gruen”?

  18. b (History)

    Walked a bit through the Parchin site in Google Earth.

    What I regard as a possible detonation tank is in “technical area 1” ( of the alleged nuke part of Parchin.

    Feb 2009:

    July 2010:

    The tank is roughly some 5-6 meters long and about 2 meters wide fitting somewhat the dimension of the ISL det tank.

    That tank in Parchin was installed before the building around it was erected.

    Then again – I may be totally wrong here.

  19. Arnold Evans (History)


    We could have offered Iran the chance to come clean on all its nuclear activities (ie. an amnesty), recognized them for what they were – a rational response to the now non-existent threat from Iraq – and made a deal whereby Iran ratifies the AP to provide credible assurance that Iran will not secretly keep pursuing a weapons capability into the future.

    This thing about “weapons capability”, or even “secret weapons capability” is very curious.

    Japan and Brazil openly have pursued and achieved weapons capability, as is their right under the NPT and also Iran’s.

    The Western idea that Israel has a sacred monopoly on nuclear capability in its region certainly has no support in any relevant document or treaty and the insistence of the Western nuclear policy community on distorting the agencies and laws to implement this double standard will only lead to further confrontation.

    Iran is really better off waiting for the US to lose either the desire or ability to prevent it from achieving the capabilities Japan and Brazil have achieved than submitting to these Western Israel-inspired demands and committing future generations of Iranian leaders to them.

    Until, like with Japan and Brazil, the West learns to be satisfied with a lack of nuclear weapons, rather than pressing beyond that and beyond the law to a lack of weapons capability, there is no chance of resolution.

  20. Bill (History)

    Andy, is mistaken if he thinks the US military can’t decapitate the Iranian government. A single mid-morning air attack by B-2s and B-1s could take out the government and all military command and control.

    The US doesn’t want to.

    “Iran knows this.”

    • Andy (History)


      I would suggest you examine the history of attempts to decapitate leadership via air strikes. It was tried many times and never succeeded.

  21. Arnold Evans (History)

    Talk of the US and Israel attacking Iran didn’t just materialize out of thin air. The reason it’s even being considered is due to the nuclear program itself.

    You may believe this but it is not true and it seems that nobody in Iran’s leadership believes this. It is so naive that it is difficult to think anyone honestly believes it though.

    The United States maintains a string of colonies in the region including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and others which shields the fewer than 6 million Jewish people of Israel from the fact that most of the more than 400 million people in the region do not think a set-aside ethnic state is more legitimate than southern Africans considered the set aside White South African state legitimate.

    That string of colonies included Iran before its revolution and the United States has been hostile against Iran ever since. Notably including the Iran-Iraq war and the US’ explicit policy during that time of dual containment aimed at weakening both sides.

    Iran certainly has more strategic incentive to develop its NPT-legal nuclear capabilities than either Japan or Brazil does. US threats to attack Iran to prevent it from achieving that level of capability though only a pretext for expressing the hostility the US has expressed since the beginning, if anything proves the necessity of Iran having those capabilities.

    Any independent state that reflects the views of its people in Iran’s region is going to face the hostility of the United States because of Israel. In that face of that hostility, it would be foolish to commit to a level of nuclear capabilities below what are clearly allowed by the NPT as it was negotiated.

    Under one pretext or another, the US will sanction and threaten to attack any country in Israel’s region whose policy, especially foreign policy is more accountable to its own people than to the US embassy.

    • Anonymous (History)

      String of colonies? Jeffrey, surely you can moderate this type of statement?

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Well, I don’t agree with the statement and think it’s a bit off-topic, but not so much that I would spam it.

    • Andy (History)


      First of all, I don’t agree that Israel has a “sacred monopoly” on nuclear weapons in it’s region.

      Secondly, my principal concern is to prevent another war and/or a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Those who put what they perceive as Iran’s rights or Israel-Palestinian relations ahead of all other considerations with respect to Iran’s nuclear program should be mindful of the potential consequences those priorities could bring.

      Third, if the strategic situation and history of Iran’s program was at all analogous to Japan or Brazil, then I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it. In other words, there are reasons people are more worried about Iran than Japan and Brazil that have nothing to do with double-standards, Western bias or how Israel treats Palestinians. Also, one can’t simply declare Iran’s right to the same capabilities as Japan or Brazil without consideration to how Iran will achieve those capabilities.

      You may believe this but it is not true and it seems that nobody in Iran’s leadership believes this. It is so naive that it is difficult to think anyone honestly believes it though.

      I stand by my statement. I doubt you know with such certainty that “nobody in Iran’s leadership believes this.” However, feel free to support your unequivocal statement with some evidence.

      Open talk of attacking Iran’s nuclear program (and Iran generally) did not take off until after 2003. Don’t take my word for it though, I would encourage you to do the Nexis searches yourself. Just as an example, during the 1990’s I could find no instances where Israeli officials seriously considered attacking Iran. Statements by US officials are few – the most direct was a statement that attacking Iran was a possibility if it was proven that Iran was behind the Khobar Towers attack. Ironically, Israel was one of several countries that cautioned the US NOT to attack Iran in response to Khobar Towers. There is no comparison to the post-2003 environment where attacks on Iran’s program were definitely on-the-table and are frequently and openly discussed.

      So, while it’s true that Iran and the US have been enemies for over 30 years, it’s also true that they managed to coexist for most of that period and even cooperate occasionally. The same is even more true with Israel. Therefore I think my statement is accurate.

      Finally, there is more than the “West” and the Israeli-Palestinian issue to consider when assessing what actions would make Iran “better off.” Your view of what’s good for Iran is likely very different from Iran’s view. It’s clear, for example, that Iran’s strategic vision is quite a bit broader and more complex than the simplistic Israeli-centric narrative you’ve provided here.

    • b (History)

      Andy – may I suggest to read

      Notice especially Netanyahoo and Peres in 1992 on the following CSM page.

    • Andy (History)


      I saw that and decided to look up the sources. The Netanyahu quote is actually from 1995, not 1992, and comes from a Jerusalem Post piece which ran on January 12, 1995. Here’s the full quote:

      “Within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb, without having to import either the technology or the material,” Netanyahu said. “(The nuclear threat) must be uprooted by an international front headed by the US. It necessitates economic sanctions on Iran.”

      The Peres quote is sourced from an interview on French TV via the book “Treacherous Alliance.” Here’s the quote from the book which, unfortunately, doesn’t provide the full context of Peres’ remarks:

      Israel based its case on a number of factors. First and foremost, Israel accused Iran of seeking nuclear and chemical weapons. Warning the international community that Iran would be armed with a nuclear bomb by 1999, Peres told France 3 television in October 1992 that “Iran is the greatest threat [to peace] and greatest problem in the Middle East…because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militantism.” You can’t deter a fanatic, terrorist state with nuclear weapons, the Israeli foreign minister argued. And if the nuclear-armed Shia theocracy acquired ballistic missiles as well, Iran would become a greater threat than the Palestinians.

      Either way, I do not dispute that Israel increasingly viewed Iran as a threat. However, viewing a country as a threat is not the same thing as seriously considering war with that country. I don’t see how the CSM section you cite is inconsistent with what I wrote above.

      Israel didn’t seriously consider attacking Iran in the 1990’s. Not surprising since Israel’s capabilities to do so were, and remain, quite limited and Iran’s nuclear program was immature at the time.

    • Alan (History)

      Andy – I think the latter Peres quote forms part of Trita Parsi’s view that Israel has pursued a strategy since 1992 of seeking Iranian international isolation in order to minimise or eliminate the chance of a rapprochement with the US, as any such development would effectively end any lingering belief that Israel was a strategic asset to the US. In that respect of course it would have been much easier for Iran to undermine Israel by seeking a deal, something it is generally accepted they tried to do.

  22. Daryl Press (History)

    Andy made a very good post above about Iranian intentions for building a bomb, about whether the US-Iran conflict is driven by the Iranian bomb program, and whether Iran really has sufficient reason to fear the U.S. as to drive them to seek a nuclear deterrent.

    Andy’s post is very smart, and he makes some good points, but I find it unpersuasive.

    * often it makes sense to try to discern the intention behind an action by looking at when that action began (Andy notes that the Iran program was re-started in the early 1980s), but that method of analysis assumes that the goal of the action has not changed since it began. In many circumstances that’s a reasonable assumption, but it might be a pretty dubious assumption in this case. As Andy points out, Iran’s nuclear program began decades ago. That was a very different Iran. That was an Iran at war with Iraq, living in a world shaped by super power competition. Today Iran’s politics are different. Their threat environment is very different. It’s quite plausible that the politics and threats driving their nuclear policy today have little resemblance to what drove it decades ago.

    * the argument about Iran’s nuclear arsenal driving the US-Iran hostility, and hence only being a cure for a disease that it actually causes, is too simple. Yes, when the USG explains its unhappiness with Iran today it focuses on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and certainly the community on this blog focuses on that as well. But in reality, Iran and the US have been involved in a pretty nasty relationship – punctuated by periods of violence – since the revolution. Recently the nastiness has focused on nukes. But we found plenty of things to drive us apart before the proliferation issue became our focus. The anger left over on both sides from the revolution…Iran’s support for terrorism…US support for Iran’s regional enemies… If I were an Iranian, I’d notice how many other dictators we’ve toppled in the past two decades – having nothing to do with nuclear weapons: Noriega, Qaddaffi, Milosevic. Over the decades, the U.S. has found lots of reasons to hate the current Iranian govt – and would continue to even if they gave up their nukes. (Just wait until the next time that Hezbollah kills people we like, or the next time that the Tehran government has to beat or kill people in its streets – and you’ll see again that our dispute with Iran is much deeper than nukes.)_ To put it more mildly: Iran has every reason to suspect that we’d hate them, even if they got rid of their nuke program.

    * Up until recently, I’d have agreed with Andy that we’re not going to try “regime change” in a serious fashion against Iran – and that only a paranoid in Tehran would fear this. Why? They have 85 million people. Iraq was a nightmare. The American people are exhausted. Etc… But we need to update this view. If in the coming years, a “Persian spring” erupts, and there is dissention in the Iranian military (perhaps the Artesh vs. IRGC?), and there are large-scale attacks on non-combatants, I see no reason to dismiss the idea that we’d support the rebels against the government. Whether it be wise or not, we may try to emulate the Libya model, support fighters on the ground, and topple the regime. Of course, we did this in Libya and not (yet) in Syria. Could a prudent Iranian leader be confident that we will not try to topple their government in a Libya-esque operation if internal conflict erupts again in Iran? Wouldn’t their possession of nuclear weapons be a strong deterrent against large-scale western intervention in such a case?

    Again – I’m not trying pile on . I think Andy’s post was really smart. It triggered a long reaction from me b/c I thought what he wrote was thoughtful – just not right.



    • Andy (History)


      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I agree with much of it, so let me clarify my comments by responding to your points:

      Today Iran’s politics are different. Their threat environment is very different. It’s quite plausible that the politics and threats driving their nuclear policy today have little resemblance to what drove it decades ago.

      I agree completely. This is kind of what I was getting at when I suggested it would be a mistake for the US and Israel to take actions that would turn them into a threat large enough to justify a nuclear arsenal for Iran – in other words to purposely take Iraq’s place as Iran’s existential threat would be a huge mistake.

      Additionally, the Iranian nuclear program has “taken a life of it’s own” and is now not simply about Iran’s strategic position but is a question of Iran’s national honor. That makes is very hard for their leadership to compromise or to appear to compromise. The US desire to see Iran’s enrichment capabilities dismantled only feeds this which is why I think the US should abandon this goal and pursue different policies.

      To put it more mildly: Iran has every reason to suspect that we’d hate them, even if they got rid of their nuke program.

      Again, I broadly agree here and that’s a point I tried to make above – that the US and Iran have long been enemies yet managed to coexist for most of that history without a serious threat of war. The perception that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons is a game changer from that status-quo in my opinion.

      Could a prudent Iranian leader be confident that we will not try to topple their government in a Libya-esque operation if internal conflict erupts again in Iran? Wouldn’t their possession of nuclear weapons be a strong deterrent against large-scale western intervention in such a case?

      In that case nuclear weapons could increase the chance of intervention because the US and others would be worried about the security and safety of the nukes and would want to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. For example, there are persistent rumors that the US has plans to do just that in the case of Pakistan’s arsenal.

      The top US threat for at least a decade now is the so-called “terrorist WMD” threat with a “terrorist nuke” being at the top of that list. Preventing that is the US’s most important national security priority. It therefore seems unlikely to me the US would sit by and potentially allow a state’s nuclear arsenal to be taken by parties unknown due to internal instability.

      Thanks again for your comments and don’t worry about piling on me, in fact I welcome criticism of my arguments.

    • Alan (History)

      Andy/Daryl – I would also consider when contemplating Iran’s motives the meeting of minds between Sharon and Bush, and the strategy hatched for “securing the realm”, which actually emerged during the Clinton presidency and Netanyahu’s first forgettable stint as PM.

      A recurrence of this type of strategy and/or alliance at some point in a more distant future that easily envisions a contest for resources between China and the US, or a Russia eager to control supply routes may also contribute to the Iranian leadership considering it necessary to maintain a deterrent. It’s unrealistic I think for us Westerners to assume the Iranians will take the view that tomorrow’s another day when the immediate past has been so appalling.

  23. Arnold Evans (History)

    First of all, I don’t agree that Israel has a “sacred monopoly” on nuclear weapons in it’s region.

    Not on nuclear weapons, but on the term you introduced to this discussion and that I objected to: “nuclear weapons capability”. If the issue was nuclear weapons, there would be no demand for Iran to suspend enrichment.

    Secondly, my principal concern is to prevent another war and/or a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

    Wait a second. How do you explain that Israel has not started a nuclear arms race?

    Third, if the strategic situation and history of Iran’s program was at all analogous to Japan or Brazil, then I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it.

    I don’t believe you. It seems nobody in Iran believes you. The US opposition to Iran’s nuclear program began when the Shah was overthrown. I’m not sure what strategic circumstances or history you’re talking about other than Iran not being ruled by a pro-US stooge.

    Also, one can’t simply declare Iran’s right to the same capabilities as Japan or Brazil without consideration to how Iran will achieve those capabilities.

    What does this sentence mean? And how does it connect to Barack Obama’s and I believe your position that Iran’s enrichment must be curtailed – either permanently or until the US grants permission for it to proceed, which is the same thing – while the capability of producing weapons grade material for the other two is treated differently?

    I doubt you know with such certainty that “nobody in Iran’s leadership believes this.”

    I said “seems” and did not express certainty. But I’ve done a much better job anticipating Iran’s moves up to this point than anyone on your side of the issue.

    There also have been quotations from the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad broadly consistent with what I’ve written here.

    It’s clear, for example, that Iran’s strategic vision is quite a bit broader and more complex than the simplistic Israeli-centric narrative you’ve provided here.

    I’d say simplistic and right is better than complex and wrong. As far as I can tell, nothing I’ve written has been shown to be wrong.

    *** *** ***

    You are certainly effectively working to ensure that Israel maintains its regional monopoly on what you’ve called nuclear capability. If you’re saying that’s not your intention, then what is your intention?

    If you’re not lying when you say you would not be troubled by Japan’s nuclear program in Iran, then accept Japan’s nuclear program in Iran. Japan has no weapons, no unaccounted for fissile material, but could build a nuclear arsenal in some matter of months.

    Get Barack Obama to accept that for Iran and there is literally no nuclear dispute between the US and Iran.

  24. Arnold Evans (History)

    About the nuclear issue being a game changer: So far the US has made bellicose statements but pursued the same policies as before – sanctions and covert regime change efforts.

    If the US felt it had the ability to overthrow Iran’s government by arms, at a cost or in a way that would be to the US’ strategic advantage, the US would develop a pretext regardless of the nuclear issue and overthrow Iran’s government by arms.

    Post 2003 statements from the US and Israel that attacking Iran is on the table do not to me represent a substantial change in Iran’s strategic situation.

  25. Johnboy (History)

    Speaking of the politics, nobody seems to be paying attention to what I suspect is the most important reaction of all i.e. the Russian foreign ministry.

    They are exceptionally (and undiplomatically) pissed-off, accusing Amano of abusing his position and debasing the IAEA for American political gain.

    As reactions go it has hardly touched the press, but I suspect that it has Washington reeling in shock.

    Think about it: America has been very successful in getting Russia to sit on the sidelines, and if this report induces Russia to get off its bum then all sorts of plans for leveraging this report may as well go in the bin.

    In short: the most important outcome of this IAEA report may end up being a spectacular own-goal i.e. the brainiacs will have managed to induce an angry Russia off the sidelines and into Iran’s camp.

    Remind me again how that would be a good thing from the American point of view?

    • Dan Joyner (History)

      Great insight Johnboy.

    • rwendland (History)

      Reuters reports the Russian reaction pretty well, which they report goes as high as “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin … said there is no clear evidence Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb.”

    • Johnboy (History)

      Haaretz has had two reports on the Russian reaction, and there appears to be great puzzlement in the Israeli press over the conspicuous lack of a reaction from the US government to this report. I suspect very much the two are related…..

      After all, the Americans were the “source” for all that sexy stuff, so it’s not as if they didn’t have their response worked out in advance.

      And, let’s face it, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what the American game-plan was i.e. to rush a sexed-up report to the Security Council for ever-more crippling sanctions against Iran.

      But it’s possible that now they might not even *dare* to take this to the UNSC, for fear that those Pissed-Off Russkies will turn the debate into a witchhunt against Amano.

      The Americans expended enormous effort to lever Their Man Amano into that chair, so they may not want to see him turned into A Lame Duck this early.

    • Alan (History)

      Are they so pissed off because they were revealed in the report as another significant contributor of intelligence on Iran to the IAEA?

      Seems there is an effort by the IAEA to try to circumvent the standard US lapdog defence/criticism by repeatedly seeking to broaden the references to other Member States supplying information (now 10). Russia is the only one clearly revealed though, in combination with the leak of Danilenko’s name.

  26. Daniel Horner (History)

    I have a question on a small but potentially important point: Is Danilenko’s citizenship Russian or Ukrainian (or more precisely, what was his citizenship at the time of the assistance)? In the reporting and discussion of the IAEA report, there seems to be some disagreement on that point.

    • b (History)

      The Nanotechnology Institute at Drexel who invited him for a talk announced him as “Ukranian”. That is where I took it from.

      The Institute seems to have now deleted the Danilenko item, but Google still shows it. Google “Danilenko Nanotech Institute” and you will still see it.

  27. Arnold Evans (History)

    I have three questions for Andy and those who generally agree with his positions on Iran’s nuclear program. Reading the thread so far, you’ll see I believe I know the answers, but both in fairness and because I may learn something I’m going to ask the questions rather than answer them.

    For these questions I’m defining nuclear weapons capability as something Japan has achieved – a situation where a country clearly and verifiably does not have nuclear weapons today because there is no unaccounted-for fissile material to make a weapon, but also a situation where that country could make weapons in a relatively short time if it decided to.

    I think we can all agree that this situation, at least in the case of Japan is unequivocally legal and consistent with the terms of both the NPT and its later Additional Protocols.

    Question 1: Why is it important to you that Iran not have nuclear weapons capability?

    Question 2: Why do you think it is important to Israel that Iran not have nuclear weapons capability?

    Question 3: Why do you think it is important to the United States that Iran not have nuclear weapons capability?

    • Arnold Evans (History)

      I’d really appreciate answers in as much detail as you can bear. As this is the central question of the dispute between Iran and the West over its nuclear program, I think answering these questions honestly, at length and in detail may yeild important understandings all around.

    • John Schilling (History)

      A fair question, and I’ll give my take. I will, however, break it down a bit further.

      Question 1A: It is important to me that Iran not have an actual nuclear arsenal because I believe that the probability of Iran winding up with a government aggressive and/or incompetent enough to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack, while small, is substantially larger than with most other potential nuclear powers. I also do not believe Iran faces any plausible existential threat that can be deterred with a nuclear arsenal, which would be the one thing that might persuade me as an outsider that the benefit to Iran is worth the risk to Iran’s neighbors.

      Question 1B: It is important to me that Iran not be widely perceived as having or probably having posession of actual nuclear weapons (i.e. “nuclear ambiguity”) for two reasons. One, that this would increase the risk of Iran’s neighbors winding up with trigger-happy paranoid governments which end up launching unprovoked attacks. Two, that every nation which is believed to have acquired nuclear weapons weakens the general consensus for non-proliferation and risks a regional or global nuclear arms race amongst the traditional NNWS. I believe that the Middle East is a particularly problematic region in both regards, and as noted earlier I do not believe that Iran faces the sort of threat that would justify this development.

      Question 1C: It is important to me that Iran not have what you refer to as “nuclear weapons capability” (stockpiles of fissile material and file cabinets full of A-bomb designs), because Iran is very much unlike Japan in that Japan is an open and almost impossibly peaceful society whereas Iran is not. W/re 1A, above, if Iran intends to actually deploy nuclear weapons, and I think this highly likely, this can only be reliably stopped at the “nuclear weapons capability” stage. W/re 1B, if Iran posesses “nuclear weapons capability”, Iran (again unlike Japan) will be percieved by her neighbors as posessing actual nuclear weapons and the harm outlined above will come to pass. Regardless of whether the weapons exist, or whether the “nuclear weapons capability” is legal under the NPT.

      Question 2: I believe Israel’s reasoning is similar to my own, with a particular emphasis on the dangers to Iran’s immediate neighbors. Israel percieves itself to be the most likely target of any unprovoked nuclear attack out of Iran, Israel percieves itself to be the most likely target of any unprovoked attack by any other regional power that initially acquired nuclear armaments in response to Iran, and the Israeli government is I suspect looking at all of its own contingency plans for coexisting with a nuclear-armed Iran and saying, “that is uncomfortably trigger-happy on our end”.

      Question 3: I believe the US Government’s reasoning is similar to my own, with an enhanced emphasis on the regional/global arms race issue. The United States percieves either a benefit from or obligation towards involvement in many regional conflicts, all of which become immeasurably harder to deal with when nuclear weapons come into play.

      And Question 4: Do I believe preventing Iran from having a “nuclear weapons capability” is worth going to war over? No, I do not, at least for any plausible war that could do the job. I believe the United States feels similarly. I believe the Israelis might be on the fence, but also incapable of waging such a war without full US assistance. Unfortunately, I also believe the window for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability without war, is just about closed. Same goes for Iran acquiring actual nuclear weapons.

    • Arnold Evans (History)


      W/re 1B, if Iran posesses “nuclear weapons capability”, Iran (again unlike Japan) will be percieved by her neighbors as posessing actual nuclear weapons and the harm outlined above will come to pass.

      What is your reasoning behind this? Which specific neighbors do you think would have this perception and what makes you think they would have this perception?

    • Arnold Evans (History)


      W/re 1A, above, if Iran intends to actually deploy nuclear weapons, and I think this highly likely, this can only be reliably stopped at the “nuclear weapons capability” stage.

      I just want to make sure you and other readers are aware that if Iran did want nuclear weapons capability for the same reasons Brazil, Japan, Canada and Germany have maintain it, then this reasoning would push it toward building a weapon.

      I suspect that if the US was to make a concerted drive, with sanctions and military threats to coerce Japan to give up its legal nuclear weapons capabilities, that drive would more likely result in an armed Japan than a Japan without nuclear weapons capabilities.

      Just something to have in mind.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Note the distinction between Iran wanting nuclear weapons capability and Canada, Japan, Germany maintainingsame. What Canada, Japan, and Germany want (Brazil is a marginal case), is a comprehensive civilian nuclear power generation infrastructure; that this necessarily includes what you describe as a “nuclear weapons capability” is incidental and I suspect unwanted. Note that none of those nations maintains ballistic missiles, though Japan at least has “ballistic missile capability”, nor has there been any apparent R&D program aimed at nuclear weapons design.

      It is highly unlikely that Iran wants a comprehensive civilian nuclear power generation infrastructure. A showcase reactor like Bushehr, certainly, but much beyond that is beyong their technical means. The manner in which they have conducted their enrichment program has greatly reduced the probability that they will recieve the necessary technical assistance on the reactor front. And there has been conspicuously little development of non-nuclear energy infrastructure even where it would have far more drastic benefits w/re Iran’s energy independence, e.g. gasoline refining capacity.

      Iran’s package of activities in the field of rocketry, weapons design, uranium enrichment, and not refinery development are more consistent with a desire to acquire nuclear weapons than any other plausible purpose. Or, perhaps, to convincingly appear to have acquired nuclear weapons, but that is most effectively accomplished by actually acquiring nuclear weapons.

      The implied suggestion that I ought not perform and/or publish what I consider to be an accurate assessment of Iran’s most likely intentions, on the grounds that maybe the Iranians will decide not to build nuclear weapons if we all pretend we think they are wonderful nice peacful trustworthy neighbors, I think I shall reject.

    • Arnold Evans (History)


      I still would like to know which neighbors you think would consider an Iranian nuclear weapons capability to be the same as a weapon and what makes you think that would be their perception.

      What’s this about not publishing something? I don’t read anything I wrote to say that.

      But if your reasoning is that sanctions military threats and assasinations should be employed to prevent a country from reaching what you admit is the legal status Japan has reached because it’s easier to prevent reaching that status than stopping actual weapons afterward, then those sanctions, combined with that reasoning emerge into their own incentive for Iran to actually weaponize. Andy’s self licking ice cream cone.

      Just pointing that out.

      Now what is it that makes you sure Iran wants to deploy actual nuclear weapons rather than stop at capability like Brazil and Japan? You expressed confidence in that. Based on what?

    • Arnold Evans (History)

      It seems at least as plausible that Iran’s rocketry is aimed at convincingly demonstrating that Iran could build weapons if it was to leave the NPT which, under normal circumstances it would not.

      Of course there’s no way for an NPT country to pretend it has a weapon since all fissile material is accounted for. Iran has agreed many times to implement the AP once its enrichment rights are affirmed.

      Nothing you’ve written so far is inconsistent with Iran not deploying actual weapons.

      The part where nuclear capability is the same thing as actual nuclear weapons to “Iran’s neighbors” seems to me to be a big unsupported leap in your reasoning. I’d appreciate more details of your thinking on that.

    • Andy (History)


      I’ve been rather busy the last couple of days and haven’t had time to write a proper response. I hope to get to it tomorrow. In the meantime, you made some comments based on false assumptions regarding what you think I believe in and what you think my positions are. Here’s one example:

      You are certainly effectively working to ensure that Israel maintains its regional monopoly on what you’ve called nuclear capability.

      I’ll correct the record tomorrow, but for now I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t make dubious assumptions and then try to tell me (and everyone else) what I’m “working to” or what my intentions are. I would suggest that you comment on (and criticize to your heart’s content) what I actually write and not try to be the expert on me. Thanks.

    • Arnold Evans (History)

      Also about refineries, how much more do you think Iran should be investing than it is? It seems is investing close to the maximum it can given US sanctions on its energy sector that began in the 1980s.

      Taking Iran’s refinery policies as evidence of a desire to deploy actual weapons is another pretty big stretch.

    • Arnold Evans (History)

      Andy, when you say your aim is to prevent an arms race in a situation where one side has a monopoly on nuclear capabilities, you’re saying you aim to preserve that one side’s monopoly on nuclear capabilities.

      Different words that mean the same thing.

      I look forward to your response when you’re able to leave it.

    • Andy (History)

      Andy, when you say your aim is to prevent an arms race in a situation where one side has a monopoly on nuclear capabilities, you’re saying you aim to preserve that one side’s monopoly on nuclear capabilities.

      No, one doesn’t logically, absolutely flow to the other. I have a bit of time this evening to explain this point. Please note the following is analysis and not advocacy – in other words it is my judgment of things as they are and not things as I wish them to be.

      When I think of an arms race I think of an intense, existential competition. The two obvious examples are the US vs the Soviets and India vs Pakistan, but there are many others. In these cases the “racers” were continually trying to one-up each other to gain advantage or, at least, to not be at a disadvantage. The race itself is, to participants, a question of the existential threat posed by the competitor. Thus, to fall behind in the race is to risk the destruction of your nation and your society. This belief in the existential nature of the competition is what drives the participants – a viscous cycle that is the essence of the “race.”

      So, Israel’s had nukes for 40 years now (give or take). Is there an arms race? Are there at least two competitors who believe that military and/or nuclear dominance is an existential necessity? First, there’s Israel and I would say they definitely fit the classic mold of an arms race competitor. They believe their military dominance is an existential necessity, as are the possession of nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee of state security. They believe that that if any of their neighbors match their capabilities, then the state of Israel would be mortally threatened.

      So we’ve got one racer. Who’s racing against them? Which country believes that matching Israel’s capabilities is also an existential question?

      No one really. One might make a case for Syria, and al Kibar would certainly lend credence to that. But if Syria is a competitor, it doesn’t have much heart in it and fell behind long ago. As we’ve seen over the past few months, Syria’s existential threats are internal, not external. Since the 1973 war there hasn’t been the viscous cycle and the continuous escalation of capabilities and and tensions of a typical arms race. Why?

      On the one hand, after 1973 Israel became dominant enough that its neighbors gave up trying to defeat it through military means. On the other hand, this dominance didn’t result in Israel becoming an existential strategic threat to its neighbors. The reason is that Israel is small and lacks strategic depth. Even given its military dominance, it could not hope to, for instance, conquer Syria and install a friendly government there. In short, Israeli dominance is limited and does not present an existential strategic threat to its neighbors that would necessitate a strategy of matching Israeli capabilities.

      So the short answer is that there isn’t an arms race in the Middle East, despite Israel’s weapons. But to address your allegation, no, this doesn’t mean that I favor the status quo, nor does it mean that I think Israel should, in perpetuity, have a “sacred monopoly” on either nuclear weapons or a “nuclear capability.” As I said at the outset, analysis is not the same thing as advocacy.

      Finally, the “arms race” I’m worried about has more to do with Iran’s Sunni Arab neighbors than Israel, though that’s still a pretty big elephant in the room.

      More to follow, hopefully tomorrow.

    • b (History)

      Thanks for this interesting discussion:

      John said: “It is highly unlikely that Iran wants a comprehensive civilian nuclear power generation infrastructure. A showcase reactor like Bushehr, certainly, but much beyond that is beyong their technical means. The manner in which they have conducted their enrichment program has greatly reduced the probability that they will recieve the necessary technical assistance on the reactor front. And there has been conspicuously little development of non-nuclear energy infrastructure even where it would have far more drastic benefits w/re Iran’s energy independence, e.g. gasoline refining capacity. ”

      Sorry that is factual off:
      “Russia’s nuclear chief: Iran wants more reactors”

      Over the last two years and under pressure of a potential gasoline embargo Iran has updated its refinery capacity and is now not only self sufficient but a gasoline exporter.
      “Iran Refining Capacity to Reach 3.5 Million Barrels, Shana Says”

      People in the U.S. seem to generally underestimate Iran. It is a big country with 70+ million inhabitants, lots of natural resources, high level education, science and research and, due to 30 years of sanctions, now self sufficient in many production capabilities. Persia is not an Arab desert tribe but a 5000 year old nation and civilization.

      There is also a general misunderstanding of Iran’s political system. All Iranian political functionaries are either elected or put into place by an elected official or group. (That not everyone who wants to get elected can but is “filtered out” by the ruling system is just the same within our “western” party democracies systems.)

      The Ayatollahs are not “clerics” in the sense we know in Christian culture but are foremost highly trained jurists with doctorates and tenure who teach at upper university levels. Velayat-e faghih means the guardianship of the jurist not the guardianship of religion/cleric/priest.
      Khamenei is not a high priest, but a jurist and the head of the supreme court of Iran as which he has a guiding function and the last word when the elected executive and legislative branches collide. This is more “hands on” than the U.S. supreme court role but the general function is just the same.

      If one tries to understand what Iran says and does within this framework it makes all much more sense than the “dictatorship” and “cleric” analysis western media love to do.

      Iran will not build and deploy nukes. Its supreme court has several times ruled against this and has done decisively so. To change that would be a huge break in the system and is about as likely as the legal reintroduction of racial segregation in the U.S.

    • Andy (History)

      Question 1: Why is it important to you that Iran not have nuclear weapons capability?

      To begin with, I can’t answer this question directly because it is a loaded question, akin to asking an unmarried person “why did you stop beating your spouse?” But I’ll answer indirectly:

      A lot depends on how one defines “nuclear weapons capability,” and I’m not assuming, at this point, that we share a similar definition for that term. If “nuclear weapons capability” means mastery of the fuel cycle and an advanced wholly civilian nuclear program with no military dimension, then I don’t have an issue with that. How Iran, or any other state, achieves that capability matters though, so be mindful of my argument about that below. However, if “nuclear weapons capability” means a state’s program has a military (ie. nuclear weapons) dimension then I would oppose it. For example, some commenters here argued in previous posts that under the NPT a country can stockpile weapon’s grade HEU, have a warhead design and delivery vehicle ready to go and remain in compliance with the NPT. I couldn’t disagree more. In that (admittedly extreme) example, it’s clear the intent of the nation is not exclusively peaceful and the purpose of the program is to explicitly build a nuclear hedge.

      This ties into a second problem with how you’ve framed the question which simplistically suggests that Iran (or any other country) has a right to a certain end-state in terms of technical capabilities independent of the methods used reach that end-state and its purpose for doing so. This is the point I made above when I said: “Also, one can’t simply declare Iran’s right to the same capabilities as Japan or Brazil without consideration to how Iran will achieve those capabilities. You asked, “What does this sentence mean?” It means that process and intentions matter. Consider two countries – One state which achieved its technical capabilities transparently in accordance with its international obligations for obviously peaceful reasons. Another state achieved its capabilities through subterfuge and by violating it’s obligations. I think we have a duty to assist the first state and oppose the second.

      So, at the end of the day, I don’t have a problem with Iran, or any other country, mastering the fuel cycle and having a latent “nuclear weapons capability” provided that country does so transparently and in accordance with its international agreements.

      Additionally, in my view the goal of the NPT-based system is not to prevent acquisition of capabilities, but to provide early warning. With respect to Iran, my personal opinion is that I would be satisfied if Iran formally and permanently adopted the AP and was proactive in its implementation. In my view that would provide sufficient strategic warning of Iran’s activities and, by extension, intentions, whatever they may be in the future. This is why I previously mentioned that all parties need to sit down and play a game of “let’s make a deal.” The status quo isn’t sustainable. And, before anyone makes more assumptions – I don’t expect that the AP should be shoved down Iran’s throat – Iran’s compliance will require a quid-pro-quo, hence of the purpose of playing “let’s make a deal.”

      Question 2: Why do you think it is important to Israel that Iran not have nuclear weapons capability?

      I think I explained that already in my comment last night. Israel still thinks it’s 1973 and still believes it’s superior capabilities is the only thing preventing Israel’s destruction. This is a doctrine I feel is pretty much bankrupt at this point.

      Question 3: Why do you think it is important to the United States that Iran not have nuclear weapons capability?

      There are several reasons, but in general I agree with John’s answer. Part of it is fealty to Israel and part of it is the fact that Iran and the US are enemies. But those are only two of many factors.

      Finally, one more point to address:
      I don’t believe you. It seems nobody in Iran believes you. The US opposition to Iran’s nuclear program began when the Shah was overthrown. I’m not sure what strategic circumstances or history you’re talking about other than Iran not being ruled by a pro-US stooge.

      You can obviously choose to believe what you want to believe, but I would simply point out that every nation’s strategic circumstances are different. Also, perhaps you disagree, but I don’t think the leaders of Brazil and Japan are US stooges, so I don’t think that explains anything. To suggest that the circumstances of an advanced Asian island nation are not the same as a large South American or a Middle-Eastern oil producer seems like a pretty straightforward point. These countries are all in different regions, with different cultures, geography, history, alliances, enemies and challenges. All those factors affect nuclear issues and those factors explain why most people are much less concerned (at this point) with Japan and Brazil’s nuclear programs than Iran’s. Of course strategic circumstances are not static. Everything could change tomorrow.

    • Mohammad (History)

      As an Iranian bystander I appreciate this discussion which provides a somewhat unprecedented (and hype-free) insight into the position of Western policy experts with regards to Iran’s nuclear program, answering some of my long-held questions. I would like to address some points raised by some people here:

      First, contrary to what John Schilling said, Iran has been very serious in its energy infrastructure development. The refinery capacity issue (which is resolved by now as b pointed) is an isolated one, which is itself a byproduct of the heavily subsidized gasoline (which is also being de-subsidized now). Without delving into irrelevant detail, I refer you to here.

      Second, to address the issues raised by Andy with regards the comparison to Brazil and Japan, it’s worth to mention that the U.S. and other Western countries blocked Iran from at least some legitimate nuclear material and expertise in the 80’s and 90’s. This may explain Iran’s decision to pursue the nuclear effort in a low-profile/secret manner (which again has had a “self-licking ice cream cone” effect).
      In short, Iranian officials came to the conclusion that the whole international system is unjustly against them, and they can’t change that, whatever happens (reinforced with other events such as world’s weak response to the chemical attacks on Iran, see Mark Hibb’s older post). So the argument went: “we should rely solely on ourselves and don’t care about outside world”. Of course this was not much helpful, but there’s a wealth of evidence in Iranian officials’s speech and writing that confirms this belief among them. When analyzing the “context of Iran’s nuclear effort” one has to bear that in mind.

      Third, while Iran does not much care about Western public opinion, it does so much about its domestic public opinion. That is unlike other dictatorial regimes where West has had WMD concerns, such as North Korea, Saddam’s Iraq and Ghaddafi’s Libya. Iran’s vehement insistence all these years that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons, makes it very costly for them to actually do so. That is why I think that Iran will never overtly deploy nukes: it either stops at the “capability” stage, or at most adopts a nuclear ambiguity policy.

    • John Schilling (History)


      The references you cite are press releases regarding Iran’s future plans in the energy-development arena. The whole reason we are having this discussion is that we don’t entirely trust Iran’s press releases. Not because they are Iranian, BTW, but because they were press releases regarding future plans and intentions.

      W/re oil refineries, I did check before posting, and every source I could find shows a generally flat oil refining capacity the past ten years (growth rate <3% per year vs. 5%/year real GDP growth). With frequent promises to double capacity next year or the year after that.

      Possibly they really mean it this time. But the historic record is that they've done very little in the way of resolving their most critical deficiency in domestic energy production over the same period in which they have made enormous strides in a nuclear fuel program of at best marginal economic utility.

      I do not underestimate Iran. If you examine just my posting history here, you will note that I have compared it to India in its technical and industrial capabilities. But looking at what they have actually done with those capabilities, I do conclude that energy economics is not the driving factor.

      Arnold Evans:

      What evidence do you have that I believe "sanctions military threats and assassinations should be employed" against Iran?

      It is by now fairly clear that you assume everyone who does not agree with you holds a particular, narrow, and foolish contrary position. Your initial question, which I had initially taken as "what is it that you believe?", seems more properly understood as "why do you believe that narrow, foolish thing?"

      In that game, the only winning move is not to play.

    • Arnold Evans (History)

      It is by now fairly clear that you assume everyone who does not agree with you holds a particular, narrow, and foolish contrary position. Your initial question, which I had initially taken as “what is it that you believe?”, seems more properly understood as “why do you believe that narrow, foolish thing?”

      In that game, the only winning move is not to play.

      Oh please, John. If someone asks “why do you believe that narrow, foolish thing” there’s nothing stopping you from saying “I don’t believe that narrow foolish thing.”

      Especially in writing where you’re not going to be tripped up over words and have a chance to go back and edit.

      The same way, Alan, if someone asks an unmarried person, in writing, when did you stop beating you wife, that unmarried person should have no problem responding “I’m not married, don’t have a wife and have never beaten anyone.”

      These aren’t trick questions. If your position is presented inaccurately it is trivial to correct it.

      But I’m not paying you to answer me, or forcing you. If you’d rather not answer further questions or respond, of course that’s your right.

      The free flow of ideas ultimately could be helpful in some way. Maybe other people will participate.

    • Mohammad (History)

      John Schilling,

      You have to define what you mean by “enormous stride” in nuclear fuel production. Iran can still not produce an industrially viable amount of nuclear fuel. But according to deputy Iranian energy minister, it has increased its electricity production capacity by an almost 8% annual rate (from 37 GW to 59 GW) from 2004 to 2010 (in Farsi), which is way more than Iran’s GDP growth in these years. This is the result of slightly more than 4.5 b$ average annual investment in power plant construction. This is while total Atomic Energy Organization of Iran budget for last Iranian year was less than 300 m$ (including medical radioisotope production). Total government spending in that year was more than 330 b$. And, according to Geoffrey Forden, Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant has probably cost Iran about 300 m$. Excluding Bushehr, I doubt that Iran’s total investment in nuclear technology exceeds 2 b$. It’s also worth mentioning that Iran’s hydroelectric power capacity is about 8 GW. Iran has also invested a modest amount in non-hydro renewable energy, and currently has two operational wind farms (Manjil and Binaloud) and a geothermal power station (Meshkinshahr), which together produce less than 400 MW. There are also several research-scale biofuel and solar plants.

      True, refining capacity has been lagging for a number of years (and Ahmadinejad supporters are blaming lack of investment by Khatami administration) but that is recovering, and this pattern of insufficient investment is not observable in power plant production.

      I would be grateful if you explain why the above numbers are not consistent with peaceful nuclear intentions. Of course, there also remains the issue of whether the investment is economically justifiable. While the construction of Bushehr has been prohibitively expensive when compared to fossil fuel plants (but still similar to or even cheaper than Iran’s wind farms in relative terms), its probably lower operational lifetime costs and its exceptional, first-of-kind status should be also considered. All in all, I think the investment is not inconsistent with a drive to diversifying energy sources and technological mastery, considering Iran’s self-image of a proud past and many blocked efforts of peaceful nuclear procurement. In this way, I don’t see much difference from Japan (of course, provided that the PMD don’t turn out to be true, which would make Iran more akin to Brazil in this regard, i.e. mixed intentions).

    • Andy (History)


      These aren’t trick questions. If your position is presented inaccurately it is trivial to correct it.

      But I’m not paying you to answer me, or forcing you. If you’d rather not answer further questions or respond, of course that’s your right.

      Here’s the problem Arnold, they are trick questions. You are trying to tell me what my positions are. You shouldn’t try to present my positions at all. That’s my job. If you want to know what my positions are, you should ask me. If you disagree with something I write the you should say you disagree and explain why you disagree, not setup a “trick” question based on what you imagine I believe which mischaracterizes what I said and then say it is my responsibility to correct it. It is not my responsibility and it is NOT trivial for me to spend my time and energy disputing what you believe my views are. It’s one thing to use such debate tactics on the topic we’re discussing which might give you at least some basis to know where I stand, but it’s even worse to do so on something we aren’t discussing. For example, you wrote:

      Well, most of the 400 million people in the greater Middle East disagree with the United States and with Andy, John and most of the US and Western nuclear and policy establishments about the legitimacy of Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state.


      Andy, John and most of the US and Western nuclear and policy establishments are ultimately motivated by the idea that Israel cannot be allowed to become non-viable.”

      I am quite sure I’ve never discussed my views on Israel with you, so you have no basis to make such characterizations. For you to not only do that, but also purport to know my motivations is incredibly arrogant and is not at all conducive to the “free flow of ideas” that you say you desire.

      I could go on and carefully list and refute your false statements, but that would be a waste of everyone’s time and my effort. Anyway, it looks like Jeffrey’s already moderated out your latest comment which was filled with them.

      I asked you before, nicely I thought, to please attack my arguments and not try to be the expert on me or my views or try to tell me (and everyone else) what motivates me because I am the expert on all of that, not you. Since you can’t seem to help yourself I think further “debate” with you is pointless.

    • Andy (History)

      Bah! Want to buy comment editing please. Looks like I didn’t close my italics in the right places.

  28. Joshua Simeon Narins (History)

    The Iranian government is too easy to hate.

    For Israel, we hate them, for the Sunni (read: Saudi) side of Islam’s denominational wars, we hate them, while simultaneously for being Muslim, we hate them, because they have oil, we hate them, because they have benefited so mightily from the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we hate them.

  29. Arnold Evans (History)

    Iran intends to actually deploy nuclear weapons, and I think this highly likely

    What makes you think this is highly likely?

  30. jeannick (History)

    Lot of fine points are being raised
    maybe some attention should be directed as the internal politics of the situation
    Netanyahu issue believable threats , this make him popular at home and give him leverage in Washington

    Obama and the Washington establishment doesn’t want this to happen , too many unknowns
    he cannot rap Israel on the knuckles ,
    U.S. internal politics are in some turmoil , however the threat is useful to keep the Saudis anxious

    the Saudis would love it but are very scared of the Iranian reaction , they are vrey close ,military weak and their internal politics are not so hot either

    The Russians and Chineses certainly don’t want a nuclear Iran but are not amused by all this brinkmanship ,
    however it has it use to keep the Iranians cold headed and in need of friends

    The Islamic republic has a probably the usual balancing act between the pure and the practical ,
    all this war noise is helping the hardliners

    add to those vectors the sad fact that a fair few departments are making nice budget out of this ,
    not least the military of all those involved above
    and the fragant Wiff of manure is overpowering

    Of course things could go very wrong very fast for very small reasons

  31. Sineva (History)

    John Schilling
    Ballistic missiles are hardly a pre-requesite for nuclear weapons development after all apartheid south africa had nukes but no missiles,this sort of belief is based on the old western tactical doctrine from the 60`s that long range missiles were too expensive and innacurate to be used for anything other than nuclear warheads,the ussr did not hold this view and had a huge arsenal of dual use missiles.You seem to be holding Iran to a very different set of standards to the other countries Arnold has cited

    • John Schilling (History)

      Tactical doctrine is, I sincerely hope, irrelevant where potential Iranian nuclear weapons are concerned. Nuclear weapons are a strategic deterrent, not a warfighting tool, and deterrence requires a delivery system that is highly credible in the face of even an alert adversary. Here and now, that means ballistic missiles.

      The United States in 1945, Israel in 1967, and South Africa ca. 1980, faced enemies which posed a substantial conventional threat but did not have modern air defences.
      For those nuclear weapons states, aircraft delivery was a credible deterrent – but note that the US and Israel went and acquired strategic missiles as soon as possible. And South Africa did have a missile program, though it lagged the bomb program and did not field a weapon before the fall of apartheid. Iran, faces enemies with modern air defenses.

      On the other side of the equation, the list of nations which have developed MTCR-class ballistic missiles and not nuclear warheads consists of, Iran. Maybe.

      IRBMs and unsafeguarded fissile materials is an intrinsically suspicious combination. Perhaps not smoking-gun proof, but if I see e.g. a bank patron with a ski mask and a handgun, I don’t wait for the gun to start smoking before I start looking for cover.

    • Arnold Evans (History)

      IRBMs and unsafeguarded fissile materials is an intrinsically suspicious combination.

      Wait. Do you think Iran has unsafeguarded fissile materials?

  32. Johnboy (History)

    Dare I suggest that s.o.m.e.b.o.d.y. in Washington badly misjudged the likely response of the Russians to the sexing up of the IAEA reports, so much so that this Very Cunning Plan could now become a USA foreign policy fiasco?

    Oh, gosh, look!
    “Dennis Ross announces resignation after almost 3 years in office”

  33. John (History)

    The nuclear arms in the middle has already been started, even though it is cloaked so far in ambiguity.

  34. b (History)

    In case it was not noticed here, Robert Kelley, former IAEA inspector and now with SIPRI casts some heavy doubts over the “alleged studies” the new IAEA report annex is based on. He himself has worked on the “alleged studies” and is thereby one of the few who know them and can talk about them.
    “It’s very thin, I thought there would be a lot more there,” says Robert Kelley, an American nuclear engineer and former IAEA inspector who was among the first to review the original data in 2005. “It’s certainly old news; it’s really quite stunning how little new information is in there.”

    The 2005 laptop documents focus on three areas: a so-called “green salt project” to provide a clandestine source of uranium; high-explosives testing; and reengineering a Shahab-3 missile to fit a nuclear warhead.

    News reports at the time indicated deep skepticism, when some of the laptop contents were first shown to diplomats accredited to the IAEA. In many quarters, doubt still persists. Recognizing such skepticism, one portion of the IAEA report was devoted to addressing the credibility of the information. But Mr. Kelly, the former IAEA inspector who also served as a department director at the agency, remains unconvinced.

    “The first is the issue of forgeries. There is nothing to tell that those documents are real,” says Kelley, whose experience includes inspections from as far afield as Iraq and Libya, to South Africa in 1993.

    “My sense when I went through the documents years ago was that there was possibly a lot of stuff in there that was genuine, [though] it was kind of junk,” says Kelly. “And there were a few rather high-quality things” like the green salt document: “That was two or three pages that wasn’t related to anything else in the package, it was on a different topic, and you just wondered, was this salted in there for someone to find?”

    It would not be the first time that data was planted. He recalls 1993 and 1994, when the IAEA received “very complex forgeries” on Iraq that slowed down nuclear investigations there by a couple of years.

    “Those documents had markings on them, and were designed to resemble Iraqi documents, but when we dug into them they were clearly forgeries,” adds Kelley. “They were designed by a couple of member states in that region, and provided to the Agency maliciously to slow things down.”

    In 2002, notes Kelley, the IAEA also dealt with “pretty bad” forgeries done by the Italians, on Iraq’s supposed nuclear links to Niger, that the CIA picked up and used for the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq.

    For Kelley, formerly with the IAEA, the current Iran report is a “real mish-mash” that includes some “amateurish analysis.”

    Among several technical points, Kelley notes the report’s discussion of Iran’s “exploding bridge-wire detonators,” or EBWs. The IAEA report said it recognizes that “there exist non-nuclear applications, albeit few,” and point to a likely weapons connection for Iran.

    “The Agency is wrong. There are lots of applications for EBWs,” says Kelley. “To be wrong on this point, and then to try to misdirect opinion shows a bias towards their desired outcome…. That is unprofessional.

  35. Johnboy (History)

    Am I the only person who is struck by how muted the response has been to this much-hyped IAEA report?

    I was lead to expect shock! horror! new evidence, and what seems to have been slapped on the table is a compendium of old rumours el Baradai thought was Too Fake For Words but Amano seems to believe is sorta’ credible if you squint hard enough.

    Colour me cynical, but I was promised an earthquake, and that’s not what landed on the table.

    • John (History)

      I agree with you 100% Johnboy.

      Judging by the muted White House reaction and the positively furious Russian and Chinese reactions it appears that high-level personnel everywhere are aware that this report was not a game changer. (See the link to the Christian Science Monitor story that b provides above for some expert opinions on the technical content).

      Also have a look at this report from PBS Frontline’s website:

      “With the exception of a few new twists, the allegations made by the IAEA in its latest report are not new.”

      I think what we will see next week is the attitude “well, we have reined in Israel from bombing so let’s ‘compromise’ with only some new ‘crippling’ sanctions”

      Bit of a tempest in a teapot in my view!

    • John (History)

      Sorry for the multiple posts but there was a relevant article mentioned in the comments of the above Frontline article which may also be of interest to readers here:

      from that URL:

      “The most objective reading of Iran’s intentions is that it may be stockpiling enough LEU to give itself a “break-out” option to weaponize in the future – unfortunately for the US and its allies, there is nothing illegal about that. The fault lies with NPT that allows such behavior – not with Iran……..

      ….Iran could certainly take its stock of LEU and enrich it to a grade required for making bombs, but its LEU is under the surveillance of the IAEA – and has been for decades.

      Diverting this material for military purposes would be discovered by the IAEA. So either Iran could cheat and get caught, or it could kick out the IAEA inspectors. [18] These, then, should be the real “red-lines” for taking any tougher actions on Iran. “

  36. Mark Lincoln (History)

    Clearly ‘Arms Control Wonk’ has been cut out of access to the latest IAEA report.

    Is this because the ‘wonks’ are considered enemies of Israel and the United States right?

    Is it because what is actually in the report does not match the Casus belli being pimped by Obama and Netanyahu?

    We all understand that nothing that anyone in the government of Iran says is the truth.

    But then only the most depraved and degenerate would credit anything that Israel or the United State of America a being true either.

    THose ho always lie, are probably still lying.

    • wfr (History)

      Don’t understand. The report was published on the ISIS website on November 8!

  37. Johnboy (History)

    Not meaning to be rude (what, me? never!), but where have all the wonks gone?

    I come to this blog site because I enjoy reading the opinions of Jeffrey Lewis et al., yet this IAEA report has been out for several days now, and day after day I come to this web site and…. nothing.

    No “at first glance” opinions from Jeffrey Lewis.
    No “well, note THIS bit” forensics from Joshua Pollack.
    No “hmmm, taking it on the whole” judgements from Michael Krepon.

    No reaction at all from any of you, as far as I can tell.

    What gives? You can’t all be on holiday, can you?

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I am traveling in Japan. Apologies.

    • joshua (History)

      I wish I could post more often, but am subject to many competing demands these days. Still, there is much to say about the latest report, so stay tuned.

  38. John (History)

    Hillary Clinton has said that Iran must answer the accusation within “days” (not sure what happens if not…), according to Reuters report with title “U.S. demands Iran respond in days to nuclear report”

    But we ought to note that IRI already responded within a few hours — here are their answers:

    20 answers to IAEA report:

    • wfr (History)

      um… this is Iran answering its own questions!

  39. John (History)

    IRI mulling leaving the NPT after biased report:

    • b (History)

      Not gonna happen.

      Just domestic politics played by a minority faction in a committee in the parliament.

  40. Ara Barsamian (History)

    IAEA, Iran, and the West-To Bomb or Not To Bomb?

    IAEA latest November 8, 2011 report on Iran’s nuclear activities is a rehash of old information without any new “proof”.

    US and its Western allies have pushed IAEA very hard for an unambiguous “guilty” verdict”, but try as it may, old info and “pseudo-facts” could not provide enough ammunition for additional US-sponsored UN sanctions or military action.

    What are the issues?

    US and its Western allies dread the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons because it would limit their freedom of action in the Middle East, to wit, the consequences of forcible “regime change” a la Libya, or bombing out nuclear facilities a la Osirak are going to be more costly to the agressor, i.e. risk nuclear-scale casualties. This is the single biggest inhibitor on the Korean peninsula to adequately respond to North Korean atrocities.

    Is Iran on the Path to Nuclear Weapons?

    The answer is an unambiguous yes.

    First, the large scale Iranian centrifuge facilities, and the quickening pace of enrichment are not justified by the puny reactor producing medical isotopes. Iranian objective seems to make a stash of about 60kg of 93% HEU, good for about 3 to 4 implosion type bombs; this would provide retaliatory insurance against single “decapitating” strike.

    Second, Iranian experiments with multipoint initiation is explicitly for light weight and ultra-reliable spherical implosion bombs. There is NO DIFFERENCE between a multipoint implosion of HEU or Plutonium, or graphite to make synthetic diamonds. This cheap and reliable method developed in UK as the Super-Octopus, and tested in March 1962 at the NTS as shot Pampas (8.5kT) was so good (more compact without HE lenses, more robust, less precsion-demanding in manufacturing and assembly ) that it was copied by US designers.

    Nanodiamonds justification when you have shortages of fuel and foodstuff? Please!!! How gullible can some be?

    What Can We Do?

    How about starting a dialogue. We are already talking to the murderous North Korean regime; what do we have to lose by opening a serious dialogue with Iran?

    • Mohammad (History)

      Does Iran has shortages of fuel and foodstuff? (Source, please) Perhaps you mistook Iran for North Korea.

    • Anonymous (History)

      @Ara Barsamian

      “but try as it may, old info and ‘pseudo-facts’ could not provide enough ammunition for additional US-sponsored UN sanctions”

      “Is Iran on the Path to Nuclear Weapons?
      The answer is an unambiguous yes”

      The only thing stopping sanctions is the China and Russia veto in the UNSC. As long as both countries see it to their advantage that Iran will shortly develop several nuclear weapons, there will be no UN sponsored sanctions. I believe that the foreign policy calculus is that there is a net gain (for both countries individually) if the balance of power is changed in the Middle East, presumably against Western aligned Sunni Arab countries and Israel.

      China and Russia have the same nuclear non-proliferation expertise and choose to prevent sanctions. The conclusion is obvious — they want a nuclear armed Iran.

  41. Dan Joyner (History)

    In response to Johnboy’s plea above for wonkiness on the new IAEA report, I’m not one of this site’s staff of wonks, but for those interested in a legal analysis of the new IAEA report, I have just posted an op-ed at the JURIST website. You can find it at:

    Dan Joyner

    • Johnboy (History)

      Interesting read indeed, many thanks.

      If I read it right your legal analysis demolishes the argument that there is something inherently “wrong” with Iran conducting research and developing industries that would give it a break-out ability, any more than there is anything “wrong” with Germany, or Japan or Brazil being similarly capable, for the good and simple reason that such a thing is not within the IAEA’s mandate.

      It also, of course, demolishes this statement of Ara Barsamian:
      “There is NO DIFFERENCE between a multipoint implosion of HEU or Plutonium, or graphite to make synthetic diamonds.”

      Legally, such a statement is akin to Ara shooting himself in the foot, because the moment that you concede a commercial application then you are taking that R&D out of the mandate of the IAEA.

      Hmmm, interesting indeed: I had noted the use of the word “concern” without understanding its meaning i.e. this isn’t actually the IAEA’s concern, so that’s why all we can be is, ahem, “concerned”.

  42. Dan Joyner (History)

    In response to Johnboy’s plea above for wonkiness on the new IAEA report, I’m not one of this site’s staff of wonks, but for those interested in a legal analysis of the new IAEA report, I have just posted an op-ed at the JURIST website. You can find it at:

    Dan Joyner

  43. John (History)

    Posted above:
    “Is Iran on the Path to Nuclear Weapons?

    The answer is an unambiguous yes. ”

    No, as Jeffrey suggested it likely wants the capability and as several articles suggest there is nothing really wrong with that — at least legally. A stockpile of 19.75% LEU is not against the NPT. (Plus, Iran likely wants a little extra fuel on hand if its supply gets bombed)

    The main problem as I see it is that without the Additional Protocol the IAEA simply does not have the legal means to verify the 100% peaceful use of nuclear research — in any nation.

    However, there is no evidence for a current nuclear weapons development program at all in Iran. And our DNI attested to that also. The IAEA report does not change that as it rehashes old stories and accusations and contested evidence from the laptop of death. See the links to the CSMonitor story by b and the FRONTLINE piece and the Asia Times piece I linked to above.

    As for shaheen asking about Brazil: just like with Iran they used to have a nuclear weapons research program (much bigger than Iran’s small research effort pre-2003) and they have not ratified the AP — and they have also kicked out IAEA inspectors from Resende. Also they have a nuclear sub program and their officials have called for Brazil getting nuclear arms.:

    There most certainly is a double standard in how the IAEA operates. Talk to any of the NAM nations and they can fill you in further.

  44. shaheen (History)

    John, I’m well aware of various Brazilian and (non-official) Japanese statements, and of the existence of some (preliminary) plans for weaponization studies made by the Brazilian armed forces before 1988, as well as the termination thereof by the civilian government in the late 1980s.

    What I challenge is the parallel between Iran, Japan and Brazil. My question to Arnold stands: to repeat, “Please describe Japanese and Brazilian weaponization activities (in the past 25 years, for the latter) that you are aware of.”

    • John (History)

      the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research program also ended in 2003, similar to the situation with Brazil (except that Brazil had a much more developed nuclear weapons programme):

      “….earlier this year, the US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program that could settle this question. [7]

      This document represents the consensus view of 16 US intelligence agencies. Although the content of the new NIE is classified, Clapper confirmed in senate questioning that he has a “high level of confidence” that Iran “has not made a decision as of this point to restart its nuclear weapons program”. [8]

      This jibes with the Intelligence community’s 2007 NIE, the unclassified version of which publicly stated that Iran wrapped up its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Recent State Department cables provided by WikiLeaks back this up – for instance State Department officials confirmed that some rehashed IAEA reports of suspicious Iranian activities in 2004 were “consistent with the 2003 weaponization halt assessment, since some activities were wrapping up in 2004”. [9]

      To be clear, what the NIE and the State Department cables refer to as Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” (or “weaponization”) pre-2003 was some possible – but disputed – evidence of research by Iranian scientists having to do building and potentially delivering a bomb, not a full-blown actual bomb factory.

      Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, recently told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that he had not “seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials … I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.” [10]”


  45. John (History)

    The folks on this blog may also wish to examine the opinion of a former CIA Intelligence agent Paul Pillar:

  46. Amy (History)

    I find no evidence in the latest report for any _ongoing_ nuclear weapons work (even research). Just insinuations, loaded words, allegations, and __possible__ military dimensions…………….pre-2003.

    This IAEA report was pregnant for a week and came out stillborn.

    Amano has tarnished the IAEA’s reputation and should not be in office.

    Even the White House does not buy it.

    Is it any surprise Iranian politicians want Iran to leave the NPT?

    This Christian Science Monitor report summed it up:

  47. Mark Gubrud (History)

    125 comments and counting… is it an ACW record?

  48. Arnold Evans (History)

    I’m impressed by how the latest comments I left were deleted, as well as responses to my comments that directly quoted them, while other comments that responded to my comments were reintegrated into the thread.

    Censorship reaches a work of art.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Yep, I am pretty tired of your comments. You have your own blog, so let me encourage you to take the discussion over there.

  49. Ara Barsamian (History)

    Iran is not Japan or Germany.

    Iran sees itself as being in a “bad” location with no friends. The “nuclear option” is its guarantee against forcible “regime change”.

    On the other hand, rich countries like Japan or Germany have in depth laser and heavy ion fusion programs with large staffs and labs and computer programs, explosives know-how, machine shops, etc, i.e. everything needed to quickly assemble state of the art thermonuclear and not “measly” fission weapons.

    In the case of Japan, with about 47+ tons of Plutonium, and the support of, say, Osaka University Institute of Laser Engineering staff and industrial partners, you are talking about months or weeks, in a pinch, if they ever feel threatened.

  50. Arnold Evans (History)


    I also noticed the Japanese retire both of these systems. Japan is a nation with has technical capability to build nuclear missiles, has chosen not to build nuclear missiles, and which is sufficiently transparent that nobody has any real doubts as to whether Japan currently possesses an arsenal of nuclear missiles.

    … and that rightly claims that if provoked it could produce a large number of nuclear missiles in a matter of months.

    Would that be an acceptable outcome for Iran? Why or why not?

  51. John (History)

    Spiegel interview w/ Iran’s FM: too bad the interviewer was not more experienced, could have been interesting:,1518,797620,00.html

  52. Amy (History)

    What Jeffrey says is true: Iran may be looking for nuclear ambiguity. What is left unsaid is that this is totally legal and in keeping with NPT and CSAs. What is the problem then?

  53. Harry (History)

    Why is it so difficult to understand that Iran cannot be serious about its need for U-enrichment? They have Busher. The capacity they have for enrichment cannot cope with the need for Busher alone, at full power, even when the Russkies would allow them to their endiginous fuel. (Which is most unlikely)

    They have the TRR, for which they are enriching up to 20%. How can the Iranians explain the fact that they now have two complete loads of 20% enriched uranium, whithout having the capability to make the specific fuel rods for this weird reactor? Only France and Argentina can make these zirconium clad rods. This has the Iranians caught red-handed.

    All in all, you must be able to see what is happening. You must allow yourself to see what is happening.

    And it is happening under your waking eyes!

    Let alone it will wake you up, one day or sooner, with a bang.

    But then it will be too late………

  54. Irshad (History)

    Interview with David Albright, about the recent IAEA report:

  55. Amy (History)
  56. Andy (History)


    I’ve been busy again, which delayed me from responding to several of your points.

    Second, to address the issues raised by Andy with regards the comparison to Brazil and Japan, it’s worth to mention that the U.S. and other Western countries blocked Iran from at least some legitimate nuclear material and expertise in the 80′s and 90′s. This may explain Iran’s decision to pursue the nuclear effort in a low-profile/secret manner (which again has had a “self-licking ice cream cone” effect).

    I think there’s some truth to that, but I think it was partly justified. The political, strategic and economic circumstances in the 1980’s were simply not conducive to nuclear deals. First there was the Iran-Iraq war – most nations do not want to be seen giving nuclear-related technology to a country in an existential war, particularly enrichment technology. There were practical concerns as well, for example the Germans were reluctant to risk their personnel at Bushehr considering the Iraqi’s could bomb it almost at will. The Germans said they would not continue work on the reactor until the war was over. Reluctance to deal with Iran on a whole variety of issues, not just nuclear projects, doesn’t seem unreasonable to me considering the war.

    Secondly, Iran didn’t do itself any favors with its own actions. Iran’s unilateral cancellation of its Eurodif contract gave the impression that the new Iranian regime wasn’t a reliable business partner, which made firms and governments more reluctant to do business with Iran. France wasn’t pleased with Iran for the attempted assassination of Iranian “counter-revolutionaries” in France, nor of various other Iranian actions I won’t belabor here. Not that Iran was all that happy with France either, or the US, or the UK. Post revolution tensions with Iran were not good in most cases. Then there is the USSR. While I suppose it’s possible, I doubt that Western countries blocked the USSR from helping Iran, it had its own reasons for not helping Iran until later.

    Point being, there was a war, one of the bloodiest of the 20th century, a lot of bad blood all around, a general sense of uncertainty and distrust, and a poor business environment. The point here isn’t to heap blame on Iran, but to describe the environment in which decisions about whether or not to help Iran were made. It’s not solely the West’s “fault” for not providing civilian nuclear assistance to Iran during the 1980’s. Iran tended to make decisions and take actions that made people not want to provide assistance (I’ve only mentioned a handful here) and the war loomed large. The effects of this weren’t limited to nuclear matters either. I’d have to look up the exact figures, but I think foreign trade and investment decreased substantially after the revolution for all the reasons described here.

    Third – and this is, I think, a critical point – Iran decided to go the covert route around 1986-1987 when it made a series of deals with AQ Khan. The Iran-Iraq war was still going; the “tanker wars” were still going and the political, strategic and economic situation was still hostile and uncertain. Now maybe it’s possible Iran made that decision, at that moment in time, out of frustration that the West wasn’t helping it develop a civilian nuclear program. But it’s also possible that Iran made that decision for strategic reasons rather than economic ones. Whatever the case, I think it’s fair to point out that there were perfectly valid reasons for not helping Iran out at that point in time. I think that argument would have a lot more credibility if the Iranians had decided to go covert in the mid-1990’s instead of the mid-1980’s. Iran’s complaints about the west blocking access to technology are probably justified, but by that point, Iran was well along on its covert track.

    However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Iran regarded civil nuclear development as such a high priority in the mid-1980’s that it felt it had no choice but to develop its capabilities secretly. Let’s assume Iran’s interest had nothing to do with the clear and present danger from Iraq and its use of WMD and its own nuclear weapons development program. Iran would have known that it could not keep it a secret forever. It would have known that a civilian program cannot really exist in secret. After all, you can’t hide power reactors and you can’t expect to fuel those reactors using a clandestine fuel source without anyone noticing. So what was their plan for the future? When did they plan to reveal their enrichment capabilities so that they could actually use them for the peaceful purposes they claimed they were for? Why, when Iran was confronted in 2003 with evidence of what it was doing, did it lie about what it had been doing for the past 15 years and make attempts to hide its activities from the IAEA? After all, at that point, Iran already had acquired the technology. What purpose is there in trying to hide what it did and lying to the IAEA? Why not just come out and say, “yeah we did this” or better yet, why not declare it to the IAEA as soon as they started sniffing around, before the US or anyone else could reveal it on their terms? If Iran had succeeded in fooling the IAEA in 2003, then when did it plan to finally reveal it all to the world?

    In all I don’t find the argument that Iran had to go covert in order to get the technology very convincing. It went covert at a time when there were legitimate reasons why nations and businesses would not be interested in helping Iran. It didn’t appear to have a plan in place to transition the program from a covert one into an open one. Once exposed, it tried to hide much of its activities. It seems to me these are not the kinds of actions a country solely interested in peaceful nuclear technology would take.

    However, as Amy likes to constantly remind us, this is all pre-2003 stuff. As I said before I think it was a reasonable strategic decision for Iran to work toward nuclear weapons while Iraq remained its mortal enemy. I think the decision to go covert in the 1980’s is better explained as a response to Iraq than a response to lack of access to peaceful technology. After 2003, that strategic imperative disappeared, or it should have disappeared. If Iran fully implemented the AP tomorrow then I, personally, would not be too worried about Iran continuing to make progress on the fuel cycle. To me the IAEA is supposed to be a warning system. Its verification efforts are not designed to prevent anything – they are designed to promote transparency so that other nations will have warning if a nation tries to acquire nuclear weapons. The reason I’m not worried about Japan is because this system is working in Japan. If Japan opted to build a bomb I think the rest of the world would know about it beforehand. Alternatively, if Japan opted to rescind the AP and/or NPT, then people would draw the obvious conclusions about Japan’s intentions – the same kind of conclusions many are drawing now with respect to Iran.

    Finally, to tag onto what John said, Iran stopped implementing the AP and other transparency measures for political reasons that had nothing to do providing the IAEA with sufficient time and access to complete its work. Indeed the Agency made it very clear from the beginning that Iran’s level of cooperation would need to be comprehensive and sustained – and Iran agreed to that at the time. In hindsight, I think referral to the UNSC was a mistake or, at least, premature. It forced the Iranians to respond and the natural response was to push back. That’s a problem with policies that try to box adversaries in from all sides.

    • Mohammad (History)


      Thanks for writing such a well-thought post, which provides the necessary context. As a result of colonial wounds in the past centuries and inexperience in modern international politics, we Iranians have a tendency to ignore or even an inability to understand the viewpoint of the other side when we see ourselves ever-deprived of our “rightful rights”, as the US embassy in Tehran, 15 months before it was taken over, so vividly described (WARNING: WIKILEAKS) the Iranian mentality when dealing with outside world – highly recommended and still-relevant reading. So I doubt that what you said about the 1980s environment was sufficiently understandable to then Iranian rulers.
      It should also be noted that not only Western countries did not sell nuclear technology to Iran, but they actively tried to block their sale by other parties like China and Argentina.

      As for why Iran tried to hide what it had been doing pre-2003, it may have had to do with a desperate effort to save face, or to block more revelations. I doubt that Iran had ever any plan to reveal its facilities (at least until it had grown to an operational industrial stage, i.e. a fuel cycle feeding actual reactors), as it goes against the basic Iranian mentality and culture of secrecy: if no one’s asking for it, why should we reveal it? (or as the Persian proverb goes, سری را که درد نمی‌کند دستمال نمی‌بندند) As an Iranian living in Iran, I find that as normal Iranian conduct: you see it everywhere, including in non-governmental settings. In many cases, despite the opacity, something malicious may not have happened; in many cases, it may have. You just can’t tell from that information alone.

      On the AQ Khan deals, I’m not sure if it was an “active” attempt on part of Iran. Did the AQ Khan network offer its technology to Iran in the first place, or was it Iran who approached them? In the first case, Iran may have only accidentally found something of potential future value, not necessarily actively seeking the capability.

      I do believe that Iran at least seriously contemplated about a nuclear weapons capability late into the war with Iraq. (See also a piece of evidence released in 2006, which quotes Mohsen Rezai (then IRGC commander) as having said in 1988 that Iran was not in a position to conduct offensive operations against Iraq, unless it had lots of additional manpower and conventional weapons, and also nukes.) Iran may very well have had deferred the actual decision to produce nukes to a later date when the capability was available, but as I described in my earlier comments directed towards John Schilling, I do think that there is much evidence that Iran, at least starting in the 1990s, has been really wanting civilian nuclear technology. From 1990s afterwards, Iran has had either mixed intentions (if the PMD turn out to be true) or purely civilian intentions. And, if there ever was a drive towards nukes, after 2003 Iran effectively killed that possibility – for at least overt nuclear weapons – for the foreseeable future when it so vehemently denied having any intentions for producing nukes. When Iran’s Supreme Leader publicly, unambiguously and repeatedly announces a state policy, I don’t expect Iran to be able to repeal it in the foreseeable future, except under extreme conditions, i.e. a military attack on Iran.

      The comparison with Brazil and Japan should take into consideration the contextual issues, but it becomes pretty much muddled because of Iran’s overall problematic relations with the West and more complex situation. So let us put it this way: if either Brazil or Japan, were found exactly guilty of the nuclear-related things Iran did pre-2003, would they be so harshly behaved against as Iran was? Heck, Brazil had a full-blown weapons program! How was it trusted with an industrial enrichment capacity afterwards, even though it did not implement the Additional Protocol? Why, then, wasn’t Iran trusted with fuel cycle capabilities even though it was implementing the AP in 2004-2006?

      In terms of policy advocacy, we seem to agree. Iran should implement the AP, and (I hope you agree) the West has to drop the sanctions and demands for complete dismantling of sensitive civilian operations, if there is to be some reasonable expectation that Iran will welcome complete transparency. The issue is how to make such a deal. As evidenced by the events up to February 2006, and the strong anti-Iran leaning in the U.S. congress, I find the US more reluctant than Iran in reaching such a deal.

    • Andy (History)


      Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think it’s great to have your perspective here and hope you continue to participate in discussions here.

    • Mohammad (History)


      You’re welcome. Few things are more enjoyable than a sincere, serious discussion with a Western policy expert when you’re only an ordinary Iranian citizen sitting behind your PC in Tehran.

      The Wikileaks link I provided above was incorrectly posted and it has also broken since. The cable can be viewed here too:
      Or you can search the ID: 79TEHRAN8980

    • Mohammad (History)

      Oh, I meant sitting “at” my PC in Tehran. I was thinking in Persian when I typed that.

    • Andy (History)


      Thanks! I just wanted to clarify that I don’t consider myself a Western “policy expert.” Although I work for the US government, arms control is a personal, not professional interest.

  57. Andy (History)


    I wrote a response to some of your points, but for some reason it appeared upthread.

  58. Ara Barsamian (History)


    I understand that you are defending Iran, and it’s your right to do so (at least in the “West”). It is, however, a question of priorities for Iran and the Iranian people. You cannot have it both ways. Western countries are afraid of Iran and the troubles it can cause in the Middle East, and try to contain its ambitions. Iran, on the other hand, is using subterfuges which are pretty transparent to dodge the issue of concern: nuclear weapons shield as survival insurance against perceived enemies. Wouldn’t be better to talk seriously about the whole thing rather than continue this dangerous situation?

    By the way, I have not confused Iran with N. Korea, etc., and I am not trying to belittle Iran, just that insufficient refining capacity and inefficient agriculture impact availability.

    The facts are that Iran imports gasoline while rationing it and eliminating subsidies to force a decreased consumption, and also food stuff (according e.g. to Reuters Nov 10, 2011, gasoline imports up 21%; UN FAO states that Iran imports wheat, rice, bananas, etc. All these mainly from China, Russia, UAE, and other countries that can circumvent sanctions through barter. Again, Iran needs to make up its mind regarding priorities.

    • Mohammad (History)

      [Reposted comment without excessive links]

      Ara Barsamian,

      I’m trying to improve mutual understanding and a balanced view, not necessarily “defending” Iran per se. If Iran is looking for nuclear weapons, I won’t defend that. But I see much misunderstanding about Iran in the West (which perhaps has to do with lack of enough communication) and I try to overcome the gap. I also appreciate an insight into the thinking of Western policy thinkers, which is much needed in Iran. When I comment in Iranian websites and blogs, I urge more understanding and appreciation of the West’s concerns, instead of blindly accusing it of a conspiracy to deprive Iran from its rights. I don’t claim that I’m free of biases, but I try my best, and welcome criticism.

      On the “shortage” issue, again I believe that you’re missing the context.

      First, gasoline rationing started in 2006, and ended in 2010 when de-subsidization started. Contrary to the common impression in the West, it was not because of fuel shortages. Iran has never had large-scale fuel shortages after the war with Iraq. The rationing was because of crazy gasoline consumption (rising with a growth rate 1.27 times GDP growth in 1990-2003), tens of billions of dollars (in a GDP of 300 b$) of annual energy subsidies (talk about priorities!) and extensive fuel smuggling to neighboring countries. In other words, it had simple economic justifications. Fears of possible future shortages because of sanctions may have had an impact, but the economic logic was just too sound to ignore. Even if Iran did not import any of its gasoline, there was still billions of dollars being spent on subsidies (tens of billions of dollars if we consider the lost opportunity costs) annually. There was also a persistent awareness in the Iranian media that this could not continue, and I remember many newspaper articles having been written about how “we’re wasting our money on gasoline subsidies”. Khatami, before departing in 2005, was famously quoted that removing subsidies was his biggest wish which he had not implemented in his term. Public discourse on removing gasoline subsidies date back to the Rafsanjani era when Iran’s gasoline consumption was much lower.
      Plus, 100 liters (26 gallons) per month per car isn’t really “rationing”, is it?

      Second, the Reuters report you mentioned (arabnews DOT com/economy/article531921.ece) makes clear that the 21% jump in gas imports is an isolated one, and Iran’s gas imports have actually decreased by 95% since 2007.

      Third, on food, you also missed the context. To avoid talking much about food production on an arms control blog, I refer you to this 2005 publication (www DOT fao DOT org/docrep/008/a0037e/a0037e03.htm), world wheat production rankings (www DOT fao DOT org/docrep/011/ai482e/ai482e03.htm), and FAO’s report on Iran cereal production and imports (www DOT fao DOT org/giews/countrybrief/country.jsp?code=IRN). According to Iran’s customs, Iran’s net wheat import in March 2010 – March 2011 was 500 kt (compare with 13.5 mt production). Iran’s rice prod. was 2.5 mt (compare with 1 mt of imports). Iran’s climate is not generally friendly to rice (and banana) production and Iranian rice is much more expensive than imported rice.

      Fourth, Iran’s customs administration releases detailed stats (www DOT irica DOT gov DOT ir/Portal/Home/Default.aspx?CategoryID=fd61187e-a080-4800-bb4b-0a3d0946cc10) on Iran’s exports and imports (in Persian). While Iran’s imports have risen from 18 b$ in 2001 to 55 b$ in 2010, Iran’s non-oil exports have risen from 4 b$ in 2001 to 26 b$ in 2010 (compare the ratios). Both show sharp increases in agricultural trade.

      Fifth and last, let’s return to nanodiamonds, as this was the issue the discussion on fuel and food started at. Iran is investing significant amounts in science and high-tech (en DOT wikipedia DOT org/wiki/Science_and_technology_in_Iran#Science_in_modern_Iran). That includes the very active Iranian Nanotechnology Initiative Council (en DOT nano DOT ir). It’s completely plausible that Iran is working on nanodiamonds, as it is also quite plausible that Iran is working towards a nuclear weapons capability. For example, by a simple Google search I found a 2010 Persian conference paper (www DOT civilica DOT com/Paper-NAYRC02-NAYRC02_020.html) on detonation nanodiamonds published by Islamic Azad University researchers. My point is that your statement which I repost below is not very sound:
      Nanodiamonds justification when you have shortages of fuel and foodstuff? Please!!! How gullible can some be?

      After this much of discussion, let’s summarize it:
      Some people like John Schilling and Ara Barsamian have been calling Iran’s patterns of investment and activity inconsistent with a genuine interest in non-nuclear weapon applications of dual use technology. In several comments, I argued that such reasoning is not consistent with available data and is based on an incomplete picture of Iran’s economy and government expenditure. I don’t rule out possible weaponization, but I question the basis of the assertion that Iran is not genuinely [also] interested in civilian/conventional applications of dual-use technology.

  59. Johnboy (History)

    I still find it beyond bizarre that Jeffrey Lewis should write a blog that speculates about “what will be” in the IAEA report (indeed, also speculate about the “why that might be”) and yet when the report *does* actually come out…. nothing….. nothin’ at all.

    So it appears that predicting the report is important, but discussing what *is* in the report is not worthy of comment.

    How odd.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I did not, in fact, write a blog post “that speculates about ‘what will be’ in the IAEA report (indeed, also speculate about the ‘why that might be’).”

      Lying is not ok.

    • Johnboy (History)

      And on re-reading your blog I accept your criticism i.e. you didn’t speculate on the likely contents of the IAEA report.

      So, yeah, I retract that comment, because that comment was mistaken.

      But I will still point to these sentences:
      “None of this relieves us of the burden of having to grapple with Iran’s nuclear program. From the brainiest wonk to the hardest-working motorcycle assassin, we all await new information on weaponization R&D activities with great interest. ”

      Well, that “new information” is out now, from what is supposed to be the most authoritative of authorities, and I still don’t see any of the brainy wonks here making the slightest attempt to grapple with it.

      What gives, Jeffrey?

  60. Adam Neira (History)

    French FM Alain Juppe’s comment last week that an Iran attack would drag world into a ‘spiral’ is correct. Time is reaching a critical juncture. The divine timetable will trump all others. These are the options re. Iran…

    (a) The Israelis/Americans launch a preventative strike against the nuclear facilities, Osirak fashion. The Iranian public will rally to nationalistic cries and a war will break out in the Middle East, whether via proxies in Syria, Lebanon or via Iranian troops spilling into Afghanistan and/or Iraq. Iranian sleeper cells will also be activated around the world and terrorist acts will be carried out. Pro-Iranian lone terrorists will also be motivated to launch attacks. The Straits of Hormuz will be closed and oil will skyrocket. This will dramatically affect the global economy. Whatever the extent of the war thousands will die. Even if the ratio of dead Israelis and Westerners compared to Iranian losses is 1:100 it will still be a travesty of justice.

    (b) Further sanctions are imposed to squeeze the Iranian leadership clique. The economy in Iran stagnates or collapses. In desperation the Iranians respond with counter measures. Nothing really is solved and the impasse continues. Paint an enemy into too tight a corner and reap the whirlwind.

    (c) Israel and the West allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon and hope for the best. Either the Iranian leadership clique joins the nuclear club in a non-belligerent manner or they are aroused to attack other nations in a pan-Persian/Arab/Muslim plan for regional domination. In either case it goes against the vision presented below. No more new members are needed for the “Missile Envy Club”.

    (d) Supreme efforts are made at employing the sefirotic tools so that diplomacy prevails. The Iranians are persuaded to attend a reconvened NPT conference in Jerusalem on April 23rd, 2012 with all other nations in attendance. A twelve year track for nuclear disarmament is agreed to and followed. A “Committee to Oversee the Dismantlement of Nuclear Weapons by 2025” is established with its HQ in Jerusalem. The IAEA or similar agency is boosted in manpower to facilitate the plan. Even if its budget is $5 Billion p.a., with all nations contributing, it will be worth it. This overarching global “Peace Initiative” becomes the fulcrum/umbrella/pivot/template from which other international co-operation and trust building moves are made. As the right moves are made at the right time and in the right order peace unfolds in the Middle East and the World. Isaiah’s “Swords into Ploughshares” prophecy becomes a reality. It becomes possible to drive on a road from Jerusalem to Tehran by 2019. Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA play off in Group D of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. An Iranian and Israeli compete in a play off for a gold medal at the 2028 Israel/Palestine Olympic Games. Children from 2025 grow up in a world free of the threat of the ultimate weapon of violence hanging over their heads. They applaud the vision, courage and trust building shown by certain people in late 2011/early 2012.

    Obviously (d) is the divinely mandated scenario. Why is such a biblical scene as this, i.e. two ancient proud nations at loggerheads presenting itself at this time ? Divine intervention peut etre ?

    Which narrative should prevail ?

    Uplifting thermals or a downwardly spiralling satanic vortex ?

    Prayers for the Middle East.

    Adam Neira
    World Peace 2050
    (Established April 2000)