Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Behrad Nakhai and William O. Beeman--Iran’s Nuclear Activity: Don’t Believe the Hype (New America Media)

Iran’s Nuclear Activity: Don’t Believe the Hype

New America Media, Commentary, Behrad Nakhai and William O. Beeman , Posted: Jul 16, 2008

Editor's Note: Rumors that Iran is less than a year away from making a nuclear bomb are false and misleading, argue the commentators, who say that there is little relationship between Iran’s current state of low enriched uranium and the production of a nuclear weapon.

Is Iran a year away from making a nuclear bomb?

This is what is being whispered in Washington as a “parade” of Israeli officials comes to Washington in the next two weeks to consult on Iran, and presumably to renew Israel’s request for the Bush administration’s blessing to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, according to Mother Jones magazine. Visitors will include Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal with the thinly veiled purpose of convincing Bush officials to let Israel launch its attack. He wrote, “The crucial turning point is when Iran masters all the capabilities to weaponize without further external possibility of stopping it.”

Bolton would have the American public believe that this turning point is imminent, and he is buttressed by other neoconservative alarmists. Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research of the conservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy and senior editor of Middle East Quarterly, told Mother Jones on July 10, “It certainly appears from the last [International Atomic Energy Agency] report that Iran is on track to have enough kilos [of low enriched uranium that can be enriched to weapons grade] within a year…. What most people concentrate on is when Iran would have 600 to 700 kilos of its own low enriched uranium, which is enough to make enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb…. If everything works perfectly, [it would take] two months. If everything doesn't work perfectly, a bit longer. The answer would be the space of a few months."

This would be both ominous and convincing if it were true, but it is false and utterly misleading. Unfortunately Clawson, Bolton, and those who make similar predictions know nothing about nuclear engineering. The truth is that there is little relationship between Iran’s current state of low enriched uranium and the production of a nuclear weapon. There are many intervening steps that would take years to accomplish.

Getting from low enriched uranium (LEU) to high enriched uranium (HEU) not only requires enough quality LEU, but also perfectly tuned working machineries that Iran currently lacks. Contrary to Clawson’s assertions, Iran is far from being at that point. The quality of the LEU is also questionable. Moreover, from all indications, Iran's current setup is fragile and prone to breakage. By some reports the Iranian equipment is almost non-usable even for low enrichment purposes.

Iran is engaged in peaceful nuclear research and not nuclear weapons production — a fact re-affirmed by the National Intelligence Estimate of December 2007. However, the program falls short of even low-level enrichment capability. The nation must still pass through a number of technological stages to gain a useful sustained low-level enrichment capability.

Even if another nation were to provide good quality LEU to Iran, Iran does not currently have the required resources to enrich the LEU to HEU. And if another nation were to provide Iran with HEU, Iran does not have the capability to assemble a test bomb, let alone a threatening bomb.

Commentators like Clawson make it appear trivial to assemble a “bomb” once HEU is obtained. In practice, however, handling of such HEU and the ability to assemble a working bomb is not at all trivial. That is why the United States, Russia and other nuclear nations have atomic tests. Once testing begins, the bomb-making process could never proceed unnoticed — even if conducted underground. We should remember that North Korea’s nuclear bomb tests were unsuccessful. This may be one reason they were willing to relinquish their nuclear program.

Finally, even if Iran were to obtain a bomb, it is not clear how they could provide a delivery system for the bomb with their present level of military technology. Iran has been testing conventional missiles — and not very successfully, as was recently seen in their over-hyped “show of strength” on July 10, when missile launches failed, and had to be “Photoshopped” in to the publicity pictures.

A nuclear loaded missile is a vastly different technological accomplishment from a conventional missile. An airplane might be an alternative delivery mechanism, but Iran has no aircraft capable of delivering a sophisticated nuclear weapon.

Looking carefully at Iran’s nuclear program as it stands at present, it is only reasonable to conclude that Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts have so far been very elementary — effectively just practice runs for the very lowest levels of enrichment. In theory, LEU, with the proper technological equipment and skill, could be developed into a weapon. But this is a bit like saying that theoretically carbon could be made into dynamite. In both cases, it is a long way from the raw material to the finished product. Iran’s LEU is currently of no practical use except as a means to learning the enrichment process. And it is certainly no cause whatever for a military attack.

Dr. Behrad Nakhai is a nuclear scientist. He holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee. He is currently working as a nuclear engineer performing nuclear safety analysis. He was formerly a research nuclear scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and has also been a faculty member at the Center for Nuclear Studies in Memphis, TN, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He has just returned from Iran.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. He is President of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, and former Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. His most recent book is “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other”, University of Chicago Press.

William O. Beeman--United Nations Resolutions Against Iran have Failed—and for good reason: their basic premise no longer applies

United Nations Resolutions Against Iran have Failed—and for good reason: their basic premise no longer applies

William O. Beeman

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 calling for Iran to suspend nuclear enrichment were passed on July 31, 2006, nearly two years ago. Every sanction and demand placed on Iran since that time has been based on this Resolution and its strengthened re-iteration, Resolution 1737 on December 27.

Clearly after two years the Resolution and its follow-ups have not worked. Iran has not suspended its uranium enrichment activities, and indications this week are that it is not likely to do so in the future. The United States and its reluctant European allies clearly can not put enough pressure on Iran to cause it to abandon what the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran (but not Israel, Pakistan or India) is signatory, is its “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear development. As long as it does not violate Provision One of the NPT, namely the agreement not to develop nuclear weaponry.

Ironically Security Council Resolution 1696 reaffirms the right to peaceful nuclear development. Since this Resolution has failed, it is worth looking at it again to examine its flaws.

It is first essential to understand the purpose of the resolution, which is stated clearly in points one and two of the Resolution in which the Security Council:

1. Calls upon Iran without further delay to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors in its resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear programme and to resolve outstanding questions,

2. Demands, in this context, that Iran shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA

The IAEA Report on which this resolution was based, GOV/2006/14 was formulated on February 7, 2006, now nearly two and one-half years ago.

What is striking about both the IAEA Report and the UN Resolution is that both call on Iran to suspend its enrichment activities to “build confidence” that Iran is not violating Provision One of the NPT.

However, the world seems to have forgotten that the suspension of uranium enrichment was merely a means to that confidence building, and not an end in itself. The Bush administration now focuses on suspension of enrichment rather than confidence building. Since enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel is clearly allowed under the NPT, this creates a paradox, and is the principal flaw in the Resolution. No one talked about alternative means of confidence building, though imaginative diplomacy would certainly have been able to craft such a provision that would have been acceptable to Iran.

More importantly, in two and one half years, a lot has taken place. Most notably, the United States National Intelligence Estimate was published in December 2007 in which it is clearly stated that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. The IAEA continually reaffirms this estimate, and both Russia and China are in agreement as well.

If Iran does not have a weapons program, it is not in violation of NPT Provision One. There is no need for the confidence building called for in Resolution 1696, and therefore no need for suspension of Iran’s enrichment program.

The anger and public denial of the NIE on the part of President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and others in the Bush administration results from frustration with this situation. And no wonder, the basic reason for the Security Council Resolution has now been completely gutted. Bush officials spent hours and hours berating, jawboning and cajoling other nations, particularly European Allies, to go along with these Resolutions, and even to implement further sanctions based on them now to no avail.

The deep irony in the situation is that American intelligence itself has vitiated the very reason for these actions.

Iranians see through this charade. For this reason they refuse to relinquish their treaty rights, and have determined to stand up to the United States. They have earned the anger of the Bush administration, but the admiration—often grudging—of much of the rest of the world.

It is certainly time to revisit the original Resolution 1969 to find new ways to guarantee to the world that Iran is in fact not building weapons. Since there is no evidence whatever that they are, this should be easy, if the United States will only stop trying to force Iran into the impossible choice of giving up an inalienable right in order to satisfy a rapacious U.S. administration bent on its destruction. Appeasement cuts both ways.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is President of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. His latest book, The “Great Statan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other was published in April in an updated edition by the University of Chicago Press.

John Bolton calls for Bombing of Iran

Note from William O. Beeman

John Bolton's call for military action in Iran (below) should be blatantly derided by the American public.

For John Bolton hope of effecting regime change in Iran springs eternal. However, my suspicion is that this piece was written to convince the Bush administration to give their blessing to an Israeli attack on Iran. Reportedly this week a passel of Israeli officials are in Washington lobbying hard to get the go-ahead on their military attack. To their credit the Bush officials are recalcitrant. You can see this in Mr. Bolton's rhetoric--excoriating the Bush administration for being pusillanimous. I certainly hope that cooler heads prevail in Washington.

Mr. Bolton is not above citing misleading and utterly false information about the Iranian situation. Of course, he claims that Iranian nuclear weapons development is an established fact when there is still no proof that it exists--including the conveniently ignored NIE Report of 2007 claiming that the weapons program does not exist. He has the gall to call diplomacy "failed" while neglecting to note that the U.S. has engaged in none of it--including the 2003 Iranian initiative, which he presumably had a hand in rejecting..

It is so shoddy and cheap for Washington to claim the diplomacy undertaken by European powers as somehow justifying American frustration with Iran, when we have done nothing, except to host Christopher Crocker hurling invective at the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad--some diplomacy! More and more it is looking like the neoconservative agenda of regime change throughout the Middle East to clear the way for American hegemony in the region is going down in flames. Bolton's editorial is the last gasp of this vampire movement, even as we try to drive a stake through its heart.


Bill Beeman
University of Minnesota

> Wall Street Journal
> Israel, Iran and the Bomb
> July 15, 2008; Page A19
> Iran's test salvo of ballistic missiles last week together with recent threatening rhetoric by commanders of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards emphasizes how close the Middle East is to a fundamental, in fact an irreversible, turning point.
> Tehran's efforts to intimidate the United States and Israel from using military force against its nuclear program, combined with yet another diplomatic charm offensive with the Europeans, are two sides of the same policy coin. The regime is buying the short additional period of time it needs to produce deliverable nuclear weapons, the strategic objective it has been pursuing clandestinely for 20 years.
> Between Iran and its long-sought objective, however, a shadow may fall: targeted military action, either Israeli or American. Yes, Iran cannot deliver a nuclear weapon on target today, and perhaps not for several years. Estimates vary widely, and no one knows for sure when it will have a deliverable weapon except the mullahs, and they're not telling. But that is not the key date. Rather, the crucial turning point is when Iran masters all the capabilities to weaponize without further external possibility of stopping it. Then the decision to weaponize, and its timing, is Tehran's alone. We do not know if Iran is at this point, or very near to it. All we do know is that, after five years of failed diplomacy by the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany), Iran is simply five years closer to nuclear weapons.
> And yet, true to form, State Department comments to Congress last week . even as Iran's missiles were ascending . downplayed Iran's nuclear progress, ignoring the cost of failed diplomacy. But the confident assumption that we have years to deal with the problem is high-stakes gambling on a policy that cannot be reversed if it fails. If Iran reaches weaponization before State's jaunty prediction, the Middle East, and indeed global, balance of power changes in potentially catastrophic ways.
> And consider what comes next for the U.S.: the Bush administration's last six months pursuing its limp diplomatic efforts, plus six months of a new president getting his national security team and policies together. In other words, one more year for Tehran to proceed unhindered to "the point of no return."
> We have almost certainly lost the race between giving "strong incentives" for Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its scientific and technological efforts to do just that. Swift, sweeping, effectively enforced sanctions might have made a difference five years ago. No longer. Existing sanctions have doubtless caused some pain, but Iran's real economic woes stem from nearly 30 years of mismanagement by the Islamic Revolution.
> More sanctions today (even assuming, heroically, support from Russia and China) will simply be too little, too late. While regime change in Tehran would be the preferable solution, there is almost no possibility of dislodging the mullahs in time. Had we done more in the past five years to support the discontented . the young, the non-Persian minorities and the economically disaffected . things might be different. Regime change, however, cannot be turned on and off like a light switch, although the difficulty of effecting it is no excuse not to do more now.
> That is why Israel is now at an urgent decision point: whether to use targeted military force to break Iran's indigenous control over the nuclear fuel cycle at one or more critical points. If successful, such highly risky and deeply unattractive air strikes or sabotage will not resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis. But they have the potential to buy considerable time, thereby putting that critical asset back on our side of the ledger rather than on Iran's.
> With whatever time is bought, we may be able to effect regime change in Tehran, or at least get the process underway. The alternative is Iran with nuclear weapons, the most deeply unattractive alternative of all.
> But the urgency of the situation has not impressed Barack Obama or the EU-3. Remarkably, on July 9, Sen. Obama, as if stumbling on a new idea, said Iran "must suffer threats of economic sanctions" and that we needed "direct diplomacy . . . so we avoid provocation" and "give strong incentives . . . to change their behavior." Javier Solana, chief EU negotiator, was at the time busy fixing a meeting with the Iranians to continue five years of doing exactly what Mr. Obama was proclaiming, without results.
> John McCain responded to Iran's missile salvo by stressing again the need for a workable missile defense system to defend the U.S. against attacks by rogue states like Iran and North Korea. He is undoubtedly correct, highlighting yet another reason why November's election is so critical, given the unceasing complaints about missile defense from most Democrats.
> Important as missile defense is, however, it is only a component of a postfailure policy on Iran's nuclear-weapons capacity. In whatever limited amount of time before then, we must face a very hard issue: What will the U.S. do if Israel decides to initiate military action? There was a time when the Bush administration might itself have seriously considered using force, but all public signs are that such a moment has passed.
> Israel sees clearly what the next 12 months will bring, which is why ongoing U.S.-Israeli consultations could be dispositive. Israel told the Bush administration it would destroy North Korea's reactor in Syria in spring, 2007, and said it would not wait past summer's end to take action. And take action it did, seeing a Syrian nuclear capability, for all practical purposes Iran's agent on its northern border, as an existential threat. When the real source of the threat, not just a surrogate, nears the capacity for nuclear Holocaust, can anyone seriously doubt Israel's propensities, whatever the impact on gasoline prices?
> Thus, instead of debating how much longer to continue five years of failed diplomacy, we should be intensively considering what cooperation the U.S. will extend to Israel before, during and after a strike on Iran. We will be blamed for the strike anyway, and certainly feel whatever negative consequences result, so there is compelling logic to make it as successful as possible. At a minimum, we should place no obstacles in Israel's path, and facilitate its efforts where we can.
> These subjects are decidedly unpleasant. A nuclear Iran is more so.
> Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).