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Iran, Iran, Iran and Iran

That’s it. That’s the whole list of national security priorities.

Whatever we do in Iraq and whatever Iraqi politicians do; whatever we do to Hamas; however hard we look for Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri; whoever runs our port terminals; whatever the price of gasoline; however we secure our borders; whoever leaked Valerie Plame’s name – under the shadow of a nuclear-capable Iran, American and allied options are reduced.


That’s it. That’s the whole list of national security priorities.

Whatever we do in Iraq and whatever Iraqi politicians do; whatever we do to Hamas; however hard we look for Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri; whoever runs our port terminals; whatever the price of gasoline; however we secure our borders; whoever leaked Valerie Plame’s name – under the shadow of a nuclear-capable Iran, American and allied options are reduced.

Iran’s announcement that it has mastered the enrichment of uranium on an industrial scale, and thus stands steps away from being weapons-capable, was poetic. “Iran’s nuclear activities are like a waterfall which has begun to flow. It cannot be stopped.”

Poetry aside, we disagree.

At least one analyst suggests that Iran could only generate enough for a one-shot demonstration to halt the current round of talks at the UN by presenting the Security Council with a fait accompli. An Israeli official said Iran had proved a “rudimentary research and development capability” needed to create nuclear weapons, but it did not mean that the Iranians had “mastered the nuclear fuel cycle.” Israel’s Chief of Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, called the announcement “a bargaining chip… meant to move the debate to the next point – the extent of enrichment.”

However, even a demonstration project means that Iran has acquired the knowledge to enrich uranium after which, like biting the apple, you cannot “un-know.” If the Iranian program is not stopped, some analysts believe Iran could master the fuel cycle by the end of the year. This is what Israel considers the “point of no return.”

The Iranians themselves say they are looking to increase the centrifuge string from the current 164 (enough to test the technology) to 3,000 (enough for industrial purposes, or to make one bomb per year) and then to 50,000 (do the math yourself). The ringer here, of course, is that we don’t know what we don’t know. There are suggestions of a parallel, clandestine program; that the 3,000 centrifuges already exist, that the knowledge base is stronger than we think.

It is easier, in this case, to be Iran than it is to be the rest of us. Iran has only to determine its path and travel along. The key diplomatic players (the US, Russia, China, the EU-3, Israel, and the UN) are still working through a jumble of plans, policies and possibilities, with some still wedded to their financial objectives and others wedded to the idea that the US or Israel will make the problem disappear without involving them – except in the condemnation phase.

It won’t happen. This Iranian demonstration may be the only warning we get to dispense with our individual financial or political goals and find a unified way to a) make the Iranians stop, or b) make the Iranians stop. That’s it. That’s the only priority.