Iran's Secret Nuclear Facility Antagonizes West
Janaury 9, 2012
Thumbing its nose at attempts to half its secret nuclear activity, Iran acknowledged that it’s currently building underground, a bomb-proofed nuclear enrichment facility in Fordow, near the Shiite holy city of Qom. Western security experts have known since 2009 that Iran began developing the secret site to shield its enriched uranium production from more accessible facilities like Natanz. Iran has been under constant threat from the U.S. and Israel to halt enriching uranium or face possible military action. With the Iranian Navy threatening to attack the U.S.S. John C. Stennis aircraft carrier as it passes through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, tensions could not be higher between Washington and Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has told the West that Iran will not allow “bullying powers” to stop Iran’s rights to the nuclear fuel cycle.
Western officials believe Iran is up to no good with regard to its nuclear enrichment activities, namely, that the Persian nation seeks nothing short of atomic weapons. After threatening to “wipe Israel off the map,” Ahmandinejad made Iran’s nuclear ambitions more dicey. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees Iran as an “existential” threat to the Jewish State. “The Fordow nuclear enrichment plant will be operational in the near future,” said Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. Acknowledging work on a bunker-proof underground nuclear facility antagonizes the West busy applying draconic economic sanctions on the Persian State. Banning companies from transacting oil business with Iran paralyzes 80% of Iran’s economy, already reeling from a 40% currency devaluation in just the last year, with more devaluation sin sight.
Blocking U.S. companies from dealing with Iran’s central bank, Obama hopes to turn the screws on Iran to cease-and-desist on its uranium enrichment program. Iran believes that, like Pakistan, which got the bomb in 1998, the bomb will force the U.S. and Israel to back off. Neither Israel nor the U.S. is willing to wait until Iran gets the bomb to find out Ahmadinejad’s promise to “wipe Israel off the map.” Starting up Fordow would signal that Iran has no intent of halting its nuclear enrichment program. Placing enrichment facilities in underground bunkers makes U.S. and Israeli threats of military action less tenable. “I would see it as another escalatory step on the Iranian side,” said an unnamed Pentagon official. U.N. Security Council officials, including Germany, are growing more impatient with Iran after a Nov. 8, 2011 report indicated that Iran sought a nuclear warhead.
Time for diplomacy could be running out on Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities. Western powers aren’t inclined toward Iran’s latest stalling tactics, asking the West for more face-to-face negotiations. IAEA officials believe that Iran is already feeding uranium hexafluoride gas to centrifuges at Fordow. Officials at the IAEA and Pentagon also believe that Iran refines uranium to at least 20%, the last stage before it’s spun into weapons’ grade material at 90%. Iran insists that its 20% uranium is for medically-related radioactive isotopes, not to continue refining to weapons grade fissile material. No one has seen any real willingness on Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, causing growing concern about an eventual military confrontation. Iran threatened last week to close the Strait of Hormuz should the U.S. and EU continue to apply punitive economic sanctions.
Iran’s right to uranium enrichment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty permits uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but isn’t clear whether that includs A-bomb development for future deterrence. Iran often sites Pakistan to demonstrate how its nuclear arsenal has kept its archenemy India from war since 1999. Had Ahmadinejad not threatened Israel, the West probably wouldn’t object so strongly to Iran’s nuclear activities. Building underground sites like Fordow shows the kind of defiance that pushes an inevitable military confrontation. Iran’s mullah’s probably aren’t reckless enough to attack a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Whether a mishap occurs with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard or offshoots like the radical al-Quds forces is anyone’s guess
Mounting tensions in the Persian Gulf draw Iran and the U.S. closer into a military confrontation. While it’s still unlikely that the mullah’s would risk their power by attacking a U.S. aircraft carrier, there’s no accounting for mishaps. With the U.S.S. John C. Stennis carrier steaming toward the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranians play a dangerous game of chicken. Obama must pull out all the stops to get Tehran to back down without acquiescing to Iranian bluster. Because nuclear experts see Fordow as equipping on 3,000 centrifuges, they don’t believe it’s enriching uranium for generating electric power. Nuclear experts also know that it’s not too difficult to go from 20% fissile material to weapon’s grade 90%. Both the U.S .and Iran must decide what’s more important: Maintaining the peace or pushing ahead toward nuclear weapons. So far it looks like A-bombs win out.
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