In Iran, upheaval in the streets, but nuclear business as usual
Mountains of concrete - and a national consensus - should keep the nuclear program humming undisturbed.
In the empire of contradiction that is the Islamic Republic of Iran, where a graying revolution is struggling to cope with a country of the overwhelmingly young, at least one sector appears to be unaffected by the upheaval following the June 12 elections: the centerpiece of Iran's nuclear program, enrichment of uranium, gateway to the potential manufacture of atomic weapons.
Analysts believe the clerics running Iran must take seriously the domestic policy implications of the popular outcry. However, there is no reason to believe that Iran's nuclear program will change - except to markedly accelerate.
In a report issued seven days before the election, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran had dramatically increased the number of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium - to a total of 7,200, some 30 percent more than in the IAEA's prior report, just three months before.
Iran has concurrently ramped up the production of nuclear fuel. Weaponry experts have said that the increased capacity would allow Iran -- should it decide to "weaponize" its program -- to make two atomic bombs a year. As it is, the IAEA said, Tehran has already stockpiled more than 1.3 tons of Low Enriched Uranium, which, if it is fed into the centrifuges for a second, higher-speed run, can produce up to 25-30 kilograms of High Enriched Uranium), or enough weapons-grade uranium for one atom bomb.
It is widely believed that if Iran's leaders gave the order, weaponization, or the "breakout capability," could be completed within three to six months of a government green light.
But it remains unclear whether Iran's rulers have decided whether they truly want a bomb or not. My colleague Yossi Melman, who has intensively researched the question, believes the decision has yet to have been taken, and that the intent of the program is to reach a threshold from which weaponization can swiftly be attained, whether or not the order will eventually be issued.
According to Melman, where the nuclear program is concerned, there is negligible difference in outlook between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformist candidate and former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi.
Even if a recount should topple Ahmadinejad, Mousavi is firmly on record as supporting the nuclear program, and opposing changes aimed at barring Iran from using it to produce weaponry. "It is important to remember," Mossad chief Meir Dagan told a Knesset panel Tuesday, referring to Mousavi, "that he is the one who began Iran's nuclear program when he was prime minister."
Media reports from Iran have indicated that Mousavi supports continuing to bar IAEA inspectors from key nuclear facilities, stymieing an IAEA probe into U.S. intelligence charges that Iran had conducted unlawful research into nuclear bomb designs, and boosting uranium enrichment in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding suspension of enrichment,
Mousavi's tone is considerably more conciliatory than the fiery incumbent, supporting detente in talks with the West, and promising assurances that Tehran's nuclear facilities are not aimed at producing weapons.
At the same time, Mousavi has been adamant that the Iranian people strongly support the program and that "We will not abandon our right to nuclear technology." He was quoted in April as saying that talks with the United States would be beneficial as long as Iran does not have to "pay heavy costs such as the deprivation of advanced technologies." He has also termed as "irreparable" the consequences of giving up the nuclear program.
In the past, Israeli officials had voiced hopes that Iran's economic woes would persuade its people to abandon the costly nuclear program. There have been no significant signs of such a trend.
As Iran reels from internal disorder, it appears that mountains of reinforced concrete - and a national consensus - will keep the uranium enrichment program humming undisturbed.
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