Monday, January 17, 2011

An Interesting Hint About Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program

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By Barry Rubin

There's a fascinating, subtle, but very important development. Both the outgoing Israeli intelligence chief and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton--and others, too--have said things indicating that Iran is not going to get nuclear weapons for a while.

The Israeli statement gave the year 2015 as the likely date. In her interview with al-Arabiyya television, Clinton said that the Iranians are having significant problems with their program.

From this evidence, along with other things I've seen or heard, I conclude that both the United States and Israel have done intelligence assessments stretching out the amount of time before the Iranian regime has deliverable nuclear weapons.

The causes of this would include scientific and technical mistakes made by the Iranians, sabotage and assassination of scientists, defections, computer viruses, and other factors. The sanctions, while welcome and a positive development, are not the cause of the delay.

I want to stress that the Iranians could do it faster if they made certain decisions, rushed, and had some good luck. They'd also have to build a secret new facility first, which would of course take time.

And of course there are lots of things that can go wrong, ranging from successfully blocking their getting certain equipment, to computer viruses striking, to nasty little accidents like a large piano falling onto a key scientist who just happened to be passing by at that particular moment. 

So let's say that it is not impossible but it is pretty unlikely that they will finish in less than four years

Yes, I know Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected the Mossad chief's statement, and he is right to do so. From a diplomatic point of view, such information could reduce the pressure on Iran and create a more dangerous situation. Many in the West are looking for an excuse to be complacent and to make money trading with Iran.

On the other hand, it means that any Israeli decision to attack Iranian facilities can also be deferred. Perhaps, too, U.S. policy might change in interesting ways before then, Iran could face significant internal turmoil, Tehran might blunder into an international confrontation, or a piano could just decide to fall on the head of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or even several pianos on several key politicians.

Tsk, tsk. These things happen you know.

Let's not forget as well that even without a nuclear weapon, there is still a huge political battle going on. Iran is getting more power in Lebanon; has a client state on the Mediterranean called the Gaza strip; is seeking influence in Iraq as the United States withdraws; and takes advantage of American weakness, among other things. Nukes aren't everything, especially when you are doing pretty well sponsoring terrorism, intimidation, and revolutionary Islamist movements.

Nevertheless, I think the new assessment on Iran's nuclear program is true and this delay is a good development for the regional situation. Again, there is no reason to believe at this moment that Tehran won't get nuclear weapons eventually, but it will take longer than we've expected up until now.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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