Iran 6 Months Away from Nuclear Weapons?

Iran Halted Nuke Program Four Years Ago Majid Saeedi/Getty Images President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran delivering a speech in April at the nuclear plant in Natanz. Remember that National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program years ago? It turns out that Iran is as little as six months away from nukes. And it’s not some neo-con warmonger saying thus but none other than International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya, he said, “If Iran wants to turn to the production of nuclear weapons, it must leave the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty], expel the IAEA inspectors, and then it would need at least… six months to one year…”

Noah Shactman says we shouldn’t be surprised. Not only were reliable intelligence community dissenters — including those from the decidedly non-hawkish State Department — saying this when the NIE came out but the IAEA has been sending signals that Iran has become less cooperative for quite some time.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    If I remember right, the entire claim that “Bush lied, kids died” was based on minority opinion dissents in the NIE on whether Saddam had WMD. So does this mean that the “Iran will soon have nukes” dissent in the latest NIE indicate that we should be taking the Iranian situation more seriously.

    Imagine 7 months from now if during the inauguration coverage we had the breaking news that Iran had hit Israel with a nuke. Who would you want to be in charge then?

  2. rhbee says:

    “he said, “If Iran wants to turn to the production of nuclear weapons, it must leave the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty], expel the IAEA inspectors, and then it would need at least… six months to one year…”

    Meanwhile, we could just pick up the red phone and Kablooie we’d all go boom.

    I don’t get how you could read that statement in any other way than as a fear-arousing attempt quite similar to the Iraq bow-down misinfo. I see it as saying that Iran, IF it wanted to, would still have to go through three major steps to get there. The same steps they have always had. So this isn’t new information. It is just regurgitation of information which acts almost like dis-information to obscure the fact that it is still US that is pushing the buttons here. Or should I say Bush.

  3. DMan says:

    Imagine 7 months from now if during the inauguration coverage we had the breaking news that Iran had hit Israel with a nuke.

    That nightmare scenario is never going to happen. Iran doesn’t want nukes to use them. It wants nukes to defend itself from an Iraq style invasion. Even the most “rogue” states aren’t suicidal.

  4. […] that brings us to the end of this week’s mini-meanderings.  This last site let me see once again that there is much to discuss about the future these days but we had better […]

  5. James Joyner says:

    IF it wanted to, would still have to go through three major steps to get there.

    Well, yes, if it wanted to follow international law in the matter. Otherwise, it’s merely a technical issue.

    And I’m not fear-mongering here. I simultaneously think Iran wants nukes and that the world would survive if Iran gets them, just as we have with the North Koreans, Red Chinese, Pakistanis, and others getting the technology.

  6. anjin-san says:

    The Iran gets nukes, Iran nukes Israel line is nonsense, because the punchline is “Israel turns Iran into a sheet of radioactive glass”.

    Cheney seems determined to have his war, I guess biting off more than he could chew in Iraq did not satisfy him…

  7. Bithead says:

    The Iran gets nukes, Iran nukes Israel line is nonsense, because the punchline is “Israel turns Iran into a sheet of radioactive glass”.

    And this is the preferable outcome to keeping Nukes from Iran? And you wonder why the central planning ability of leftists gets questioned?

  8. Anderson says:

    And this is the preferable outcome to keeping Nukes from Iran?

    Bithead ignores the fact that we CANNOT KEEP NUKES FROM IRAN.

    Can’t do it.

    Iran does not have its nuke program in a single facility conveniently sited on a hilltop to make it easier to bomb.

    We could maybe luck out & hit a few sites that would make things harder for Iran, but that would have the following results:

    (1) Iran’s will to build its bomb would be massively reinforced, since nukes on hand are the only known way to keep the U.S. from bombing your country;

    (2) Iran would build its bomb anyway, just a while later;

    (3) As opposed to the relatively favorable opinion of the U.S. held by many younger Iranians, we would assure ourselves of remaining “the Great Satan” for another generation;

    (4) If you think Iran’s helping anti-U.S. militias *now* in Iraq, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, bro.

  9. DMan says:

    Bit… you aren’t making sense. What anjin is explaining is why Iran would not nuke Israel. It isn’t a choice between keeping Iran from getting nukes or the simultaneous destruction of Iran and Israel. To phrase it as such a choice is precisely what fear-mongering is.

  10. Spoker says:

    DMan, you are right! Iran does not want nukes to use them. They do however want them to give to their surrogates who will use them. Those surrogates are not rouge states with something to loose, but small groups of radicals that believe they will acquire religiously sanctioned everlasting glory and a hereafter filled virgins by committing suicide and taking the infidels with them.

    Meanwhile, until there is a large boom which kills a million or so people, attempts to eliminate Israel in the name of peace, takes out a major shipping center such as NY, LA, or Amsterdam, or shuts off a major oil supply crippling the global economy, far too few in the US, or the world for that matter, will take this threat seriously.

    We continue to prove in so many way that we are incapable of learning from history, instead we’d much rather keep reliving it.

  11. Anderson says:

    Iran does not want nukes to use them. They do however want them to give to their surrogates who will use them.

    So, you’re saying that having devoted immense time and treasure to building its precious nukes, Iran is going to give them to ragamuffin jihadists?

    That would be crazy. We heard all through the Cold War how the godless Commies were crazy and couldn’t be deterred, and turns out they weren’t so crazy after all. Ditto Iran.

    It would be really scary if a Muslim country with a history of nuke proliferation and of supporting Taliban-style militants (and quite likely al-Qaeda as well) had nukes, wouldn’t it?

    Oh, wait, I just described Pakistan. Start wetting those pants, tough guys.

  12. DMan says:

    Spoker,

    Do you really think Iran would hand over a nuclear weapon to any radical group that they do not have authority over, yet would be traced immediately back to them? I think you underestimate the concept of deterrence. Such an attack by surrogates would be traced to Iran and they know this. And it isn’t like they would leave nukes laying around for anybody to have for precisely this reason.

    Nonetheless, I agree that it is preferable that a nuclear Iran is prevented, but I think the language used to demonize Iran is wrongheaded. All it does is create greater incentive for Iran to pursue nukes. After all, we invaded their neighbor after using similar language, of course they are going to want nukes before we are capable of doing the same to them. Furthermore such language only strengthens the hardliners in Iran, which is again something we both would agree is a bad thing.

  13. Bithead says:

    Bithead ignores the fact that we CANNOT KEEP NUKES FROM IRAN.

    Actually, we’ve been doing exactly that for some time, now. Of course it occasionally requires action on our part. Action that Democrats, particularly don’t have the political will to do.

  14. Bithead says:

    So, you’re saying that having devoted immense time and treasure to building its precious nukes, Iran is going to give them to ragamuffin jihadists?

    Of course!
    In case you hadn’t noticed, the tactic has been working pretty well for them in Iraq and Pakistan so far… all without any political cost to Iran whatever. Plausable deniability comes into play, here.

  15. anjin-san says:

    If Iran is indeed determined to acquire nukes (a not unreasonable thing for them to want, given the fact we now have a track record of forcibly removing governments we do not approve of), I do not really see how we can do it without a war, a real general war, with Iran.

    Surgical strikes would guarantee nothing. We would simply be providing them with a valid reason to employ nukes if they did indeed have them. No, we would have to invade, lay waste and occupy. My thought is that it would make our Iraq experience look like a tea party.

    Then there is the strong possibility that a billion Muslims would decide that America had declared general war on them and would act accordingly.

    I am not even making an argument here that forcibly trying to prevent Iran from going nuclear is right/wrong. Just that we should be realistic about the consequences of using force.

    One of these consequences could well be a near total disruption of oil supplies from the Middle East. Then we would have a major war and a depression on our hands.

  16. Dantheman says:

    Bithead,

    “In case you hadn’t noticed, the tactic has been working pretty well for them in Iraq and Pakistan so far… all without any political cost to Iran whatever.”

    Really? The Iranians have given nukes to groups within Iraq and Pakistan? Cite please.

  17. od says:

    Nuclear technology is sixty years old. Its going to become increasingly difficult to keep any country that wants it from acquiring it – its not cutting edge stuff anymore. Like a lot of technology, the trick was in discovering that it really could be done.

  18. anjin-san says:

    Let us not forget that if Iran really is after nukes, but we somehow manage to prevent it, there will certainly be another country that we do not like that will obtain them. You can’t close Pandora’s box.

    I also fail to see any validity in the premise that Iran is somehow a special danger to the world in general. Modern Iran does not have a history of starting wars. To represent Iran as a nation of suicidal religious fanatics is nonsense.

  19. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, you cannot keep your lies straight. If we have a record of removing govts we do not agree with. Why are there communist governments in China, North Korea, Cuba, etc, etc? If Iran had peaceful intent, their President would not threaten Israel with incineration? Why would they not only be working on a bomb but a delivery method? If you think Israel will allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, all you lefty thinkers has SAT scores much lower than the numbers your posts here suggest.

  20. anjin-san says:

    Israel will allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, all you lefty thinkers has SAT scores much lower than the numbers your posts here suggest.

    Israel is a sovereign state, it can do what it thinks necessary. We are discussing what America will do.

    BTW, do you deny we removed the government of Iraq by force? Because doing that constitutes a track record.

  21. Michael says:

    Actually, we’ve been doing exactly that for some time, now. Of course it occasionally requires action on our part. Action that Democrats, particularly don’t have the political will to do.

    Oh? Home come they’re 6 months away from usable weapons if we’ve been preventing them all this time?

    Of course!
    In case you hadn’t noticed, the tactic has been working pretty well for them in Iraq and Pakistan so far… all without any political cost to Iran whatever. Plausable deniability comes into play, here.

    You’ll also notice that those were mostly small arms and cheap rockets. Iran isn’t giving away their good stuff, what makes you think they’ll give up their ace? If Iran developed 10 nukes, and gave Hezbollah one, what do you think Hezbollah is going to do? Once the nukes come into play, the game is over, and just one isn’t enough for Hezbollah to win that game. So they won’t use their only nuke to hasten their own defeat, they’ll threaten to use their one nuke against Iran unless Iran gives them more.

    If we have a record of removing govts we do not agree with. Why are there communist governments in China, North Korea, Cuba, etc, etc?

    Because our efforts to remove those governments failed, sometimes spectacularly (Bay of Pigs).

    If you think Israel will allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, all you lefty thinkers has SAT scores much lower than the numbers your posts here suggest.

    Again, short of nuking any suspected sites inside of Iran, Israel doesn’t have many options to top them.

  22. Tlaloc says:

    Well, yes, if it wanted to follow international law in the matter. Otherwise, it’s merely a technical issue.

    Uh, James, there were three steps, right? Only one of those has to do with international law (withdrawing from NPT). The second (expelling inspectors) has to do with being operationally capable of producing the weapons. The third (time to enrich the fissile materials) is a function of laws, yes, but of the physical sort. Iran cannot ignore those regardless of how rogue they go.

  23. Tlaloc says:

    Again, short of nuking any suspected sites inside of Iran, Israel doesn’t have many options to top them.

    Particularly notice that Israel completely flubbed, and pretty unambiguously lost, their attack against Hezbollah in Lebanon. That was right next door and against a paramilitary group. Striking Iran requires them to go far afield and attack a real military target.

  24. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Yes, I am sure inspectors are allowed at the sites where the nukes are assembled. Anjin, are you aware of the gentle way Saddam treated his people? I have to ask, what is it about Saddam you liked so much as to want him to retain his dictatorial power? Was it is friendly relations toward his neighbors? The treatment of the religious majority (shites)? His imaginative use of wood chippers or acid vats? Maybe you were looking forward to the ascendancy of Uday and his brother? You left out the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. You really seem to like tyrannical dictators who have a cruel bent. Is that why you support Obama? Know something the rest of us do not?

  25. Dave Schuler says:

    I share with James the belief that Iran wants nuclear weapons and that a nuclear-armed Iran is livable (although not preferred). I further think that what we should be concerned about in Iran is not that its government is too tyrannical and authoritarian but that it’s not nearly tyrannical and authoritarian enough.

    Being neither democratic and, consequently, wanting to curry favor with the people on whom its power depends nor totalitarian and able to ride herd effectively on the various elements of its own military is really a dangerous scenario.

  26. rhbee says:

    Yes, Zeldorf, for those of us real lefty thinkers, it’s thinkers have.

    And while I am at it, I often wondered why the fear-mongerers amongst us are themselves so fearful yet talk so brave. Have you been in the military Zeldorf? Killed any brother soldiers with friendly fire, destroyed any civilian families because their car was in your line of fire, laid waste to the countryside in vengeful ire? I know 9/11 scared the shit out of you, but by now you’d think you would be able to acknowledge that Saddam had nothing to do with that. No country or political regime did either. Just a small group of men who were looking for their match in a group of small-minded opponents. They got their wish. We got endless chest-thumbing from “bring-it-on” non-combatants. Now you whine a lot because you realize we are on to your game and aren’t going to let you win it without a real struggle this time. Which I guess explains you’re main reason for fearing Mr. Obama.

  27. Bithead says:

    Really? The Iranians have given nukes to groups within Iraq and Pakistan? Cite please

    I don’t have time for this.
    Go to dictionary.com and look up the words ‘weapons’ and “tactics” and get back to me when you actually understand the difference between the two.

    Oh? Home come they’re 6 months away from usable weapons if we’ve been preventing them all this time?

    Because of late, say, the last 20 years or so, we’ve allowed it.

  28. Michael says:

    Because of late, say, the last 20 years or so, we’ve allowed it.

    From which you somehow derived that it was all the fault of Democrats controlling foreign policy? Your train of thought it hard to follow, Bit.

  29. Aaron says:

    “(a not unreasonable thing for them to want, given the fact we now have a track record of forcibly removing governments we do not approve of)”

    1. Then they should leave the treaty.
    2. We also have a track record of restoring ties to governments that give up their nuclear ambitions (see Libya)
    3. p.s. we removed Noreiga, we re-installed Aristide…this is not a new thing.
    4. They started their nuclear program mainly with Saddam Hussein in mind, you know, the guy who invaded their country, shot city-buster missiles at Tehran, and used poison gas. So, technically, while they might fear a US regime change, they must also be conflicted about our role in eliminating their greatest threat to the Iranian regime EVER.
    5. In fact, I wonder if using Iraq as an “honest broker” as part of our negotiations might be interesting.

  30. Bithead says:

    From which you somehow derived that it was all the fault of Democrats controlling foreign policy? Your train of thought it hard to follow, Bit.

    Only because you’re having problems with labels. You’ve fallen into the fallacy that “Republican”= “Conservative”

  31. Michael says:

    Lets see….

    Actually, we’ve been doing exactly that for some time, now. Of course it occasionally requires action on our part. Action that Democrats, particularly don’t have the political will to do.

    Because of late, say, the last 20 years or so, we’ve allowed it.

    No, you never mentioned Conservatives or Republicans anywhere.

    Your two claims, when put together, seem to imply that Democrats were in charge of foreign policy for the past 20 years. I’m not quite sure how you reconcile that with history.

  32. Bithead says:

    Your two claims, when put together, seem to imply that Democrats were in charge of foreign policy for the past 20 years.

    Nope. Just centerists to leftists. Usually that means Democrats… but not always.

  33. Michael says:

    Nope. Just centerists to leftists. Usually that means Democrats… but not always.

    That’s funny, because you never mentioned centrists of leftists either, only Democrats.

  34. anjin-san says:

    Michael,

    You need to understand the fundamental tenant of Bithood.

    Anything bad that ever happened anywhere is the fault of Democrats. The sinking of the Maine? Democrats. The fall of the Roman Empire? Democrats. The black death? Democrats.

    I could go on, but I am sure you get the point.

  35. Michael says:

    I could go on, but I am sure you get the point.

    Yes, thank you for that, it certainly elevated the discourse around here.

    If Bithead needs insulting, I’m perfectly capable of providing it on my own, thanks.

  36. Bithead says:

    That’s funny, because you never mentioned centrists of leftists either, only Democrats.

    As with other discussions we’ve had on various topics, my comments are often directed at the largest percentage of the problem. I don’t tend to think in terms of double-clucthing that one every time, k?