Iran’s Ham and Cheese Sandwich (Updated)
The Times of London is reporting that Iranian scientists are only waiting for the order to go before building a nuclear weapon:
Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.
The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.
A US National Intelligence Estimate two years ago concluded that Iran had ended its nuclear arms research programme in 2003 because of the threat from the American invasion of Iraq. But intelligence sources have told The Times that Tehran had halted the research because it had achieved its aim — to find a way of detonating a warhead that could be launched on its long-range Shehab-3 missiles.
They said that, should Ayatollah Khamenei approve the building of a nuclear device, it would take six months to enrich enough uranium and another six months to assemble the warhead. The Iranian Defence Ministry has been running a covert nuclear research department for years, employing hundreds of scientists, researchers and metallurgists in a multibillion-dollar programme to develop nuclear technology alongside the civilian nuclear programme.
I honestly don’t know what to make of this story. It reminds me of nothing so much as the old wisecrack “If I had some cheese, I could make a ham and cheese sandwich. If I had some ham.”
Of course Iran could build a nuclear weapon if it had the material and the will to do it. So could Andorra if it comes to that. The theoretical knowledge to build a nuclear weapon has been widely available for decades. There are two obstacles: the availability of fissile material and the engineering. To prove the engineering you’ve got to build a bomb.
I’m not going to bother to dredge up the fatwas against nuclear weapons that have been issued by Iranian clerics (Khamenei wrote such a fatwa in 2005). I’m sure Steve Hynd over at Newshoggers will be all over this story and will do it for me. I also don’t put a lot of truck in them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I have little doubt that Iran at the very least wants to be able to build a nuclear weapon and I’d be flabbergasted if the Iranians didn’t have a covert program to exactly that effect. However, it also appears that they’ve run into a lot more difficulties in their enrichment program than they expected. I have no idea when they could produce enough HEU to produce a weapon and I doubt that anybody else does, either.
I think it may well be that what this particular article is actually about, rather than gauging the capabilities or frame of mind of the Iranians is an attempt to gauge the capabilities and frame of mind of the Israelis
Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defence Minister, last week reiterated that a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities was still an option, should the talks fail. Israeli officials estimate that a raid on Natanz and a nuclear facility at Arak, in central Iran, would set Iran’s nuclear programme back by two to three years.
I think that any limited attack on the Iranians, either by the Israelis or by us, would be a great error, advancing what it presumably sought to retard and an unlimited attack, either by the Israelis or us, in the absence of significantly more information than anybody seems to have in hand would be both immoral and politically foolhardy.
As Joseph Fouché put it more than 200 years ago, it would be worse than a crime, it would be a mistake.
As I expected Steve has posted on this report, too. His reaction is much the same as mine: this is old news.