After more than ten years of diplomacy and duplicity, we are at an endgame with Iran. Only days after the second failed visit by IAEA inspectors in a month, the latest Agency report records substantial progress in Iran’s nuclear-enrichment program. This includes the start of operations at the new, and well-defended, Fordow site, which is producing 20-percent-enriched uranium, allowing a clear path to breakout. Most significant, the alarming questions raised about weaponization in the November report have not been answered. Instead, Tehran has continued to stonewall, denying access to the people, facilities, and documentation necessary to address the inspectors’ concerns.
Time is not on our side, no matter how hard we may try to convince ourselves otherwise. Sanctions are taking an increasingly heavy toll on Iran’s government and economy, but there is no evidence that they are having any effect on the nuclear program. In fact, despite the hope that economic penalties will compel the mullahs to slow the program, all evidence is to the contrary. Further, despite the Obama administration’s assessments that Iran has not yet decided to build a nuclear weapon (and that, once they did decide, it would take an additional two years to complete), all evidence is to the contrary. The description of recent weaponization activities presented in the last IAEA report is just that, evidence of weaponization. To conclude that Iran has not decided to build the bomb based on the absence of definitive proof, like a formal decision memorandum signed by the supreme leader, is simply self-deluding.
Contrary to our wishful thinking, Iran’s religious and secular leaders may have concluded that accelerating their weapons program is the best way to end the sanctions. Looking at the international community’s response to previous proliferators, they may well believe that, once they have gone nuclear, the worst will be over and that, over time, the sanctions will be lifted (especially given the world’s growing appetite for oil).
Perhaps even more important, these leaders may well have concluded that they do not intend to share Qaddafi’s fate. The logic is simple: Qaddafi gave up his nuclear-weapons program; the West intervened in Libya; and he was hunted down and killed by his own people. The lesson: Possession of nuclear weapons will allow the regime to pursue its aggressive agenda in the region and repress its own people without threat of outside intervention. Supreme Leader Khamenei underlined this point by stating that, unlike Libya, Iran will not give in to Western pressure but will increase its nuclear capabilities “against the wish of the enemy.”