Politics & Policy

Tehran’s Ticking Nuclear Time Bomb

General Martin Dempsey and Leon Panetta flank the president in the Pentagon (DOD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)
President Obama must be more proactive.

With President Obama addressing AIPAC on Sunday and meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, now is the time for him to unveil a more hardline policy on Iran.

Until now, Team Obama’s Iran policy has been a hodge-podge of well-intentioned but ineffective diplomatic and economic initiatives aimed at getting Tehran to alter course on its burgeoning nuclear program.

While Tehran proposes another set of time-killing talks, and the administration preaches patience in hopes that economic sanctions will make the ayatollah cry uncle, the bad news on Iran’s nuclear program keeps rolling in.

#ad#For instance, Iran is reportedly fielding a new generation of uranium-enriching centrifuges. It’s also increasing the production of 20-percent-enriched uranium — which is beyond that needed for power reactor fuel, and closer to the 90 percent used in a bomb.

In addition, mounting evidence of a “military dimension” to Tehran’s purportedly peaceful nuclear plans should increase already-well-deserved suspicions of Iranian atomic intentions.

Accounts from the IAEA and others note evidence of nuclear-weapon design, high-explosives work, military procurement of nuclear-related material, nuke facilities located on military bases, and intercontinental-ballistic-missile (ICBM) development.

But despite the existence of all the trappings of a nuclear-weapons program, and Iran’s lack of transparency about its atomic activities, the administration seems convinced that Tehran hasn’t yet settled on building a bomb.

Considering all that Iran has done so far on the nuclear front — not to mention the grief it has gotten for defying the international community on these matters — such a conclusion seems a bit odd.

It walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but it’s not a duck — yet.

Equally troubling are public comments from senior Pentagon officials that seem more intent on dissuading an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities than on dissuading the ayatollah’s atomic ambitions.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, counseled about the “prudence” of an Israeli military strike and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta even speculated on when Israel might conduct a raid.

Israel wasn’t pleased, to say the least. Thus, for fear of an American leak that would alert Tehran to an inbound Israeli strike, it’s highly unlikely they’ll give us a heads-up should they decide to “visit” Iran.

There’s a sense that the administration doesn’t see the United States and Israel in the same boat on the Iranian nuclear matter. This couldn’t be further from the truth, considering we’re both in Tehran’s crosshairs — nuclear or not.

Of course, the Iranian nuclear wolves are circling closer to the Israeli cabin at the moment, but with the possibility of an Iranian ICBM by 2015, these same wolves will soon be baying at our door.

As such, in addition to patching up strained relations with Netanyahu, Obama should publicly express a strong sense of solidarity with Israel on Iran, beyond the usual political platitudes (which no one buys anyway).

Iran understands strength, especially the military kind – and it only benefits from the bickering that we’ve seen again and again in recent years between Israel and the United States on a number of matters.

The president should also lean forward on the military option, beyond the tired old phrase that “it’s still on the table.” While Obama must be careful not to make threats he isn’t willing to keep, he should define red lines that are not to be crossed.

Iran will surely blame us for any Israeli strike, whether we’re involved from the get-go or not. As such, the president should ready U.S. forces for a possible Persian punch directed at us in the aftermath of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Assuming Israel doesn’t give us advanced warning, any Iranian hostility toward us or our interests should feel the searing heat of U.S. air and naval assets, not only targeting Iran’s nuclear program, but its conventional and paramilitary forces, too.

Obama understandably doesn’t want a crisis with Iran right now, but the consequences of an Iranian nuclear breakout apply to far more than just this year’s election; they’re about the future of America’s national security.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. 

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