National Security & Defense

The Iran Deal Will Do the Opposite of What It Claims

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

Iran is on the brink of a partial nuclear breakout: It can enrich its vast amount of processed uranium to weapon-grade level and set its heavy-water nuclear reactor for plutonium production. The nuclear agreement, if kept, delays this breakout for several years, but it does not eradicate Iran’s long-range nuclear-armament program. The time-buying agreement, even if tightly sewn (which this one is not), exacts too high a price in the license it gives Iran’s ayatollah and Revolutionary Guard. After the sanctions are lifted, billions of dollars will be funneled into destabilizing the Middle East, spreading global terror, instigating regional aggression against Israel and moderate Arab countries through proxies, and tightening the grasp on Iran’s own freedom-seeking citizens.

Adopting for now the claim that the nuclear agreement, on its own, is important enough for us to ignore other issues, let us focus on what the deal’s advocates tout as its primary achievement: It will, they claim, prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The advocates, however, are wrong. In the long run, the deal will produce quite the opposite result.

Defining “breakout” will help clarify matters. Iran’s present breakout capability enables it to enrich uranium to the 90 percent level required to produce World War II–type nuclear bombs that cannot be carried by missiles. It is, however, far from achieving nuclear breakout of the sort that affords it psychological and political immunity — as its ally North Korea did after twice violating agreements with the U.S. In its breakout, North Korea has produced plutonium, acquired nuclear-detonation technology, conducted nuclear testing, learned to install compact plutonium weapons on long-range missiles, and is amassing a nuclear arsenal that will include approximately 80 bombs by the end of the decade.

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Iran is not yet ripe for a North Korean–style breakout. Therefore its chess strategy (after ensuring its freedom to strengthen conventional capabilities) is to retain its existing nuclear infrastructure and continue clandestine development of its military nuclear program. Iran intends to sacrifice a pawn by scaling back some nuclear activity in its now-known nuclear facilities in Fordow, Natanz, and Arak — all built secretly without approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency, in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. While doing this, Iran will retain the option of achieving a complete Korean-style nuclear breakout in five to ten years, or when the regime feels threatened, or when the current agreement expires. North Korea wanted nuclear weapons to buttress its thin layer of dictatorial rule. Iran’s long-range strategy is also to acquire nuclear weapons, but its larger goal differs from North Korea’s: It aims to use terrorism and traditional military aggression to spread its fanatic apocalyptic religious ideology, as it does now, but with a nuclear umbrella. This could also increase the risk of a nuclear disaster in the unstable Middle East.

#share#Iran’s dangerous intentions are clearly evident in the agreement’s loopholes, which were included at Iran’s insistence:

1. Lack of a tight timetable for converting the Arak plutonium reactor to a lower-efficacy facility. The conversion itself is one of the main achievements of the agreement, because only at Arak can Iran produce plutonium from raw uranium, strategically essential for producing bombs deliverable via missile warheads. Iran was granted responsibility, as “owner and project manager,” for downgrading the facility. This control, together with the agreement’s cumbersome mechanism for resolving disputes, enables Iran to drag the project out for years while the reactor (again, protected by the agreement) is immune from attack or sabotage. To eliminate this danger, the agreement should have required Iran to take the critical step of removing the existing reactor core (Calandria) immediately, regardless of the reactor-redesign process.

2. Continued operation of declared nuclear facilities, including partial operation of the centrifuges and further development of advanced models. Despite assurances that Iran will export a huge amount (ten tons) of accumulated enriched uranium, the agreement allows it to dilute the substance to a raw-material level and keep it within its borders, ready, when desired, for uranium bombs (which require renewed enrichment) or plutonium reactor fueling (which does not).

RELATED: The Iran Deal: A Mortal Blow to Nonproliferation

3. A green light to continue concealed development of military nuclear-weapons technology at military facilities. This is an outrageous concession by the agreement’s co-signers. When suspicions arise, inspections by IAEA representatives are permitted only after a 24-day advance notice, allowing the Iranians to cover up evidence of their activity. Although it is difficult to hide traces of radioactive material, as President Obama has noted, detection is unlikely since a separate, secret IAEA agreement permits the Iranians themselves to collect the samples.

When suspicions arise, inspections by IAEA representatives are permitted only after a 24-day advance notice, allowing the Iranians to cover up evidence of their activity.

Furthermore, Iran’s staunch refusal to disclose its past nuclear-weapons testing in Parchin makes it impossible to distinguish between (forbidden) previous tests and (forbidden) new tests. Therefore, if traces of radioactive material are discovered, the Iranians can easily attribute them to tests conducted prior to the agreement. Aware of the significance of this issue, Iran has just submitted, after a ten-year delay, “substantive data on its past nuclear work” to the IAEA, as reported last week. However, the secretive nature of the agreement with IAEA and the lack of verification on the ground by its inspectors raise doubts about the value of this disclosure.

There are other crucial activities that Iran can secretly conduct at its military facilities to complete production of a nuclear weapon without detectable radioactive materials: development of the detonation mechanism, preparation of sites and equipment for underground nuclear tests, and advancement of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) technology that can disable a country’s electronics and entire electrical grid via a single nuclear explosion above the earth’s atmosphere. In the coming years, Iranian scientists will also have an opportunity to develop critical components at home and test them underground in North Korea.

#related#Therefore, even if we ignore the agreement’s total exclusion of conventional forms of aggression and the development of intercontinental missiles (useful only for nuclear warfare), we see that the main achievement heralded by the negotiators — preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the foreseeable future — is a chimera. It will be nearly impossible to derail the agreement in the remaining months of the current U.S. administration. But if Congress and the American public express their opposition, the next president might have the support he or she needs to act when the dangers posed by existing policies become an unfortunate, inescapable reality.

Avraham Gover is an applied-physics expert in the Physical Electronics Department of Tel Aviv University. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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