Russia turned on the switch to Iran's first nuclear power plant on Aug. 21 after repeated delays and more than 15 years of construction. The hard-liners in Iran celebrated it as a victory over "the Great Satan," repeating the famous phrase by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of the Islamic revolution. Their message: America can't do a damned thing.
The Iranians have managed to open a second front for their nuclear bomb project. The Bushehr nuclear power plant is now untouchable because any military action against its reactor containing plutonium would lead to widespread deadly contamination throughout the region.
The reactor, once fully operational, can produce more than 661 pounds of near-weapons-grade plutonium, enough to make 60 nuclear bombs within the first year or two. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be monitoring the operation of the Bushehr nuclear power plant; however, because the IAEA does not have real-time cameras monitoring the plant, the inspectors will review camera tapes at the site every 90 days. This gives the fanatics ruling Iran sufficient time to divert the fuel into making nuclear bombs, using a "quick and dirty" reprocessing approach made public by Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers in the 1970s. Experts say the process of separating plutonium from spent fuel employs a simple technology - one that is just a bit more advanced than that of producing dairy products or pouring concrete.
The mullahs ruling Iran can effectively decide to go nuclear and arm the Revolutionary Guards with nuclear bombs before the world has a chance to stop them. Once they announce such an achievement, the choices for the world leaders to respond will be much more limited than before. The result of any military confrontation will be much more horrific - both for the millions of Iranians who have been paying dearly for three decades trying to free themselves from this evil regime and for millions in Israel and the rest of the world who will become hostage to the criminals ruling Iran.
Iran also has achieved another goal in this chess game of pursuing its nuclear-bomb project. It can make it clear to the United States and Israel that should they attack any of its other nuclear facilities, such as the Natanz uranium enrichment plant or Isfahan's nuclear fuel facility, Iran will remove the spent fuel from the Bushehr power plant and proceed with making the nuclear bomb. Iran continues to enrich uranium to the 20 percent level with faster centrifuges at Natanz, and once fully operational, Isfahan's facility could produce sufficient plutonium for two nuclear weapons a year. In either case, the clerical establishment is now one step closer to checkmating the West and reaching its ultimate goal of becoming a nuclear-armed state.
All this while the Revolutionary Guards continue to make significant progress with the country's missile delivery system. At present, Iran is assessed to have the largest deployed ballistic missiles in the Middle East, with approximately 1,000 missiles covering ranges from 90 to 1,200 miles and capable of reaching all of the Middle East, Israel and parts of Europe. Also, the Guards, with the help of North Korea, are working on intercontinental ballistic missiles to cover the world. They are using their space project to disguise their real intention.
At the same time, the Guards have successfully expanded their terror network by rearming Hezbollah with tens of thousands of rockets, training Hamas fighters in making rockets, and setting up shop in Venezuela. Many of Iran's Quds forces, consisting of highly experienced assassins and bomb-making squads, are now in Venezuela. They intend to spread all over Latin America and ultimately enter America. It is only a matter of time before their terror networks are armed with dirty bombs capable of reaching their ultimate goal of bringing about the demise of the West.
The West in return has been vacillating for years, trying its hardest to appease the mullahs. It has turned its back on the Iranian people, who have been subjected to crimes by their rulers, and going against every principle the West claims to stand for. This is while the West's efforts have resulted in nothing but failure, mainly because it refuses to understand the mullahs' philosophy, which is deeply rooted in their belief in Allah and literally taken from the Koran: jihad on infidels, killing them until there are no more sinners on Earth and all are believers of Allah: "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore, strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them. ... This is the punishment for nonbelievers." Koran (8:12-13).
This illusion continues to this day, with the West still thinking it can change the behavior of the radicals ruling Iran with sanctions or by dialogue. Just a few days ago, it was reported in the New York Times that the Obama administration had assured Israel that the threat from Iran was not imminent and therefore there was no need for military action now. Gary Samore, President Obama's top adviser on nuclear issues, thinks there is still time and, based on U.S. intelligence, it would take Iran roughly a year to make a nuclear bomb. This assessment is based on intelligence collected over the past year, as well as reports from international inspectors.
There are two problems with the above assessment: One is that we have so far managed to get it wrong most of the time. We did not know of the nuclear-enrichment facility in Natanz until it was revealed by the Iranian opposition in August of 2002, and most recently, we learned from the head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate report, claiming Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, was wrong. Iran never stopped that program and has continued with it ever since.
The other problem with the Obama administration's assessment on Iran is this: What if there are other secret nuclear sites? After all, Iran has refused to let certain military sites belonging to the Revolutionary Guards be inspected by the IAEA and, at the same time, would not allow interviews with some of their nuclear scientists.
One thing is clear: America and the West have continually backpedaled from their red lines, which has only emboldened the fanatics in Iran to become more aggressive in their policies, both domestically and internationally. They have killed and continue to kill innocent civilians who want nothing more than freedom. They have killed our brave soldiers defending freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while their enrichment program was limited to the 3.5 percent level, at least on the surface, they are openly enriching to the 20 percent level. Experts say the technical requirement to get to 90 percent enrichment from 20 percent is relatively straightforward because it becomes easier at higher levels. Enriching to 20 percent is the same as going to about 80 percent of the way toward military material.
Iran continues to rattle the saber in spite of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. On Sunday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the country's first domestically built long-range unmanned bomber aircraft. Calling it an "ambassador of death" to Iran's enemy and in an interview with the Qatari daily Al-Sharq, Mr. Ahmadinejad promised global response if his country is attacked. "Our options will have no limits. ... They will touch the entire planet," he said in reply to a question about Tehran's reaction in the event of such an attack.
Trying to guesstimate the timeline for the mullahs going nuclear and waiting it out will be another failure for the West. But this time, the failure will be of gigantic proportions, with millions of lives lost. The world will see one of the greatest depressions and largest destructions in its history. The radicals in Iran believe that the end time is closer than ever. Mahdi - the Shiites' 12th imam, the last messiah - will reappear to kill all infidels and conquer the world, thus creating an Islamic empire. They also believe Mr. Ahmadinejad is the leader named in century-old hadiths who confronts the world and relays the words of Allah exactly six years before Mahdi's reappearance.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has been in office for more than five years. We have their timeline. What is ours?
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for an ex-CIA spy who requires anonymity for safety reasons. "A Time to Betray," his book about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran's Revolutionary Guards, was published by Simon & Schuster April 6.
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