- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008


The November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate sent shock waves through the West more by its phrasing than by its content. Striving for exactitudes, it unfortunately sacrificed lucidity, at least for the average, non-expert reader. The bombshell came in the very first sentence: A judgment that Tehran halted its nuclear weapon program back in 2003. In our age of the 30-second TV specials this was enough to convey a mistaken sense of relief that the specter of nuclear Iran was gone. True, there was a footnote that qualifies this judgment to the actual bomb-making process, not to the much more critical, time-consuming nuclear-explosive materials program — but footnotes are for scholars, not for Johnny Public.

While this key judgment of the NIE is contested in some circles, its essence is plausible. Ever since assuming power in 1978, the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran have demonstrated an outstanding proficiency in melding tactical flexibility with strategic inflexibility. They have never wavered in pursuing their fundamental agenda, but have been ever willing to make the necessary tactical concession to walk around minefields. Theirs is a long-term worldview in which time is of lesser essence. Their goals are profound and global reaching. If the bomb-making part must be deferred to safeguard the more profound fissile material effort, so be it. This is typical of their modus operandi. The NIE’s key judgment can therefore be taken at face value.

A threat — any threat — comes from a combination of capabilities and intentions. The Islamic republic’s intentions are breathtaking in their scope. Holocaust denial? This is just a frill. Wipe Israel off the map? A detail. The Iranians are committed to no less than a fundamental change in the existing world order.

Moreover, they don’t hide it. In fact, they advertise it loud and clear. Take for example Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s May 2006 letter to President Bush. Purporting to speak in the name of suffering humanity, Iran’s outspoken president writes: “Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity… those with insight can already hear the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic system” — no less. This is not about Israel, or the Palestinians, or the Middle East. This is about Thomas Jefferson and the inalienable rights of men. This is a declaration of war on everything that we in the West hold dear to our hearts, on what makes us what we are.

On a more pragmatic level, humanity can wait, because the clerics give priority to their own kin. In a little-publicized speech in a March 2006 conference, Iran’s then-Deputy Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mohammadi, stated that “The Islamic world is demanding its fair and just share in the evolving world order and international system. As long as this unquestionable reality is not understood, respected and accepted, crises and security challenges will persist.” This naked threat was delivered in fluent English to a Western audience in downtown Berlin, a stone’s throw away from the Holocaust Memorial. Not since Adolf … The Islamic Republic is one of the most fanatic regimes that have ever strode upon the stage of history, on par with the virulent regimes that cursed the first half of the 20th century. Like them, it aspires to reshape the world in its own mold. Like them, it declares war on the existing world order, and like them it is paranoid about the security of its own revolution, constantly rattling its sabers to frighten away the demons conjured by its own belligerency.

But being fanatic is not synonymous with being irrational. The Iranians are shrewd dealers and cool, patient businessmen. They are adept at exploiting their rival’s weaknesses. Aspiring to overturn the West’s values and institutions, they are perfectly willing to turn them to their own advantage. What better way to safeguard their acquisitions of infrastructure and know-how for making nuclear-bomb materials, but to enshrine them with international legitimacy provided by that Western creation, the International Atomic Energy Agency? In the matter of nuclear weapons, materials come first and other bomb components come second. The Manhattan Project could be consummated only when Oak Ridge and Hanford began delivering weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. From this point, it took the bomb-makers of Los Alamos barely six months to reach Alamogordo. For the Iranians, a temporary freeze of their Los Alamos is worth the assured completion, under the umbrella of international law, of their Oak Ridge.

And a temporary freeze it surely is. The inherent extremism of Iran’s agenda will inevitably drive it to match strategic intentions with strategic capabilities. For a regime that takes pride in withstanding Western pressures, the NIE itself, by attributing the bomb-making deferral to exactly such pressures, might push the mullahs to renew it.

The NIE ends with the following clear statement: “We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.” To my mind, the question is not “if” but “when.” Unless the international community girds up to forestall it, the future — for Iran and the West — is nuclear.

Uzi Rubin, an engineer and missile expert, served with Israel’s Defense Ministry.



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