The much heralded May meeting in Baghdad between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran, was promoted as a chance to bring about a dramatic breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but ended with a fizzle. The only decision that came out of that meeting was to hold another meeting, in Moscow. This was completed on June 19 with the same results. Iran got what it needed: more time to develop its nuclear weapons program. Low-level technical talks held in July in Istanbul also were useless.
Not only did the P5+1 group fail to get Iran to agree to freeze its uranium-enrichment program during those two meetings, but it had to contend with Iran’s demand that the group recognize Iran’s “right” to produce enriched uranium. In return, Iran would be “willing to assert” that it is not seeking nuclear weapons and would promise to cooperate with international inspectors. How comforting.
Let’s be clear: Tehran has no right to produce enriched uranium under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory. Furthermore, it continues to ignore multiple resolutions of the U.N. Security Council to cease its enrichment program. To show its disdain for those sanctions, on May 28, Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereydoon Abbasi, stated that Iran not only will continue enriching uranium to 20 percent but also is planning to build two new reactors. On June 12, the deputy commander of the Iranian navy, Rear Adm. Abbas Zamini stated that Iran has entered an initial phase of building a nuclear submarine. While most likely that’s pure bluster, such a program would give Iran an excuse to enrich uranium to weapon-grade level.
A U.N. report stated on May 25 that Iran is expanding the capacity of its Fordow underground nuclear facility to increase production of a more purified form of enriched uranium. The U.N. inspector who visited the Fordow facility near Qom saw hundreds of newly installed centrifuges, boosting the capability of the facility. Also discovered were traces of a form of uranium that at 27 percent purity is closer to the kind needed to make nuclear weapons then previously acknowledged.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been investigating Iran’s nuclear program, has found that Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the design of a nuclear weapon, including the testing of components. The IAEA has assessed that all its analysis and information is “credible.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that Iran, in an attempt to checkmate any plans for a U.S. military strike on its nuclear infrastructure, signed an agreement with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Tehran on Oct. 19, 2010, that provides for the establishment of a jointly operated land-to-land missile base in Venezuela. Iran is training Venezuelan missile officers and has given permission for the missiles to be used in case of an “emergency.” According to reports, the agreement provides for the deployment of several Iranian missiles, including the Shahab-3 (range 800 to 900 miles). What’s happening in Venezuela today is a replay of what the Soviet Union was doing in Cuba in 1962.
These same types of Iranian missiles threaten not only our Middle Eastern regional allies but our European NATO allies as well. The Obama administration has taken action to provide a sea-based anti-ballistic capability to counter such an Iranian missile threat to our European NATO allies. Certainly, the administration should be equally concerned about protecting American lives and territory from an Iranian ballistic missile strike launched from Venezuela. Therefore, as a first order of business, we must plan to provide defensive coverage of our exposed Southern flank with an Aegis anti-ballistic missile system, which can be a combination of land- and sea-based systems. We also need to provide a protective shield for our critical electrical grids against a low-yield electromagnetic pulse air burst — low in kilotonnage but a massive emitter in gamma rays, which can disable the electric grid. Such a measure is necessary for our national command authority and our country to continue functioning. There is evidence that North Korea already may have successfully tested such a device with Iranian observers.
Iran has extensively penetrated Venezuelan economic, industrial, banking and petroleum industries. Venezuela has become one of the principal vehicles for Iran to work around U.N. sanctions. Furthermore, Venezuela has become the support base for Iranian infiltration throughout Latin and Central America. The Iranian proxy terrorist group Hezbollah has established bases throughout Venezuela, including Margarita Island, and Cuba.
For the record, this is the same proxy group that blew up our Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983, and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut the previous April. We have proof positive the orders for the Marine barracks bombing came from Iran.
The question of what we should do about Iran’s drive to achieve nuclear weapon capability soon becomes moot. The endgame cannot be some “peace in our time” agreement with the mullahs. We have more than sufficient justification to launch a devastating strike against Iran. The initial operation should take about three weeks. In conjunction with such a strike, we will need to plan to eliminate Iranian missile sites and other bases in Venezuela. Before the execution of any strike plan, we also should be providing funds and other support to the opposition forces in Iran so a new “Green Revolution” can rise successfully. The real endgame for Iran must be regime change.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.