Could this finally be the smoking gun? In the United Kingdom, The Times has revealed that it is in possession of an Iranian document discussing plans to construct and secretly test a “neutron trigger.” If the document is legitimate (there has been no official word yet confirming that, but it’s certainly being taken seriously) then Iran would finally be out of excuses. Their intention to build a nuclear weapon would be obvious to the whole world.
The Iranians, as it is now well known, have long denied that their nuclear program is for military purposes, improbably claiming that their petroleum-rich country desires a nuclear program to generate electricity. If the document obtained by The Times is to be believed, that will no longer be possible to claim. Neutron triggers, in this case the rare material uranium deuteride, serve only one possible function — triggering atomic explosions. They have no peaceful purposes, no other possible application. They are a key component of a nuclear bomb, and if Iran is developing a trigger, their intention is clear as can be.
The Iranian claims of peaceful intent have been straining credibility for some time, but the revelation earlier this year that they constructed a uranium processing facility under a mountain should have been enough to wake up the world to the threat posed by Tehran’s theocratic regime. If the purpose of their nuclear program is peaceful, as they’d have us all believe, then there is no reason that it could not have been open to international inspection, with the facilities constructed in plain view.
The only possible reason to go through the time and expense of building a facility under a mountain is to maximize its resilience to a possible air strike. And yet the Iranian regime still claimed innocence. Now that it has been credibly suggested that they are building a trigger for an atomic bomb, the regime is sticking to the same strategy of obfuscation — denials mixed with anti-Western rhetoric.
Their denials might work on some; there is no shortage of people around the world disinclined to believe anything the West says. But Iranian can hardly claim that as a victory: Even if millions of people around the world believe that the theocracy is innocent of the charges leveled against it by the West, proof that Iran is building a neutron trigger will have a powerful psychological impact on Western decision-makers.
This is especially true because the documents are believed to have originated in 2007, four years after a Bush administration National Intelligence Estimate claimed that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” That NIE was a major setback to those calling for a hard-line to be taken against Iran’s program. If it can be proven that Iran was working on a neutron trigger four years after it was supposed to have suspended its weapons development, not only will it be yet another black eye for the American intelligence community, it will also be a crippling blow to those eager to downplay the risks posed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambition.
Whether or not it will result in any firm action is less clear. The brutal nature of the Iranian regime is well known, and their desire to destroy Israel, a liberal-democratic beacon of decency in an otherwise forsaken part of the world, is quite literally a matter of public record. Even so, many in the West — unfortunately including President Barack Obama — have chosen to act like Iran was a naughty child in need of a firm, but kindly, form of diplomatic discipline. Only the Israelis, whose history has taught them to take seriously threats of genocide, have consistently been willing to deal with Iran rationally.
The Iranians have deftly exploited Western naivety and bumbling diplomacy. Iran has repeatedly accepted a deal, trumpeted it to the world, and then reneged at the last minute, buying time for its scientists to complete a nuclear bomb. There are signs, however, that the international community is finally tiring of this transparent scheme, and if the Iranians are indeed developing an atomic trigger as the document suggests, not only will the anti-Tehran forces in the West be strengthen, they’ll also have a diplomatic advantage.
This is because the document, dated to 2007, lay out a four-year plan to develop the trigger. That leaves two years, at the very most, before Iran would have the technical capacity to complete a nuclear weapon. (It would also need enough enriched uranium to build one, but whether or not they would have enough within two years is unknown, and perhaps at present unknowable.) One would hope that a sense of urgency would help focus the minds of the Western diplomats who have thus far proven so ineffective at reining in Iran.
President Obama seems to have marginally hardened his tone on Iran, warning that if it cannot show concrete signs that it is cooperating with the international community by the end of the year, it would face consequences. Defense Secretary Robert Gates seems to agree, having recently spoken of more stringent sanctions than Iran has yet had to deal with. Those calling for tough action will have their causes boosted if the document is proven credible. To be blunt, it would leave the left with no possible excuse to not take action.
But as must always be remembered, the most dramatic steps to be taken are not those being considered in the halls of foreign ministries all over the Western world. While diplomats from America and Europe debate how best to cope with Tehran and whether or not this document is valid, Israeli generals and defense experts are quietly waiting, wondering if the world will come to their rescue, knowing that each passing day makes a final, devastating confrontation more necessary. Those calling for diplomacy with the obviously untrustworthy Iranian regime are doing the cause of peace no favors.
For Israel, the clock is ticking. And this document can only make it tick louder.