(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/07/2012-02-15T152715Z_01_SIN405_RTRIDSP_3_IRAN-NUCLEAR-AHMADINEJAD.gif)Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced this week that Iran now has “11,000 centrifuges active in [uranium] enrichment facilities.”
That’s a thousand more than the 10,000 centrifuges that, according to a May 25 report by the International Atomic Energy (IAEA), Iran was operating just two months ago.
Never fear. Also this week, the P5+1 powers (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) held their second round of expert-level nuclear negotiations with Iran in Istanbul.
Actually that event got little coverage, reflecting an understandable boredom. But if these talks—already downgraded from the level of diplomats to that of technical experts—are now understood by all to be a transparent joke, they continue to be important: along with the sanctions imposed on Iran, they allow President Obama and other Western leaders to tell themselves, and others, that they’re doing something—rather than nothing—to stop Iran’s march toward the bomb.
And the sanctions? If the talks are a sham, aren’t the sanctions a bit more meaningful?
The answer is no, because they’re full of holes.
As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this month (full article reprinted here): “Though economic sanctions still haven’t slowed or stopped Iran’s nuclear drive, the Obama Administration has decided to make them even weaker…so weak, in fact, that all 20 of Iran’s major trading partners are now exempt from them.”
What that means is that once a country has “significantly reduced” oil imports from Iran, the State Department can—and generally does—exempt it from the sanctions regime. India, for example, merely pledged to cut its Iran imports by 11%—and can keep buying Iranian oil at will. Japan stopped 22% of its Iran purchases in 2011—and is now home-free to keep buying. The same holds true for Iran’s biggest customer, China, after Beijing cut 25% of its Iran imports.
“To be sure,” the Journal acknowledged,
Iran is feeling some pressure these days. The EU…has instituted a total embargo. South Korea has said it will zero out imports, too. All told,Iran’s exports have plunged 40% this year compared to last…. [T]his will cost Iran about $8 billion per quarter, or 10% of GDP. Throw in hyperinflation and stagnant growth, and Iran is suffering real economic pain.
But enough pain to stop the 30-year nuclear drive of a revolutionary regime built around a messianic cult of martyrdom? A regime with foreign currency reserves between $60 billion and $100 billion, and which would net more than $40 billion in oil revenue even with a 40% drop in sales?
Such questions, of course, answer themselves. Neither President Obama nor any other Western leader—no matter how much they keep insisting that talks and sanctions will ultimately work—claims that they’ve made a dent in Iran’s nuclear program so far, and the reason is that there wouldn’t be an iota of truth to it.
Not surprisingly, then, Iran shows no sign of being deterred by the West and indeed is openly contemptuous of its efforts. In addition to Ahmadinejad’s boasts about ongoing centrifuge production, Iran has publicized a plan to build nuclear-fueled submarines.
Olli Heinonnen, former deputy director-general of the IAEA and now at Harvard’s Belfer Center, notes that a bill to that effect has already been approved by Iran’s Majlis (parliament) and is set to be debated in the coming days. As Heinonnen explains, building even a single, small nuclear sub would require Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for six nuclear bombs—the more notable considering that Iran has already produced about enough enriched uranium for five.
“An Iranian move in the direction of upping the ante with nuclear powered vessels,” says Heinonnen, “is both dangerous and needless.”
Needless, that is, unless one is driven by the jihadist and supremacist values that have propelled the Iranian Revolution since 1979.
Israel, the country at the brunt of Iran’s terror and genocidal threats, has no choice but to be realistic about the state of affairs.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a military graduating class this week that diplomatic talks and economic sanctions “are not enough to stop Iran’s nuclear program.” He also said:
We may be required to make difficult decisions concerning the national security of Israel and ensuring its future…. I am well aware of and know the difficulties and complexities involved in thwarting Iran’s achievement of nuclear weapons. However, I know beyond a doubt that dealing with the challenge itself would be infinitely more complex, infinitely more dangerous and far more expensive in terms of both human lives as well as resources.
Indeed, this week Israeli media were rife with claims and speculations that Israel is aiming to “thwart” Iran’s nuclear program by the fall. Such claims have already been made, and weren’t fulfilled. On the other hand, Iran keeps pushing forward while hopes that Obama and other Western leaders were serious about the problem are fading fast.
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