Hardly a day has gone by in the last month without new revelations, mostly from US intelligence sources, confirming that Iran has either reached or is within a hand's breadth of a nuclear weapon capability. Sunday, Nov. 6, Iran was reported to have carried out implosion experiments in a large steel container built as a testing capsule for this purpose at Parchin. Such experiments would be hard to explain away for any purpose other than the development of nuclear arms.
Monday, Nov. 7, a Russian nuclear expert Vyacheslav Danilenko was named as having taught the Iranians how to build the R265 generator used for the implosion in the Parchin experiment.
Since Danilenko was back home in Russia by 2005, Iran must be considered to have mastered the critical nuclear detonation technology as far back as six years ago.
It is critical because before a nuclear weapon can be used, a sphere of conventional explosives must be detonated to create a blast wave that compresses a central ball of nuclear fuel into an incredibly dense mass, triggering a nuclear chain reaction and explosion.
For six years, therefore, American and Israeli governments have kept their own people and the world ignorant of the true state of Iran's nuclear program. Indeed in 2007, under President George W. Bush, the American government, military and intelligence agencies published a deliberately misleading National Intelligence Estimate which concluded that in 2003, Tehran had suspended intense work on the design and production of a nuclear weapon.
The Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried protesting that the report was false, but when no one listened, he lined up behind Washington. He and his foreign minister at the time Tzipi Livni brushed off anxious queries by retorting that the Iranian nuclear menace was a matter for the international community to deal with, even though the high-wire diplomacy attempted at the time was getting exactly nowhere.
But both the US and Israeli knew the truth – that Iran was getting dangerously close to a nuclear capacity, had obtained nuclear explosives, detonators and the technology for triggering them, as well as building missiles.
Against this backdrop, the Stuxnet malworm made its first appearance in June 2010. The virus embarked on stealthy depredations of the uranium enrichment facility's control system in Natanz, in order to stall Iran's stockpiling of large quantities of weapons-grade fuel.
It worked for a year or two – no more. According to US sources, Iran has since managed to accumulate enough enriched uranium for four nuclear bombs.
That explains the comment appearing in the New York Times of Monday, Nov. 6, from a senior US official. He said the virus had run its course but some recently discovered computer worms suggested a new, improved Stuxnet 2.0 may be in the works. "There were a lot of mistakes made the first time," he said. "This was a first-generation product. Think of Edison's initial light bulbs or the Apple II."
Cyber war therefore briefly stalled Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb but never derailed it.
The covert assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists were similarly only temporary setbacks soon overcome.
The Iran report promised for Tuesday or Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will show plainly that sanctions, the clandestine assassinations of scientists, the Stuxnet virus and a host of covert operations to damage the equipment on its way to Iran, never diverted Tehran long from its ruthless march on a nuclear arsenal.
Two leaders, US President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, pledged solemnly when they assumed office never to let Iran achieve a nuclear arms capability.
On their watch, however, Iran has achieved that capability. As things stand today, it is now only a step away from a bomb, separated by little more than a political decision to take it.
Some experts say Iran still needs several months to produce its first weapon and a shorter period to produce each subsequent one.
Does this leave time to intervene?
No one knows what the US or Israeli leaders will decide to do, whether in concert or unilaterally, to rectify their grave lapse. Will they opt for living with a nuclear-armed Iran while downplaying the menace thereof or resort to a military offensive to extinguish it?
The forthcoming IAEA report will probably disperse some of the opaque mists blurring the Iranian nuclear reality and making possible the obfuscations of the past six years. It is expected to focus on Iran's efforts towards putting radioactive material in a warhead and developing missiles.
Once the facts are laid out on the table for all to see, it will be that much harder for interested parties to continue to spin the facts for political expedience.