Tehran has finally met international demands and "leveled" on its forbidden uranium enrichment process – but only as a calculated provocation.
Sunday, Jan. 24, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admitted that Iran was now able to enrich uranium up to 20% grade. He was clearly crowing, telling President Barack Obama and the six powers – who engaged Iran in five months of fruitless negotiations to halt its drive for a nuclear weapon – that the Islamic Republic had trumped their card. He had also outmaneuvered his opponents at home.
A retrospective look at seven years of Iran's nuclear development shows that the nuclear diplomatic strategy pursued by spiritual ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has paid off. Its built-in assumptions were that America is a paper tiger and would never dare confront Iran militarily or even diplomatically, and that Israel, reined in by the US, would never venture to attack Iran's nuclear facilities on its own.
Since his election as first-term president in 2005, Ahmadinejad has spiced this strategy with added zest, pugnacity and brass, which is why Khamenei was so keen on him winning a second term in the June 2009 election by hook or by crook. Together with the Revolutionary Guards, he has backed the president through thick and thin ever since.
(Details about the internal opposition to his tactics in next article).
For Iranians involved in the nuclear program, the cocky president is an icon. They credit his tenacity and bravado in the face of international and domestic opposition for bringing the program to the point where Tehran can build a nuclear weapon at any time it chooses. Had Ahmadinejad not persevered in walking on the edge and braving all odds, they say, Iran's uranium enrichment processing, missile projects and nuclear infrastructure would still be in their infancy.
Effrontery is the name of the game
Effrontery continued to be the name of the game when Ahmadinejad beamingly informed Iranian journalists Sunday: "We will soon give good news on Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium." The news about Iran's "scientific progress" will mark Iran's celebrations of the Islamic Revolution victory from February 1-11.
He knows that he has not only saved Iran from having to give up uranium enrichment but also trumped the Six-Power proposal to export low-grade enriched uranium for reprocessing overseas. By dragging out its reply to this proposal, Tehran has won precious time for raising it own enrichment process to a level a bare weeks short of 90 percent military grade.
Iran already has the technology for weaponizing nuclear materials; it has experimented with nuclear triggers and in February 2010 will have reached the point where it is able construct a nuclear weapon and test it, should it so decide. All this has been achieved under the noses of the policy-makers and intelligence analysts who doggedly insist that Iran's military nuclearization is three years, some say, five years, in the future.
The estimate which DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources have stuck to since September 2008, that Iran will be capable of constructing a nuclear weapon by February 2010, has withstood the passage of time most of all.
This accuracy was not reached by pure analysis but by using the compass of Iranian president's own scheduling data, which proved to be the single constant factor guiding Iran's nuclear program.
Israel must decide on military action by May at a stretch
As this program advanced, governments in the US and other Western countries changed and bureaucracies continually adjusted their estimates to policy requirements. Those policies were built around the impression that there was plenty of time for decision-making and maneuvers between Washington and Jerusalem to prevent Israel resorting to military action against Iran's nuclear momentum.
During those years, Tehran never swerved from its two-track march along the enriched uranium and plutonium paths towards a nuclear weapon.
Tehran has arrived at its goal leaving the US in the dust.
President Obama's engagement strategy has failed together with its tactics for preventing an Israeli strike against Iran. DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources estimate that Ahmadinejad's announcement has brought an Israeli decision forward by a whole year. Instead of the end of 2011, the Netanyahu government must decide by May 2010 whether or not to take up its military option for destroying or crippling Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities. The schedule is tight indeed because it means that any attack must take place by early summer of this year – or not at all.
Since Tehran is fully conscious of this timeline and has made its preparations accordingly, the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions are in for a hectic period.