Sunday, November 17, 2013

Should the US Make a Deal with Nuclear Iran?

   Articles on Iran tend to receive much less attention in the US than articles about Miley Cyrus's underwear.  But this could be one of the most important items for 2014.  

    On the one hand, US Intelligence Agencies still suffer from completely blowing the assessment of Iraq's supposed nuclear program in the 2003 time frame.  In actuality, Saddam had no facilities to actually design and construct nuclear weapons.  The Administration imagined that there might be some sort of secret laboratory with a criminal mastermind that would develop nuclear technology for weapons, much like Dr. No in James Bonds movies.  

Could a real life Dr. No have been making nuclear weapons for Saddam Hussein?  No.  

These paranoid delusions are now discredited, and the fundamentals of nuclear intelligence have been restored.  To make a nuclear bomb, a foreign country needs an entire organization to produce bomb-grade nuclear fuel; i.e., by operating high powered centrifuges running on uranium fluoride gas.  Alternatively they must have a special nuclear reactor suitable for producing plutonium.  They must also be prepared to test the nuclear weapons in special facilities with very thick radiation shielding.   Further, the military must have a delivery system, and they must train specific units on how to handle and operate the military system or systems.   It's not  just one scientist building  nuclear missiles in a secret laboratory.  

     Americans have grown weary of war with Afghanistan and Iraq, and further were disgusted with admonitions from the center-right and center-left that the US should intervene in Syria, Egypt, Libya and other places on behalf of this rebel group or that one.  

     On the other hand, the case of Iran is more dangerous.  Iran actually has centrifuges designed for producing bomb grade uranium.  We know exactly where they are located.  Israel is dead set against the Iranians having nuclear weapons, and if there is conclusive evidence that the Iranians are weaponizing, Israel will certainly destroy the centrifuges and any other facilities supporting such efforts.   The other countries, including the US, will complain and moan, but at the end of the day no one really wants Iran to have nuclear weapons.  Remember also that Iran is a mainly a Shiite country, and that most  Iranians are not Arabs at all.  So Sunni Arab nations are likely to oppose a nuclear powered Iran.  

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
Unlike the fantasies about Iraq, Iran definitely has centrifuges suitable for enriching uranium to make bomb grade material.  

IRGC Rejects Report on Maximum Range of Iranian Missiles
Iran also has the capability to deliver nuclear weapons should the need arise.

    My take is that Iran is playing a very dangerous but highly profitable game.  As a major oil producer (about 4 million barrels per day worth), they have a vested interest in maintaining high oil prices. Every time they act irresponsibly the world oil price tends to spike upwards.  Hence they have a pragmatic reason to act crazy.   It is a good strategy to antagonize and threaten the West as much as possible, thus raising the crude oil price.  The nuclear program tends to destabilize world peace and to result in higher oil prices.  It's hard to estimate how much the fear factor is worth, but my feeling is that fears of Iran are wroth at least several dollars per barrel, or upwards of a billion dollars per year.    

All that is well and good, but the danger is that the game could get out of control.  If Israel or the US become convinced that Iran intends to create nuclear weapons, then there will be some sort of military intervention.   Israel will likely reduce Iraq's nuclear weapons facilities to piles of ruble.  

By the same token, it is certainly possible that the Iranians might come to take themselves too seriously and they might well attempt to actually make nuclear weapons, and thus necessitate the military intervention that the rest of the world hopes to avoid.  
In summary, I tend to think that the Iranians are not quite as nutty as they appear, at least for the most part.  But they are playing a very dangerous game, and if it gets out of control there may well be a real need for military intervention.    This needs to be watched very closely. 


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