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Iran
Tehran’s nuke program aiming for a November test?
2003-10-14
Excerpted from Michael Ledeen’s latest column for National Review Online, dealing with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi.

Meanwhile, back in Foggy Bottom, the State Department continues to try to arrange some kind of modus vivendi with the mullahs. The latest back-channel negotiations have revolved around Iran’s nuclear program, both because there is serious concern in Washington and because it would be very difficult for Secretary Powell to sell the American people on a rapprochement with Iran if Tehran were known to have developed nuclear weapons (remember that Rafsanjani declared, in December, 2001, that if Iran had an atomic bomb it would be used against Israel).
I’m not so sure that Secretary Powell is personally in favor of a rapproachment with Tehran--remember, it’s his job to be the "dove," just as it’s Rummy’s job to be the "hawk"--but Ledeen is probably right about the feelings of some State department underlings. ’Scuse the interruption.
So, in addition to the formal talks between the International Atomic Energy Agency and the mullahs, the State Department dispatched a former Middle East correspondent of a leading American newspaper to talk to the Iranians. Today he will report near-total failure.
I doubt that anyone’s surprise meter twitched.
The Iranians bluntly told him that the uranium-enrichment program will continue, that the United States is surrounded by enemies in Iraq, and if Washington increases the pressure on Iran there will be terrible consequences.

Some of this is bluster, but for the most part it is an honest statement of Iran’s intentions. As reported here some weeks ago, the Iranians believe they now have all the necessary components for a nuclear bomb. The only question is how long it will take them to assemble and test it. Khamenei had hoped to be able to test an atomic bomb by the third week in October, but his scientific advisers recently told him they could not make that deadline. They are now aiming for November 4 or 5, the anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran during the revolution.

Are they really this close? I’ve not seen this reported anywhere else; on the other hand, Michael Ledeen is really well plugged-in to what’s going on in Iran.

There is another November date our leaders should take seriously: the 25th, the anniversary of the disappearance of the twelfth imam, and thus the most significant date in the Shiite calendar. Reports from Tehran suggest that the mullahs would like to celebrate that anniversary with a big-time terrorist attack against America.

Faster, please.

What he said.
Posted by:Mike

#18  Well, if the black turbans do attack Israel, they're not as rational as I assumed above and our problems go away instantly.

But Alaska Paul is correct that their consistently belligerent behavior, including harboring Al Queda and not pretending real hard to comply with the nuclear monitoring regime, indicate that their intel makes them confident that they can run us out of Iraq. What scares me is that their intel in Iraq is probably pretty good.

As this thread has shows, they are probably not crazy, bluffing or desperate, which are the only other plausible explanations for their seemingly confident behavior in the face of a US presence in the Gulf and 2 neighboring countries.
Posted by: JAB   2003-10-14 11:14:28 PM  

#17  There would be no concern whatever for "civilian casualties

Actually there would be concern... the idea would be to maximize them.
Posted by: Shipman   2003-10-14 10:15:53 PM  

#16  The Iranian Black Turbans have threatened to attack Israel with their Shahab-3 missles. To do this means they are nuts and
1) Full of BS
2) Not or partially full of BS.

If No. 1, then we keep going and plan for 2.

If No. 2, then we better have a plan. The Iranians are serious about destabilizing Iraq and discrediting the US. Their actions in Iraq and their treatment or rather harboring of Al Qeda personnel show their attitude and intentions. They know that we are spread thin in Iraq. Now is the opportunity to strike at what they perceive as weakness. They need an ass kicking.

If Iran acquires nuclear capability, it is a death warrant for her people. If this nuclear situation is not dealt with soon, it will run away and the nightmarish scenarios envisioned in postings above will be very real. Folks, the stakes are as high as it gets in this WoT. The only thing worse would be an asteroid hit.
Posted by: Alaska Paul   2003-10-14 10:10:25 PM  

#15  They would be stupid to run the test - so they will run the test.

A test should only be answered with a convensional response. Whack all the site swe know about with tomahawks.

They will obviously expect this and will have moved some of the equipment before the test.

From there we'll play it by ear, but expect something totally nonsensical - like what you would expect from Sadaam.
Posted by: Super Hose   2003-10-14 9:25:27 PM  

#14  Agree that my worst case scenario is extremely unlikely. I was just trying to think this situation through a few more moves, assuming Ledeen is right on his facts and that the mullah's are reasonably shrewd, rational players. It troubles me that they would feel confident to test at this time. To me this most likely indicates that they are very confident they can run us out of Iraq in short order.
Posted by: JAB   2003-10-14 7:42:54 PM  

#13  American political opinion would nearly instanteously turn in favor of making an example of the Iranian leadership (although we'd once again attempt to do it without direct (deliberate) attacks on civilian targets).
IMO, such a detonation would lead to the American public demanding that Iran be made an example. There would be no concern whatever for "civilian casualties" or world opinion, and any politician who tried to temporize would be swept aside. For Iran, the best-case scenario would be a 24-hour ultimatum to hang all of the mullahs and then surrender, or face annihilation. Their worst case: Annihilation first, then the ultimatum.
Posted by: Old Grouch   2003-10-14 7:02:14 PM  

#12  An even worse scenario involves them going for a final showdown with the Great Satan by testing a nuke and then claiming to have smuggled a nuke into the US or an allied country. But such a move is ultimately suicidal.

Absolutely -- it'd be an act of war that would literally require that we attack them immediatly, with whatever assets we had available.

Further, if they carried out their threat to set off a nuke in one of our cities, American political opinion would nearly instanteously turn in favor of making an example of the Iranian leadership (although we'd once again attempt to do it without direct (deliberate) attacks on civilian targets).
Posted by: snellenr   2003-10-14 6:14:59 PM  

#11  Steve: (snipping detailed answer of another, related question :-) )

We can't drop a fusion bomb on them -- it wouldn't be deniable.

Removing the deuterium/lithium/etc from an existing device would be simple (a forced "fizzle", as it were) and at least somewhat deniable. We'd probably have difficulty with a detailed analysis by the Iranian equivalent of our NEST teams, presuming that (a) they exist and (b) they're anything like the ones in Clancy's novel.
Posted by: snellenr   2003-10-14 6:09:51 PM  

#10  So how 'bout we get ready and nuke the nuke?

That would be so cool and would really send a message.

And it would be darn difficult for anyone to raise much of an objection.

I would so love to see that.
Posted by: Michael   2003-10-14 5:33:07 PM  

#9  Foggy Bottom is the part of DC where the main State Dept building sits. It is at a relatively low point where fog can collect.

I often find Ledeen unrealistic about the prospects for the Iranian opposition and alarmist about the capabilities of the Iranian regime, but the fact that he reports the mullah's as behaving confidently is disturbing. I have always thought the Iranian mullah's to be calculating adversary that would not move prematurely.

If I were them, I'd delay testing, but work hard on the delivery system so as to minimize the interval between test and deliverable weapon. I would also feign cooperation with the UN so as to buy time for my weapons program and increase its support for hastening a US withdrawal from Iraq. I would calibrate my interference in Iraq so that the US would be frustrated enough to withdraw prematurely but that the incompetent UN administrators and/or weak Iraqi government could still plausibly take over. Then I'd test my nuke as part of a move to reassert power in the region. A weaponized nuke would enable me to limit the return of US forces to the region. A realistic estimate of the optimal timeframe would be 15-24 months.

If they test now, the mullahs force us into a more confrontational posture at what appears to be a suboptimal time. This indicates that the mullahs must be confident that they can drive us out of Iraq and that the world will not support harsh measures, like a blockade, in response to a test. Of course, it could also mean that they are truly desperate to cling to power, but there is no evidence that they have much to fear from a bunch of spoiled university students and a pacifist lawyer.

An even worse scenario involves them going for a final showdown with the Great Satan by testing a nuke and then claiming to have smuggled a nuke into the US or an allied country. But such a move is ultimately suicidal.

These mullahs come from the part of the world that invented chess. Unlike Osama and his ilk, I'd expect them to think several moves ahead. If they test a nuke, we need to make sure we understand what other capabilities they possess.
Posted by: JAB   2003-10-14 4:31:48 PM  

#8  "where did the term Foggy Bottom come from"

It's the old name for the neighborhood in D.C. where the State Department now is located.

The area originally housed workers from such nearby industries as Godey's lime kilns, the Washington Gas and Light Company, the glass works, the Abner/Drury and Christian Heurich breweries, and Cranford's Paving Company. The population of Foggy Bottom came to consist primarily of poor immigrants who lived close to work. These people were mostly of German and Irish extraction. Foggy Bottom was described in those days as being low and swampy with fogs settling in over the river banks and mixing with smog from the gas works. Today, the development of a parkway along the Potomac, the trend toward restoration and preservation of neighborhood areas, the proximity to memorials, the Department of State and such high-rise buildings as the Watergate have lent Foggy Bottom a special place in the city. However, the late 19th-century working class neighborhood is still discernable from its immediate surroundings. Foggy Bottom serves as a visual reminder of Washington's little known industrial heritage.
Posted by: Steve   2003-10-14 4:27:50 PM  

#7  "What is the approximate yield of a fission core from a U.S. nuclear device"

The B61 series is a variable yield device, 0.3 up to around 350KT in four steps. The B61-11 penetrator is a fixed yield weapon, size unknown. The biggest is the B83 "dial-a-yield" H-bomb, up to one megaton.

"Can the F-117 deliver one?"

F-117/B1 are strictly a conventional weapons platforms, the B52 and B2 carry the nukes. B2 can carry up to 16 B61 series weapons.
Posted by: Steve   2003-10-14 4:21:27 PM  

#6  Yank - good question - and not even Cecil Adams has the answer, which means no one has asked him this question, yet. You can do it here:
http://www.straightdope.com/

They always come back with the research and results. Give 'em a shot!
Posted by: .com   2003-10-14 4:08:06 PM  

#5  Questions I keep coming up with related to this (as well as NK) are "What is the approximate yield of a fission core from a U.S. nuclear device" and "Can the F-117 deliver one?" It just strikes me that the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapon testing programs run the risk of an tragic accident...
Posted by: snellenr   2003-10-14 3:47:01 PM  

#4  Slightly off topic but where did the term Foggy Bottom come from. I know it means the US State Department but beyond that...
Posted by: Yank   2003-10-14 3:39:39 PM  

#3  Well, having a atomic device suitable for testing (showing off, really) is a lot different from having a deliverable weapon. The science was worked out by the Manhatten Project, it's getting your hands on enough weapons grade enriched uranium. I think it was six kilograms, and you can do a simple gun type bomb. This would get the neighbors attention, and that wouldn't be a good thing for them. They may be opperating on the "once we have a bomb, the US will think twice" theory.
Posted by: Steve   2003-10-14 3:29:14 PM  

#2  Ahem. Well I'd say congratulations are in order. The Black Hats have certainly supplied a casus belli obvious even to a Foggy Bottom Lifer. [golf clap] In honor of their relentless efforts, it is only fair that we come up with an appropriate reward. I'd say it ranges from an Osiraq-style surgical strike to a fullscale decapitation campaign for the Black Hats, Revolutionary Guard, and that gaggle of turbans on the Revolutionary Council. For this latter option, let's not forget that party invitations to the Iranian public should go out in a timely manner.
Posted by: .com   2003-10-14 2:12:02 PM  

#1  Mentioning the words "Khamenei" and "atomic bomb" is the same sentence can't be a good thing. Time to reposition our air power and gear it up for a strike.
Posted by: Bomb-a-rama   2003-10-14 1:58:42 PM  

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