Expert: Iranian Nuclear Details “A Virtual Smoking Gun”

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The recent report on Iran’s nuclear program from the United Nations nuclear watchdog has escalated concerns about Iran’s work towards nuclear weapons, with one expert telling The Mideast Update that its time for the world to act as though there’s no more time to waste. Dr. Emily Landau, senior research fellow at The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel, said that even without the latest study, there are suspicious nuclear activities that hint strongly toward plans to develop nuclear weapons.

Among those include the amount of Iran’s 20% nuclear fuel enrichment—which even if it isn’t yet to military-grade is still an unreasonable amount for a civilian program—and a military-size nuclear facility still being developed that is too small for sensible civilian use.

“If you add up all of these different factors—plus Iran’s missile program, etc. etc.—you get a picture that there is a tremendously high probability that Iran is moving in that direction [of nuclear weapons],” said Landau, who is also the director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at INSS. “I would say there’s a virtual smoking gun that Iran is striving towards a nuclear weapon.”

As for the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), The New York Times said it notes that Iran has worked on the explosives that can be used in a nuclear bomb, although it does not say that Iran mastered all the steps needed for a weapon or that they have developed one.

In addition to the report, the IAEA’s public comments on Iran have been almost as troubling.  Agency Director General Yukiya Amano told the international community in comments released on the IAEA website that the information obtained by the watchdog “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Furthermore, Amano was quoted as saying that the information also “indicates that, prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some activities may still be ongoing.”

The 2003 date is significant because a 2007 United States intelligence estimate said Iran halted their weapons program in that year, and Landau said the suspicions that Iran did work past that date are “strong.” Regardless, Landau points out that whether or not Iran continued the program past ’03, their official commitments and statements can’t be trusted.

“This would mean that the current regime in Iran has been lying and cheating and deceiving the international community for years, and that in itself is a very severe message,” said Landau. “I think everyone in the international community needs to ask themselves—even if it was only up until 2003, what does that mean as far as the ability of the international community to have confidence that Iran has actually stopped that work and has not reinitiated that work?”

The highly publicized recent report, which The New York Times said was the IAEA’s strongest and most extensive one yet to be publicized, used information already reported on Iran’s program, according to Landau.

“There wasn’t that much in the way of new data,” said Landau. “But what was important, first of all, is the fact that the IAEA say that they checked and validated all of the information that they had in their report, and that it was the IAEA itself that was putting out this report. The IAEA is probably the most objective entity that is dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.”

She said some of the most troubling aspects of the report are research and simulations done by Iran that can be used for nuclear weapons. This includes work Iran is believed to have done with the help of a Russian scientist that can be directed towards nuclear explosions, but can technically also be used for civilian nano-diamonds work. “That’s something that the Iranians have to give a different explanation for, if they have it,” said Landau.

Time to Act

In view of the report, Landau said the international community can no longer act as though there’s still time to waste. “I don’t think there’s anything more that experts can add at this point,” said Landau.

It looks as though the Israelis seem to have taken the threat to heart. Following the publication of the IAEA report, a statement released on the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office website said it “corroborates the position of the international community, and of Israel, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

“The significance of the report is that the international community must bring about the cessation of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons which endanger the peace of the world and of the Middle East.”

Numerous reports regarding possible Israeli preparations for a military strike on Iran have merged in the last month. Time Magazine also said a “Western intelligence source” claimed the Israeli Mossad was behind a recent mysterious explosion in Iran that killed an important member of the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).

Landau said that sabotage is worth trying as a tool for delaying the Iranian program, but that the international community has to do more than just delay it. “So you’ve gained more time, what are you going to do with that time?” asked Landau. “Because if all you do with time is waste more time, then you’re just pushing back the deadline, which I’m not saying is a bad thing, but that’s not dealing with the problem.”

Pressuring Iran via the UN Security Council has reportedly been hampered by veto-wielding China and Russia, which have other links to Iran. The position of Iran in the Middle East oil supply also has implications for the global economy.

“The permanent members of the Security Council have to make a decision whether they are more concerned about what’s going on in Iran or their economic interests,” said Landau. “It basically boils down to that… At the end of the day dealing with nuclear proliferation is up to the strong states that have taken it upon themselves to deal with these nuclear proliferators.”

She said there are only so many ways the international community can convince the Iranians to back down: economic pressure or threats of military force. “If you want to get Iran to negotiate—for example—seriously about the nuclear issue, Iran needs to feel pressure,” said Landau.

That doesn’t mean she’s officially calling for military action, but just that the world needs to take every step necessary to prevent Iran from moving forward: including “harsher sanctions” and “credible threats of consequences.”

Said Landau, “I’m not talking about upgrading necessarily to military action, but Iran has to know that the threat of military action is out there, Iran needs to know that there will be real consequences: That’s the role of military action within the overall dynamic.”

She said every bit of evidence can always be dismissed by nations who don’t want to believe it, noting we may never know when the situation is on the verge of demanding dramatic action or else Iran can get the bomb.

“I don’t know if we’re ever going to know exactly where that point is… Or I could say it in different terms: We’re probably at that point right now. If Iran is moving in that direction, if they’re motivated to get there, then all efforts to stop Iran need to be taken now.

“…All those that do not want Iran to be a nuclear state should be doing whatever they can right now to stop it and not wait for some unambiguous warning sign that will tell them that they are the last moment. We might be at the last moment right now.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, November 21, 2011)