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No Good Way to Stop a Nuclear Iran By: Jamie Weinstein
North Star Writers Group | Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"The Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies blocked a Bush Administration plan to deliver sharp new warnings this week about Syria's efforts to develop unconventional weapons," a July 18, 2003 New York Times article began. It continued by noting that the "CIA and other agencies raised strong objections to testimony" that former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, was planning to deliver to Congress that week.

The controversial testimony that Bolton was scheduled to deliver in the summer of 2003 dealt with the scope of Syria's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. According to the aforementioned New York Times article, Bolton believed Syria's WMD programs were extensive and even went so far to suggest that American officials should be "looking at Syria's nuclear program with growing concern." The CIA apparently didn't feel that such an assessment was justified.

Other than this 2003 article mentioning Syria's nuclear program, one doesn't find much else on the subject in the New York Times until September 2007 when Israel launched a covert mission that destroyed a building in Syria. While the operation was veiled in secrecy, reports slowly began trickling out that Israel believed it had destroyed a nuclear reactor constructed with the help of North Korea.

Last week, evidence was finally presented by the Bush Administration to help confirm these reports. It now appears that Syria's clandestine nuclear weapons program was far more advanced than our intelligence community assessed it to be. CIA director Michael Hayden now says that "in the course of a year after [the Syrians] got full up they could have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons."

It seems that Mr. Bolton was right after all.

The fact of the matter is that intelligence is a precarious business. It depends on uncertain premises. As a result, sometimes our intelligence agencies get things wrong. In the case of Iraq in 2003, we discovered they overestimated Saddam's capabilities. With regards to many other countries, they have underestimated their advancement.

After pushing Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991, for instance, our intelligence community discovered that Iraq was likely within two years of developing a nuclear weapon. Similarly, after Libyan dictator Mohmmar Khadafy voluntarily gave up his WMD programs in 2003, American officials discovered that his WMD programs were also more advanced then they previously believed. And now we have the case of Syria, which was fast on its way to becoming a nuclear power while the CIA was trying to stop John Bolton from making such a radical assessment. 

This, of course, brings us to the elephant in the room: Iran. As scary as it would have been to wake up one morning and discover that the terrorist safe haven of Syria was a nuclear power, the prospect having a nuclear-capable Iran is far worse. Syria is, at least in theory, deterrable. While Syrian dictator Bashar Assad cooperates with Islamists, he himself is a secularist and would presumably harbor some qualms about risking the destruction of his country by using a nuclear weapon. Iran, conversely, is run by religious fanatics, many of whom seem hell-bent on bringing about an Armageddon no matter the consequences to their country. 

If we do not develop a clear and effective policy to stop Iran's nuclear program now, then we are going to wake up and find out that Iran is not 10 years away from a nuclear bomb – nor five years away nor two years away – but one day away yesterday. And when that day comes America and the world will be shocked into a new reality. It won't matter that Iran lacks a vibrant economy and a massive military. What they will have is Hezbollah, a terrorist organization which many consider the most highly trained and best organized of any in the world. It will have missiles capable of hitting Israel and parts of Europe. And, most importantly, it will have a religious ideology that very well may make it undeterrable.

Some think that the Islamic Republic is more rational and wouldn't risk the obliteration of their own country by using a nuclear weapon against Israel or the West. Or, at the very least, they argue that there are some in Iran's regime who are more pragmatic. Well, maybe there are a few reasonable figures, but we can't be too sure. How much confidence do you have in such rationalizations?

Creating effective policy with regard to Iran is easier said than done. The problem America faces is that there are virtually no good options in dealing with the religious theocracy. Our military is already overextended fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the military says it could launch an air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities, such a task is harder than it sounds. Key installations are supposedly hidden in underground bunkers throughout the country.

Even if such an attack could be carried out successfully, the consequences could be serious. Iran might launch missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq, direct their operatives to further destabilize Iraq or unleash Hezbollah to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide – not to mention the economic cost we would pay in terms of skyrocketing oil prices. 

Still, America and the West are not impotent. Our best hope probably lies in covert action to halt Iranian nuclear advancement. Hopefully, such action is ongoing. If we fail to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the world will become a far more dangerous place. As time goes by, our options for action only become worse.

Jamie Weinstein is a syndicated columnist with North Star Writers Group.

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