Former Iranian presidentAli Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani announced on Tuesday that Iran hadsuccessfully enriched uranium at a heavily-fortified buried facilityin Natanz, southwest of Tehran, raising the specter that the U.S. andits allies would take pre-emptive military action against Iran.
Long considered a"moderate" by many in the West, Rafsanjani has been a key figure inIran's secret nuclear weapons program since 1985, when he sponsored aseries of conferences to entice exiled nuclear scientists to returnto Iran.
By announcing the successof Iran's uranium enrichment program, Rafsanjani upstaged the currentpresident, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who made a similar announcement onWednesday in the northeastern city of Mashad, borderingAfghanistan.
Rafsanjani beat Ahmadinejadto the punch by almost twenty-four hours in an interview with theKuwait News Agency. The two men have been archrivals sinceAhmadinejad bested Rafsanjani in a stage-managed election lastJune.
If nothing else,Rafsanjani's involvement should remind us in the West that for allthe factional fighting in Tehran, this regime stands united in itsdetermination to develop nuclear weapons and is willing to pay a highcost to achieve nuclear capability.
The enrichment news camebarely one week after the United Nations Security Council demandedthat Iran cease all uranium enrichment activities by April 28. IAEASecretary General Mohammad ElBaradei is in Tehran today to report onIran's "compliance" with United Nations Security Council demand.
The Iranians have alreadyannounced how they intend to comply: by quickly installing up to3,000 centrifuges at the enrichment plant at Natanz by the end ofthis year, in a bid to achieve "industrial" capability. That samecapability would also allow them to make weapons.
Secretary of StateCondoleezza Rice responded Wednesday: "the world does not believethat Iran should have the capability and the technology that couldlead to a nuclear weapon." White House spokesman Scott McClellan saidIran's latest steps showed "It is time for action."
In Vienna, IAEA officialshave been telling reporters that they don't have much hope thatElBaradei will succeed in Tehran. One of their latest discoveries ofIran's perfidy came when an IAEA team traveled to Pakistan recently,where they debriefed black market nuclear impresario, Dr. A.Q.Khan.
Dr. Khan reportedly provided the United Nations gumshoes newinformation about the equipment and blueprints he sold the Iraniansstarting in the late 1980s that directly contradicted Iran'sdeclarations to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Dr. Khan's information convinced the IAEA analysts that Iran has beenoperating a clandestine uranium enrichment plant, possibly for manyyears, and that Iran has been lying all along. Shocking!
I warned in Countdown to Crisis that such a plant, built toDr. Khan's specifications, would have given Iran the capability ofproducing enough nuclear weapons material for between twenty totwenty-five bombs by the time the stepped-up IAEA inspections ofIran's nuclear facilities began in February 2003.
Israel and the UnitedStates have long considered successful enrichment by Iran to be a"red line" they would not allow Iran to cross.
Now that Iran has publiclyacknowledged it has crossed that line, it appears almost to betaunting the United States or Israel to respond militarily.
One of Ayatollah Khomeini'sbest-remembered one-liners during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis was,"American can do nothing."
As a candidate for president last year, Khomeini disciple MahmoudAhmadinejad took to repeating the ayatollah's famous line. Inannouncing that Iran had joined the "nuclear club" on Wednesday, heused a variation on the same theme.
In a lead editorial onWednesday, the New York Times called potential air strikes on Iran"military fantasies" and "reckless folly." The nervous nellies at theaugust Old Lady squawked that Iran's rush to develop nuclear weapons"shows just how badly things can go wrong when an administrationrashly embraces simple military solutions to complicatedproblems."
The Times uncritically adopted rumors spread by leftwing websites andby anti-Bush author Seymour Hersh that the administration is planninga nuclear strike on Iran, and worked itself into a self-righteousfritz that the White House was once again "shutting its ears tomilitary and intelligence professions who turn out to be tragicallyprescient."
But the U.S. has no need of using nuclear weapons should it becomenecessary to use force to cripple Iran's nuclear weapons program,says Lt. Gen. (ret.) Thomas McInerney, now a FoxNews militaryanalyst.
U.S. airpower alone, armedwith conventional bunker-buster bombs, would be more than enough towipe out the Iran's nuclear and missile facilities and to cripple itsability to command and control its military forces, he told theIntelligence Summit in Washington, DC last month.
General McInerney believesthat U.S. air power is so massive, precise, and stealthy, it caneffectively disarm Iran without putting a single boot on theground.
He calls his regime-bustingscenario, "Big George."
In General McInerny's war plan, B2 stealth bombers based in theUnited States and F117s based in the region would carry out theinitial waves of the attack, crippling Iran's long-range radar andstrategic air defenses.
Massive, additional waves of carrier-based F-18s, as well as F-15sand F-16s launching from ground bases in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, theUnited Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, and Bahrain, would take out Iran'sknown nuclear and missile sites.
"Big George" would also target command and control facilities - Revolutionary Guards command centers, key clerics, and otherregime-sensitive sites - in the hope of triggering a revolt againstthe clerical regime by opposition groups inside Iran.
McInerney believes Big George would take just two days and would setback Iran's nuclear weapons program by at least five years, whileopening the regime to overthrow.
If the president decided to focus solely on Iran's nuclear andmissile sites, he proposed a Plan B version he called "Big Rummy."That would take just one night, General McInerny said.
The New York Times furtherfretted that U.S. air strikes would "surely rally the Iranian peoplebehind the radical Islamic government and the nuclear programs."
While this is a legitimatefear, we have no reliable gauge on which to measure Iranian publicopinion. The regime banned opinion polls two years ago, when aregime-sponsored survey found that 72%of Iranians polled favoredcloser relations with the United States. (The regime reactedpredictably, by jailing the pollster, who now has only bad things tosay about the United States).
I'll take this gauge,offered by an Iranian mother who defied the mullahs' police state tophone-in to the exile Radio Sedaye Iran in Los Angeles.
The Iranian regime wastrying to jinn up a war-like atmosphere, she said, because they knowif there is an actual war, people won't support them and won't jointhem like they did during 1980-1988 war with Iraq.
"Not only I'll not praythat [a U.S-led] military attack shouldn't occur, I'll bedeeply happy and I ask god for it to happen," she told the radio. "Itis my family's wish and [the wish of] many Iranians forAmerica to militarily attack. We don't know what else to do! Economyis very bad, people are hungry and have no money. Drug addiction isso bad that you folks outside Iran have no clue."
How representative is hercomment? The simple answer is, we just don't know.
But who do you believe?The New York Times? Or a mother from Iran, whose sons haveturned to drugs and who sees no hope for the future but a deux exmachina made in the USA?
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