The nuclear crisis boiling away underthe surface for the last three years with Iran has finally erupted.Over the next three to six months, expect things to get much worse,with a very real possibility of a war could spread far beyond thePersian Gulf. How we got here was entirely predictable -- as is thepath to a violent future.
Caving in to intense pressure fromthe CIA and the foreign policy establishment, the White House hasrefused to do the one thing that could have headed off this crisis:support the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle forfreedom against this clerical tyranny. And now, it is almost --almost -- too late.
The immediate trigger for the crisisoccurred just two days before Christmas, when the United NationsSecurity Council finally passed a binding resolution to imposesanctions on Iran because of its illegal nuclear program.
Many U.N. critics (and I am one),find UNSC Resolution 1737 to be a tepid move. While on the surface itbans nuclear and missile-related trade with Iran, Iran has alreadyreceived most of the know-how it needs for its programs, and therogue traders it works with won't be deterred from supplying whateverelse Iran needs.
More significant than the U.N. actionwas the Iranian reaction. "This resolution will not harm Iran andthose who backed it will soon regret their superficial act," IranianPresident Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said with typical bluster on ChristmasEve. "[W]e will celebrate our atomic achievements inFebruary," he added. In earlier statements, he claimed Iran wouldhave a big nuclear "surprise" to unveil to the world by the end ofthe Persian year, March 20. Now it would appear he is acceleratingthe tempo.
In early December, Mr. Ahmadinejadannounced Iran had completed its uranium enrichment experiments andwas preparing to install 3,000 production centrifuges at itsnow-declared enrichment plant in Natanz, in central Iran.
His announcement fell exactly withinthe timeline Israeli nuclear experts have derived from Iran's publicdeclarations to the International Atomic Energy Agency and theon-site inspections by IAEA experts in Iran. If this timeline holds,Iran will have the capability to make its first bomb by September2008 -- just in time for the U.S. presidential elections.
A second reaction to the U.N.Security Council resolution came from Mr. Ahmadinejad's top nuclearadviser, Ali Larijani. On Christmas Eve, he said the regime nowplanned to accelerate the installation of the production centrifuges."From Sunday morning [Dec. 24], we will begin activities atNatanz -- the site of 3,000-centrifuge machines -- and we will driveit with full speed. It will be our immediate response to theresolution," Iran's Kayhan paper quoted him as saying.
The United States and Britain havebegun a quiet buildup of their naval forces in the Persian Gulf, withthe goal of keeping the Strait of Hormuz open to internationalshipping if a crisis develops.
The spark point of open militaryconfrontation could occur in many different ways. The Iranians, forexample, might escalate their current military involvement in Iraq.(A clear sign Iran is contemplating such a move was revealed recentlywhen the U.S. captured four Iranian Revolutionary Guards officersduring a raid on the headquarters of an Iraqi Shi'ite leader inBaghdad).
The U.S. could and should respond tothis Iranian provocation. One option would be to attack RevolutionaryGuards bases near the Iraqi border that are involved in aiding theIraqi Shi'ite militias.
As further steps, Iran might chooseto launch "swarming" attacks against U.S. warships in the Persiangulf, or to attack a foreign-flagged oil tanker carrying Iraqi orKuwaiti oil, or to increase rocket and missile supplies to Hezbollahin Lebanon to spark another diversionary war against Israel.
There are scores of ways such ascenario could evolve. But we are heading toward a direct militaryconfrontation with Iran -- an Iran which could be a nuclear power,and certainly will be a suspected nuclear power, in a matter ofmonths, if not weeks.
There is no easy way of walking thisback. Even the insane Baker-Hamilton proposal of a direct dialoguewith Iran will not get them to abandon their nuclear program, whichthis regime in Tehran has clearly identified as a strategic asset itis willing to make great sacrifices to develop and protect.
So fasten your seat belts. We are infor a rough ride.
Kenneth R.Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along withJohn Bolton for his work on Iran. He is executive director of theFoundation for Democracy in Iran and author of "Countdown to Crisis:the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran" (Crown Forum: 2005).