ByKenneth R.Timmerman
|December 27, 2006


The nuclear crisis boilingaway under the surface for the past three years with Iran has finallyerupted.

Over the next three to six months, expect things to get much worse,with a very real possibility of a war that could spread far beyondthe confines of the Persian Gulf.

How we got here was
entirely predictable – andavoidable. So is thepath to a violent future.

We got to this point because the White House essentially caved in to
intensepressure from the CIA and the foreign policyestablishment, andrefused to do the one thing that could have headed off this crisis:that is, to support the rights of the Iranian people and theirstruggle for freedom against this clerical tyranny. And now, it isalmost – almost – too late.

The immediate trigger for the crisis occurred on Saturday, just twodays before Christmas, when the UN Security Council finally quitdithering and passed a binding resolution to impose sanctions on Iranbecause of its illegal nuclear program.

While far from perfect (remember: this is the UN),
UNSCResolution 1737 bansnuclear and missile-related trade with Iran, and includes a shortlist of Iranian government entities and individuals whose assetscould be subject to seizure and who could be banned frominternational travel.

(The United States had wanted both to be mandatory measures in thisresolution, but gave in to a Russian demand to again give Iran moreleash).

The UN Security Council passed
asimilar, binding resolution on July 31giving Iran one month to suspend its nuclear programs in a verifiablemanner, or else&It’s taken all this time since that theearlier deadline expired for China and Russia to exhaust theirformidable bag of diplomatic tricks. Now even they have come toacknowledge the obvious, that Iran is using the IAEA as a foil foracquiring all the technologies it needs to make the bomb.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded typically to the newsfrom Turtle Bay in New York. “This resolution will not harmIran and those who backed it will soon regret their superficial act,”
he saidon Christmas Eve.

“Iranians are neither worried nor uncomfortable with theresolution...we will celebrate our atomic achievements in February,”he added.

In earlier statements, he has claimed Iran would have a big nuclear “surprise”to unveil to the world by the end of the Persian year, which ends onMarch 20. So unless he is just blowing smoke (and I will explainshortly why I don’t believe that he is), then we will be facingvery bleak choices in very short order.

Remember, just a few weeks ago, Ahmadinejad announced to the worldthat Iran had completed its uranium enrichment experiments and wasnow preparing to install 3,000 production centrifuges at itsnow-declared enrichment plant in Natanz, in central Iran.

His announcement fell exactly within the timeline that Israelinuclear experts have derived from Iran’s public declarations tothe IAEA, and the on-site inspections by IAEA experts in Iran.

As I wrote after interviews in Israel this past June, the Israelisprojected that Iran would complete work on two 164-centrifugeexperimental enrichment cascades within six months, and thatinstallation of the 3,000 centrifuge pilot plant would take anothernine months. From then, it would take Iran twelve months more to makeits first bomb’s-worth of nuclear fuel.

So far, Iran is right on schedule. This will give it nuclear weaponscapability by September 2008 – just in time for the U.S.presidential elections. (And remember: this timeline is notspeculative. It is based on information, not intelligence.)

Once the UN Security Council resolution was passed, Ahmadinejad’stop nuclear advisor, Ali Larijani, said the regime now planned toaccelerate the installation of the production centrifuges.

“From Sunday morning [December 24] , we will beginactivities at Natanz – the site of 3,000-centrifuge machines –and we will drive it with full speed. It will be our immediateresponse to the resolution,”
Iran’sKayhan paper quoted him as saying.

How is this possible? Well, for one thing, it is likely that Iran hasbeen producing centrifuges in factories and workshops it has notdeclared to the IAEA. Worse, it may be operating a clandestineenrichment facility buried deep underground already, as many inIsrael and U.S. intelligence have long believed.

The Israelis told me this summer this was
their “worst-worstcase” scenario.But a senior Israeli intelligence official I saw recently said thelikelihood of that “worst-worst case” now appeared to befar greater than he or others had previously believed. “Therecan be no doubt they have a clandestine program,” he said.

And because it’s clandestine, we don’t know the size orshape of it, and therefore can’t make estimates of Iran’snuclear timeline based on speculation and fear. But now the Israelis,the Americans and the British are beginning to understand –finally – that what they don’t know about Iran could befatal.

After all, they are facing a president in Iran who has said that theHolocaust never really occurred under Hitler, but that he intended tocarry it out himself, by accomplishing Ayatollah Khomeini’sgoal of “wiping Israel off the map.”

On December 21 – just two days before the UN Security Councilresolution – British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave thebleakest assessment of his entire tenure at 10 Downing Street of thethreat posed to the West by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Speaking in Dubai, he gave
anunusually blunt speechthat warned of a monumental struggle between Islamic moderates andIslamic extremists, and that labeled Iran as “the main obstacle”to hopes for peace.

For the first time, a key world leader actually uttered parts of thelaundry list of Iranian regime misdeeds that people like myself andMichael Ledeen and Iranian dissidents such as Rouzbeh Farahanipourand Reza Pahlavi have been warning about for years.

Blair said there were "elements of the government of Iran, openlysupporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process;trying to turn out a democratic government in Lebanon; flouting theinternational community's desire for peace in Palestine - at the sametime as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire nuclear weaponscapability.”

Blair expressed surprise that despite these overt deeds, “alarge part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It wouldbe bizarre if it weren't deadly serious.”

"We must recognize the strategic challenge the government of Iranposes," Blair added. "Not its people, possibly not all its rulingelements, but those presently in charge of its policy."

While all of this is developing, the United States and Britain havebegun
aquiet buildup of their naval forcesin the Persian Gulf, with the goal of keeping the Strait of Hormuzopen to international shipping.

The spark point of open military confrontation could occur in manydifferent ways.

The Iranians, for example, might choose to get directly involvedshould the U.S. military aid the Iraqi government in a crackdown onthe Iranian-backed Mahdi Army and the Badr brigade, two Shiitemilitias fueling the sectarian violence in Iraq. (A clear sign thatIran is contemplating just such a move was revealed on Christmas day,when the U.S. acknowledged it was holding four Iranians capturedduring a raid on the Headquarters of Abdulaziz al-Hakim in Baghdadjust three weeks after he met with President Bush in the OvalOffice).

Should Iran send troops, or escalate its current level of militaryinvolvement in Iraq, the U.S. might choose to take the war into Iran,say by attacking Revolutionary Guards bases near the Iraqi borderthat were involved in aiding the Iraqi Shi'ite militias.

Should the United States bomb a Rev. Guards base here or there, theIranians might choose to respond by launching “swarming”attacks against U.S. warships in the Persian gulf, or by attacking aforeign-flagged oil tanker carrying Iraqi or Kuwaiti oil, or byincreasing rocket and missile supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon tospark another diversionary war against Israel.

There are scores of ways this could happen. But where it gets us isto a direct military confrontation with Iran – an Iran whichcould be a nuclear power, and certainly will be a suspected nuclearpower, in a matter of months, if not weeks.

And there is no easy way of walking this back. Even the insaneBaker-Hamilton proposal of a direct dialogue with Iran will not getthem to abandon their nuclear program, which this regime in Tehranhas clearly identified as a strategic asset it is willing to makegreat sacrifices to develop and protect.

So fasten your seat belts. We are in for a rough ride.

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