Israel for the first time has given off signals that the time grows short until the Jewish state attacks Iran, whether or not the world supports the military action. The Saudi newspaper al-Watan reported last week that in April of this year at their meeting in Texas, Prime Minister Sharon presented President Bush satellite photos of Iran’s nuclear facilities and asked the U.S. to cooperate in a military strike. When the president coldly refused, Sharon communicated that Israel would set a specific date in 2006 beyond which it would no longer wait. If diplomacy does not stop Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program by that date, Israel will attack in self-defense.
There is good reason why Israel is growing increasingly trigger-happy. Last week, Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, placed the military firmly in control of Iran’s nuclear program. This decision strongly undermines Iran’s argument that the purpose of the country’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
Increasingly, the evidence coming out of Iran suggests that leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRCG, are dominating the country’s Supreme National Security Council, the country’s top foreign-policy group under the constitution. Ahmadinejad himself is a former IRCG commander, as is Ali Larijani, who is both the secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council and the top negotiator for Iran’s nuclear program internationally. Under Ahmadinejad’s leadership, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei has taken increasing hold, moving to suppress dissent within Iran and to take a confrontational posture toward the EU-3, the U.S. and Israel.
In August 2005, Iran defied the EU-3 by breaking off negotiations and resuming uranium processing at Isfahan. Last week, Ahmadinejad told Iran’s state-run television that advances had been made at Isfahan.
“In the sphere of nuclear fuel cycle activities, today we are one step ahead of two months ago,” he said. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi affirmed that several tons of uranium hexafluoride gas have been produced at Isfahan since resuming activities in August, but that the gas initially produced was low quality, not suitable for putting into the centrifuges for enrichment. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency affirmed that Iran has produced seven tons of uranium hexafluoride gas since August. Ahmadinejad’s statement this week suggests the remaining technical problems at Isfahan are being solved.
On Friday last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the next step in the Iranian nuclear program would be to start uranium enrichment at Natanz, a statement that gives credence to the claim that Iran is getting closer to being able to produce weapons-grade uranium on its own. Motakki was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying, “We want to take the next step, which will be the uranium enrichment process in Natanz.” In writing “Atomic Iran,” I predicted that events would take this course. For months, I have been writing in this column that Iran was on a confrontation path with Israel and the West.
Iran has evidently given up caring that the world knows the country is driving toward being able to produce an atomic bomb. President Bush has been badly weakened by his ill-advised nomination of his White House counsel and personal friend, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court. In droves, conservatives have abandoned the president on this issue, worried that another “Trust Me” nomination will ultimately disappoint them. Last week, ElBaradei and the IAEA were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The unspoken communication here was that ElBaradei was being rewarded for speaking out that invading Iraq was a mistake because Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction as the Bush administration had claimed.
Now there are suggestions that Iran and the EU-3 will resume negotiations “without conditions.” Translated, this means that the EU-3 will no longer insist that uranium enhancement at Isfahan be stopped before the talks resume. If this ploy works, Iran will have talks going, a stratagem that may well work to undermine any move by the IAEA at its November meeting to vote the Iranian portfolio to the Security Council. By this move, Iran plan to out-maneuver the weakened Bush administration diplomatically.
Each day, Israel is realizing more and more that no one can be counted upon to come to its defense. Last week, a beleaguered President Bush felt the need to make yet another national speech trying to bolster support for America’s continued military presence in Iraq. If President Bush even suggested that military action was a possibility in Iran, the growing peace lobby from the political left already screaming about another pre-emptive war might be moved to suggest impeachment.
Repeatedly, I have written that Israel cannot risk being wrong with the Iranian mullahs. One atomic bomb, even a low-yield simple gun-type device, exploded over Tel Aviv would mean the end of the modern Jewish state as we know it. The government of Iran remains committed to the destruction of Israel. We have no reason to believe that diplomacy will have any impact on Iran.
Now, Iran’s stock market appears in free fall. The total capitalization of the Iranian stock market has fallen from $45 billion in June to $38.2 billion last week, losing about 15 percent of its value in one week as investors bailed out of Iranian stocks, preferring instead the safety of foreign stocks and gold.
Markets often price in advance of anticipated developments. A flight from Iranian stocks could well prefigure the reality that Israel will not wait forever before the self-defense impulse kicks in and a military strike on Iran begins. Investors may be calculating that now is the time to get out of the market, before the bombs start flying.