Iran is edging closer toward its goal of nuclear weapons possession and is leading the already deeply unstable Middle East region down a path to a new crisis.
The warning signs are being drowned out somewhat by the horrors of the Syrian civil war and deteriorating unrest in Egypt, but they are present for any observer to see.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently voiced his concern that regional instability is causing the international community to take its eye off the swiftly-approaching Iranian nuclear crisis. “They’re getting closer” to the nuclear red line, Netanyahu told CBS’s Face the Nation. “They should understand that they’re not going to be allowed to cross it.”
Netanyahu stressed that the Israeli and U.S. clocks on this matter are “ticking at a different pace.”
While Jerusalem’s stated red line is an Iran in possession of 250 kilograms of enriched uranium, Washington’s undeclared red line is significantly further behind that of Israel’s. For the Obama administration, a trigger for action would be irrefutable evidence of an Iranian order to assemble a nuclear weapon.
There are multiple signals indicating that Iran is moving forward with the major components of its nuclear program, while keeping the level of its enriched uranium below a certain level to avoid triggering an Israeli military strike.
Iran’s nuclear trajectory is unlikely to be affected by Hassan Rouhani’s election as the new president, since he must defer all decisions on nuclear policy to the country’s unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Only Khamenei can order the regime to cease Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons, and he has clearly refrained from doing so.
A growing chorus of international observers, including the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), noted that the twin policies being pursued by the United States and the international community – biting sanctions coupled with diplomacy – have failed to convince Khamenei to abandon the nuclear program.
Sanctions have taken a painful toll on the Iranian economy, contributing to inflation, the devaluation of the Iranian currency, and more than halving Iranian oil exports (from 2.6 million barrels a day in 2011 to 1.1 million barrels a day currently). And yet, none of these pressure points has caused Khamenei to budge.
Some defense experts in Israel have called into question President Barack Obama’s assurances that he will not allow Iran to go nuclear, and suggest that Washington is on an unintended course toward a policy of containment, not prevention.
Iran’s goal is to anaesthetize the international community until such time that it can present itself to the world as a nuclear-armed state, and transmit the message that its new status is a fait accompli. According to Israeli assessments, Iran aims to ultimately arm itself with some 200 atomic bombs.
Iran hasn’t yet become a nuclear-armed state, but time is running out.
Iran’s deviously skillful delay and deceptions, its constant nuclear progress, together with the failure of the sanctions and negotiations approach, may well force a reluctant Israeli decision to take military action sooner, rather than later.