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The Threat from Iran–A Timeline

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Iranian government’s extreme interpretation of Islamic law, and its anti-Western philosophy, inspire the rise of Islamic extremists across the world. Iran is also one of the principal state sponsors of terror, proudly delivering weapons to Hezbollah members in Lebanon and terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.

Additionally, the regime in Iran continues to provide safe haven for terrorists, including some of al-Qaeda’s senior leaders such as Yasin al-Suri, Saif al-Adel and Abu Muhammad al-Masri who have been hunted by the United States for over a
decade. Moreover, Iranian agents have been implicated in many anti-Western and anti-Israel terrorist attacks, including bombings that have killed U.S. servicemen in Iraq and the foiled attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. in October 2011.

But above all these concerns, the most menacing threat that Iran poses to international security and stability emanates from the fact it is harnessing nuclear energy for the purpose of developing a nuclear bomb. In 2005, Iran made its first advance in the production of enriched uranium and subsequently established a secret nuclear research center to train scientists in all aspects of atomic technology. Intelligence released in 2012 shows that Iran has now amassed some 10,000 functioning centrifuges and has streamlined the uranium enrichment process enough that when they convert their five tons of low-grade fissile material into high-grade material, it would be enough to make about five to six bombs.

Analysts believe that it will take Iran nine months, from the moment an order is given, to assemble their first explosive device and another six months to be able to reduce it to the dimensions of a missile payload. With an updated weapons arsenal that includes missiles such as the Sagil and Shahab-3, both with ranges capable of reaching not only Israel, but also vast stretches of Eastern and Southern Europe, and the entire Arabian peninsula and Egypt, the Iranian nuclear program is no longer being taken lightly.

Through both unilateral and multilateral efforts, the international community has joined together to preempt the Iranian nuclear progress. The United States, European Union, Federation of Gulf States, Israel and the United Nations are working together in order to deter what could become the greatest threat to world peace and stability since World War II.

In the United States, the Defense Department, CIA and other military services believe Iran is working to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb. In April 2009, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he thinks “the Iranians are on a path to building nuclear weapons.” His suspicions were confirmed in January 2012 when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States believes Iran is one year away from developing a nuclear weapon. “The United States … does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us,” Panetta said. “If they proceed … with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it.” U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has even warned that Iran has “changed their calculus” with regards to targets and may be more likely to attack the American homeland. In response to the growing sense of urgency, President Obama has imposed sanctions against companies doing business with Iran, the Treasury Department has worked to freeze Iranian financial assets and new measures have been passed by Congress to halt transactions with Iran’s Central Bank.

In Europe, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, is convinced that if the Iranians are “able to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles in the near future … they will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe.” This fear has led countries such as France, Germany and Great Britain to spearhead a European Union effort to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

In January 2012, their efforts reached a new level when the European Union foreign ministers agreed to adopt an “unprecedented” oil embargo against Iran in addition to freezing the assets of Iran’s central bank. “We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region,” British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran is creating nuclear weapons and reiterated the need to address this situation as soon as possible. Director General Yukiya Amano has confirmed that he believes Iran is creating nuclear weapons and that they must be stopped. In November 2011, Amano and his board of governors released the IAEA’s fourth report of the year reconfirming that Iran is working to build a nuclear weapon and raising the alarm that the world must take steps to prevent Iran from achieving their goal. “What we know suggests the development of nuclear weapons,” Amano said. “I have absolutely no reason to soften my report,” he added. “It is my responsibility to alert the world, from the indicators I had, I draw the conclusion that it is time to call the world’s attention to this risk.”

Across the Arab Middle East, the Iranian nuclear program is raising grave concerns with regards to Iran’s intentions for regional dominance. In 2009, then-Egyptian President Mubarak said, “A nuclear armed Iran with hegemonic ambitions is the greatest threat to Arab nations today.” In 2011, Saudi Arabian government officials noted, “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons … If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us.” Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen even said that ”there is greater fear of Iran [in the Gulf] than there is animus toward Israel.” Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal has implicitly noted that if Iran achieved nuclear power it would “lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences” including an arms race across the Middle East. Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia have now all expressed explicit interest in building nuclear weapons. If Iran developed a nuclear weapon it would also give unparalleled impunity to the actions of its terrorist proxies in the region—Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. As Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak puts it, if Iran had nuclear capability, then retaliating against an attack from Hamas or Hezbollah “would be tantamount to an attack on Iran,” and would thus restrict an aggressive range of operations.

Israel has repeatedly stated that it cannot tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. Consequently, Israel has been vocal in advocating an international sanctions regime that is sufficiently punitive to convince the Iranians to abandon their project. In the absence of sufficiently restrictive sanctions, the fear is that a military response will be necessary. Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon noted that there is little daylight between Israeli and American intelligence estimates on how close Iran is to pass a point of no return where it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop them from building a weapon. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained, Iran is closing in on its its “immunity zone”—the point when its accumulated know-how, raw materials, experience, and equipment (as well as the distribution of materials among its underground facilities) would mean any military strike would fail in derailing the nuclear project.

Listed here are major developments in the ongoing saga of the Iranian nuclear program.

  • In January 2012, Israel Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel believes ”Iran’s nuclear development is clearly intended for military purposes.” This came in the wake of an Iranian request from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to begin enriching their uranium to a 90 percent grade. 90 percent is generally viewed as an indication of weapons-grade material. (Israel Hayom, January 31, 2012)
  • In Janaury 2012, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the United States believes Iran is one year away from developing a nuclear weapon and possibly two years shy of being able to mount it on a deliverable weapons system. “The United States … does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us. And it’s a red line obviously for the Israelis so we share a common goal here,” Panetta said. “If they proceed and we get intelligence that they’re proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it,” he added. (Haaretz, January 30, 2012)
  • In January 2012, the European Union adopted an “unprecedented” resolution calling for an embargo on Iranian oil and petroleum imports to European nations. Europe has been one of the leading importers of Iranian oil and an embargo of this nature is meant to show Iran the West’s resolve in working towards an end to development in its nuclear weapons program. The EU foreign ministers also passed a resolution freezing all assets of the Iranian central bank in Europe. (BBC, January 23, 2012)
  • In January 2012, Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, made clear that he believes the Iranians are developing nuclear energy in order to create atomic or nuclear bombs and that he feels the Iranians have been less than open about their true intentions. “What we know suggests the development of nuclear weapons,” Amano said in his interview with the Financial Times of Germany. “I have absolutely no reason to soften my report,” he added. “It is my responsibility to alert the world, from the indicators I had, I draw the conclusion that it is time to call the world’s attention to this risk.” Iranian representatives to the IAEA responded to the comments by saying their country was open to discussing any issues about their nuclear energy program in a series of talks scheduled in Tehran for the end of January. (Reuters, January 19, 2012)
  • During winter 20117–2012, a string of suspicious explosions hit various sites in Iran and killed a number of Iranian nuclear scientists. On November 12, an explosion at a Revolutionary Guard Corps weapons depot near Tehran (in Karaj) killed 17 soldiers, including an IRGC rocket expert and long-range missile research specialist. (Washington Post, November 12, 2011). 
  • On November 28, a large explosion rocked the Iranian city of Isfahan (where a military complex is located) as the government issued conflicting reports thought to deny any notions of damage by way of sabotage on its nuclear sites. (Telegraph, November 28, 2011). 
  • On November 30, there was a blast on a military facility in the Iranian city of Khorramabad near the Iran-Iraq border. On December 14, there was an attack against a plant that manufactures a particular type of steel that is used for nose cones and other parts of missiles. (Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, December 14, 2011). 
  • On January 11, 2012, nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated when a bomb detonated in his car. Iranian Lawmaker Kazem Jalali immediately blamed both the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services for the strike, though both categorically denied any involvement. (CNN, Jan 11, 2012)
  • In December 2011, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal noted that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, “[it] would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences”. One of his officials clarified the vague statement by saying, “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.” (New York Times, December 6, 2011)
  • In November 2011, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to comply, fully and without delay, to its obligations under resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council and to intensify their dialogue with in order to resolve questions regarding their nuclear development. The resolution expressed support for a diplomatic, negotiated solution to the growing problem in order to restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. This resolution came on the heels of yet another IAEA report—the fourth released in 2011 alone—that confirmed fears that Iran seems to be working towards the development of a nuclear weapon.
  • In November 2011, the US government took two distinct, yet tangible steps to halt funding to Iran in an effort to curb its nuclear programs. These steps by the Obama Administration sent an unequivocal message to the Government of Iran that it will continue to face increasing international pressure until it addresses the international community’s legitimate concerns regarding the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.On November 19, President Obama signed Executive Order 13590 that imposed sanctions on anyone doing business with Iran’s energy or chemical programs. If a person is found to have provided a good, service, technology, or support to Iran described in E.O. 13590, the Secretary of State, in consultation with other agencies, has the authority to impose sanctions on these people or businesses, including prohibitions on foreign or banking transactions and property transactions in the United States. Additionally, the US Department of the Treasury identified Iran as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act based on Iran’s support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the illicit and deceptive financial activities that Iranian financial institutions—including the Central Bank of Iran—and other state-controlled entities engage in to facilitate Iran’s illicit conduct and evade sanctions.
  • On September 3, 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on the Iranian nuclear program that expressed grave concern on Tehran’s experimental work to develop nuclear weapons, saying that it is becoming “increasingly concerned” at the advancements. The IAEA said Iran has begun deploying so-called second-generation centrifuges at its largest uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which could allow the country to produce nuclear fuel at three times its current rate. (Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2011)
  • In September 2011, Iran moved its most critical nuclear fuel production to a highly guarded underground military facility outside the city of Qum, where—according to intelligence officials—it is less vulnerable to an air or cyberattack such as the 2010 Stuxnet computer worm that reportedly set back Iran’s nuclear program by a year or two. (New York Times, September 2, 2011)
  • In June 2011, a UN panel of experts, which was convened after the UN Security Council imposed stiffer sanctions against in Iran in 2010, released a report which compiled information provided by Security Council member nations, monitors sent to various countries where unauthorized Iranian activity has been uncovered and input from outside experts on Iran’s development of medium- and long-range missiles, nuclear program and weapons-smuggling operations. The report warned: “Iran’s circumvention of sanctions across all areas, in particular the use of front companies, concealment methods in shipping, financial transactions and the transfer of conventional arms and related materiel, is willful and continuing. Iran maintains its uranium enrichment and heavy water-related activities, as noted in reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and in the area of ballistic missiles, continues to test missiles and engage in prohibited procurement.” According to the report, in a period of less than six months, the Iranians launched Sejil and Shahab 3 missiles on three occasions, and conducted an additional trial of the Fateh-110 missile. (Haaretz, June 10, 2011)
  • In April 2011, scientists from Iran’s atomic energy program announced that they had successfully tested advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium and were less than a month away from starting Iran’s first commercial nuclear reactor. Though the advances were not yet fully implemented, the announcements countered international perceptions that Iran’s nuclear program had suffered significant setbacks during a series of cyber attacks on the country’s main uranium enrichment facilities in 2009 and 2010 and prompted some experts to redraw their forecasts for how quickly the country could build an atomic arsenal. (Washington Post, April 14, 2011)
  • A January 2011 summit of six world powers meeting with Iran to discuss freezing its uranium enrichment program, failed after two days of negotiations in which Iran demanded an end to UN sanctions and an agreement that it could continue to enrich. Tehran rejected proposals for improved UN monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activities and the revival of a subset of international talks focusing on Iran shipping out a limited amount of its enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for its research reactor. (Jerusalem Post, January 22, 2011)
  • In January 2011, the top-secret Manhattan Project published a study warning against Western complacency over Iran’s nuclear drive as they found that Tehran had boosted its capacity to build an atomic bomb during 2010. According to the Federation of American Scientists, after examining data provided by the IAEA, the enrichment capacity of gas centrifuges at Iran’s main enrichment plan in Natanz was more efficient in 2010 than in previous years. (AFP, January 21, 2011)
  • In August 2010, Iran announced that it had selected the locations inside protected mountain strongholds where it would build 10 new uranium enrichment sites. In an additional move seen as retaliation against the international community for its sanctions against Iran, President Ahmadinejad also announced the implementation of a new law banning the Iranian government from anything beyond the minimum level of cooperation with the IAEA. (AP, August 16, 2010)
  • The May 2010 IAEA report said that Iran had produced a stockpile of nuclear fuel that, with further enrichment, would be sufficient to build two nuclear weapons. In addition, the report said Iran expanded work at Natanz and that inspectors were denied access to facilities and their questions had gone unanswered. (New York Times, May 31, 2010)
  • In January 2010, President Obama’s top advisers said they did not believe the government’s earlier National Intelligence Estimate’s conclusion that Iranian scientists ended all work on designing a nuclear warhead in late 2003 (New York Times, January 2, 2010). The following month, President Obama announced new unilateral sanctions by the United States, freezing “the assets in U.S. jurisdictions of a Revolutionary Guard general and four subsidiaries of a construction firm he runs for their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.” A day later, Iran announced it had begun enriching uranium to a higher level of purity, 20 percent, which is a step closer to producing weapons-grade uranium. (Washington Post, February 11, 2010)
  • On September 25, 2009, it was disclosed that Iran had a second fuel enrichment plant. The United States had apparently been aware of the facility, but it was hidden from IAEA weapons inspectors (Jerusalem Post, September 25, 2009). Meanwhile, Iran’s exiled political opposition movement reported the day before that it had learned of two previously unknown sites in and near Tehran that it said were being used to build nuclear warheads. (AFP, September 25, 2009)
  • In August 2009, an IAEA report said the number of Iran’s centrifuges had grown to 8,300 (Haaretz, August 31, 2009). Director-General ElBaradei told the IAEA’s 35-nation board that Iran had not stopped enriching uranium or answered lingering questions about its nuclear program. (New York Times, September 7, 2009)
  • In May 2009, Iran tested a new missile, the Sejil, with a range of 1,200 miles, that can reach Israel, U.S. regional bases, and southeastern Europe (The Peninsula, May 21, 2009). The Sejil is similar to the Shahab-3 (Shahab means shooting star in Farsi), which was unveiled in September 2007. That missile’s range had been improved from 810 to 1,125 miles (JTA, September 23, 2007). The Shahab-3 missile is capable of carrying a non-conventional warhead, could be stationed anywhere in Iran, and can reach Israel as well as parts of Europe.
  • In March 2009, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, said that the most worrisome aspect of the potential danger of an Iranian bomb is not the possibility of a nuclear strike against other countries, but the ability to assume a more bold approach in dealing with the international community after becoming a nuclear power. “The real threat is that Iran, which is already ignoring all resolutions and sanctions issued by the UN Security Council, will be practically ‘untouchable’ after acquiring nuclear-power status, and will be able to expand its support of terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hizballah,” said Dvorkin. “I won’t say the Iranians will be able to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles in the near future, but they will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe.” (RIA Novosti, March 12, 2009)
  • In June 2008, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany offered Iran technical and commercial incentives to suspend uranium enrichment. A few weeks later, the powers held talks in Geneva, attended for the first time by a senior U.S. official, aimed at reaching an agreement with Iran and forestalling further sanctions. A senior Iranian official, however, ruled out any freeze in uranium enrichment (Reuters, July 20, 2008). After the talks, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, Iranian Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, announced Iran would no longer cooperate with IAEA experts investigating the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons program (Washington Post, July 24, 2008). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad then announced that Iran had 6,000 centrifuges operating at its uranium enrichment facility at the underground Natanz facility, double the number operating less than a year earlier, a worrisome development showing the progress Iran had made toward developing a nuclear weapon (Washington Post, July 26, 2008). In December 2008, Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the IAEA, admitted that sanctions had been “a failure.” (Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2008)
  • On December 23, 2006, In response to Iran’s continued defiance, the Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1737 to block “the import or export of sensitive nuclear material” to Iran. On February 22, 2007, the IAEA found Iran in violation of the Security Council ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment. Iran continued to insist that its nuclear program could not be stopped by external actors. In March 2007, the IAEA announced the suspension of nuclear technical aid programs to Iran. Russia also announced it would withhold a nuclear fuel delivery to the county but then reversed its position. (Reuters, December 18, 2007)
  • On July 31, 2006, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1696, giving Iran until August 31 of that year to suspend its uranium enrichment and to implement full transparency measures requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran insisted that it would continue its uranium enrichment program despite the resolution.

Cutting Edge commentator Mitchell Bard is the Director of AICE. His latest books are The Arab Lobby; Will Israel Survive?; and 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction.

Mitchell Bard
Feb 4th, 2012

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/87gkqbk

Note: In this article wherever the author refers to Iran, it should meant IRI. [DID]

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