Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Graham Allison has an interesting review of Iran's nuclear capabilities and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech in front of Congress. He makes two points:

1. Prime Minister Netanyahu has presented the U.S. Congress and the American people with a "false dichotomy." 
2. Iran already has nuclear capabilities.

With reference to Netanyahu's false dichotomy, Allison makes it clear that 20 years of hard-line "maximalist demands" with Iran, which reject potential agreements out of hand, have not worked. Specifically, by drawing lines in the sand over the past two decades Allison argues that we have put Iran in a take it or leave it position that has helped push them to aggressively piece together the capacity to put together a nuclear program. 

The result? Iran has advanced from being "10 years away from producing a bomb to only months." 

Hence Netanyahu's strident either-or "bad deal, good deal" is not based in reality because it suggests we have no other option than to confront Iran - as if the strategy bore fruit in the past.

As Allison points out, the "tipping point" came in 2008 when "Iran mastered the technical know-how to build centrifuges and operate them to enrich uranium to levels required for the core of a nuclear bomb." He wrote at the time, "Iran has crossed the threshold that is painful to acknowledge but impossible to ignore: it has lost its nuclear virginity." 

The only real issue the amount of time it would take to produce a the enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear bomb.

Netanyahu's national security adviser acknowledged as much in 2009 when he commented that "Iran has the ability to complete the cycle of nuclear fuel production on its own; the point at which it has all the elements to produce fissionable material without depending on outsiders. Iran is now there." 

Today we're left with an Iranian state that has a nuclear capacity that "cannot be erased." Because the nuclear genie cannot be put back in the bottle what we're really looking at is not stopping Iran from developing the ability to produce, but attempting to reduce their "breakout time." Our goal now is to find ways to stall and measure Iran's activities when they attempt to acquire the enriched resources they need to build a bomb. 

This requires diplomacy and negotiation - not confrontation.

What's critical now is convincing Tehran to accept inspections and verification procedures that would give the international community 6-12 months to spot threatening activities rather than the 2-4 months that we would have with no agreements. 

Again, this requires negotiation and diplomacy. 

If Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to label every option and plan presented by President Obama as a "bad deal" - which he did in front of Congress - it's up to him, as Allison points out, to come up with an alternative that "will make us all safer." 

Since he failed to do that yesterday, Netanyahu has done little except present Americans with a false choice built around deceit and desparation (especially given that Israel's intelligence agency has contradicted Netanyahu on his public comments). 

One final point. Prime Minister Netanyahu - and John Boehner - also succeeded in turning the U.S. Congress into a sensational political prop. Nice. 

- Mark 

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