Our guest blogger is Andrew Grotto, a Senior National Security Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
President Bush reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday that Iran posed an “existential threat to peace.” That would put Iran up there with the Soviet Union, which pointed thousands of thermonuclear weapons at the United States for decades, had dozens of alliances, wielded formidable conventional military forces, and had an industrialized economy.
Some perspective is in order here:
– Iran has no nuclear weapons that we know of, and according to U.S. intelligence is unlikely to be able to produce a single weapon for at least another few years, let alone field a credible arsenal of them.
– Iran has no real allies to speak of, its conventional military forces are paltry, and its economy is in shambles with unemployment and inflation in double digits.
– Iran is no Soviet Union. Not even close.
What Iran does have is a bellicose president who talks a tough game (all the while driving his domestic economy into the ground), natural resources in the form of oil and natural gas, and, of course, a formidable ability to make trouble in the region through proxies such as Hezbollah. Iran’s support for these groups and its meddling in Iraq and elsewhere is a primary source of violence and instability in the region, and the United States must contain these efforts at every turn. But they do not pose an existential threat to the United States or Israel.
Iran’s nuclear program is far more worrisome. At some point in 2009, Iran will likely acquire the technical option to produce enough highly-enriched material for a bomb within one year of a political decision. That means that Iran could have enough material for a bomb sometime in 2010. Iran is operating well over 3,000 of its first-generation “IR-1” centrifuges and has begun to install an additional 3,000. It is not operating these machines at full productive capacity, however, most likely because of lingering technical difficulties. It is unclear when Tehran will overcome these difficulties, but most experts believe it is only a matter of time — probably within the next twelve to eighteen months. When that time comes, 3,000 IR-1 centrifuges operating at full capacity for a year could produce more than enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. Read more