Now, there’s no doubt about it. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states in its chilling new report on Iran that while it has not yet actually built a bomb, “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” Not nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, as the Iranian government and its international apologists would have it, but mechanisms that are “specific to nuclear weapons.”
Unlike the information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged nuclear program that triggered the second Iraq war, this time the unimpeachable evidence comes from the UN nuclear watchdog, not from the intelligence services of interested countries. The IAEA, under Director Yukia Amano, is universally respected for its professionalism and impartiality. As a U.S. State Department spokesman put it, the report is “comprehensive, credible, quite damning, and alarming.”
The report shows that U.S. intelligence erred in 2007 when it reported that Iran had suspended its nuclear program four years earlier. On the contrary, the program continued unabated, aided by technical assistance from Russian, North Korean and Pakistani experts.
Iran in possession of the bomb would revolutionize the balance of power in the Middle East and beyond. The emergence of Shi’ite Iran as the strongman of the region places the security of all the predominantly Sunni nations at risk. No wonder that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States anxiously call for steps to contain Iran. The recent assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador in Washington may be only a hint of what lies in store for the Sunni Middle East if Iran is allowed to run rampant. And since these countries are U.S. allies and major exporters of oil to the West, an Iranian threat to their independence could have catastrophic consequences for the entire democratic world, both geo-strategically and economically.
Iran has long singled out Israel for special opprobrium. President Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier, has repeatedly stated his wish to perpetrate another by “wiping Israel off the map.” Armed with a nuclear capacity, Iran might be tempted to carry out that threat. And even if it does not, Iran could ship atomic weapons in some form across the border to supporters in Iraq and Syria, or to the non-state terrorist groups that are its clients—Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza—from where they could be used against Israel.
As we near zero-hour, what can be done to stop the Iranian atomic juggernaut? The UN Security Council has already passed four resolutions, the last in June 2010, imposing economic and financial sanctions. The U.S., the EU and several other countries have adopted their own measures against key Iranian companies and individuals. And we at AJC—which over the course of a decade has sought to alert the international community about the Iranian threat and urge steps to stop it—recently met with top leaders of more than 70 nations stating the case for action to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear-weapons capacity.
While no means of deterrence should be declared off the table, there are clearly ways to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran, and these should be tried before force is employed. Unfortunately, more stringent sanctions that could convince Iran to halt its nuclear program are being held up by Russia, China and some other countries that fear losing the economic benefits they get through trade with Iran. Up to now, their leaders have rationalized their inertia by parroting the Iranian line that Tehran’s atomic ambitions are for peaceful use.
With the IAEA report, however, they cannot say that with a straight face anymore. The nations of the world have no choice but to act jointly with purpose to deter Iran’s aggressive nuclear plans, and do so before it’s too late.