Iran ramps up its nuclear program

A new U.N. report found that the Islamic Republic was sharply stepping up its production of enriched uranium.

What happened

Israel’s government this week urged the U.S. and other Western powers to set “a clear red line” for military action against Iran, after a new U.N. report found that the Islamic Republic was sharply stepping up its production of enriched uranium. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran had produced 418 pounds of 20 percent enriched uranium—which could be converted to weapons-grade material in a matter of months—up from 321 pounds in May. The inspectors also said that there were 2,140 enrichment centrifuges—more than double May’s count—installed at the heavily fortified Fordo site, buried deep beneath a mountain near the city of Qom. The IAEA expressed concern that the uranium enrichment was connected to “the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that Iran’s atomic program was peaceful and that building a nuclear bomb would be “sinful.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agency’s report offered “further proof that Iran is galloping toward obtaining nuclear capability” and that the international community is being too soft on Iran. He has stated that Israel would act alone, if necessary, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. But Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that sanctions and diplomatic efforts should be given more time to work, and that an Israeli attack would “delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program.”

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What the editorials said

President Obama’s Iran policy is a catastrophe, said The Wall Street Journal. He has spent his term selling the public “a make-believe world in which Iran’s nuclear intentions are potentially peaceful, sanctions are working, and diplomacy hasn’t failed.” Tehran, meanwhile, has stealthily sped up its nuclear program, and now needs only 110 more pounds of 20 percent uranium to build a bomb. No wonder Israel is considering a unilateral strike.

“Washington’s caution is well-placed,” said The New York Times. Iran is not yet on the verge of building a bomb, and Netanyahu’s bluster before the U.S. presidential election is just “a cynical gambit” to get Obama to agree to “act against Iran soon.” But an attack could easily make things worse. A sustained air campaign might set Iran’s nuclear program back a few years, but would only harden Iran’s will to arm itself with nukes.

What the columnists said

Israel simply can’t risk a nuclear Iran, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. Iran’s ruling clerics believe “in the supremacy of the afterlife, and holy war as the ultimate avenue to achieving it.” They’d gladly obliterate the Jewish state, even if it meant the destruction of their own nation in the inevitable counter-attack. Under that existential threat, Israel has grounds to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months, with or without Obama’s support.

Iran’s leaders may be hostile, but they don’t have a death wish, said Greg Scoblete in The regime uses terrorist subsidiaries like Lebanon’s Hezbollah precisely because it “doesn’t want to risk direct confrontations. That’s evidence of ruthless cunning, not suicidal fanaticism.” Even if Iran is intent on building a nuclear weapon, there’s no need to panic, said Shashank Joshi in The Telegraph (U.K.). The regime is still months away from producing enough enriched uranium for a bomb. Once it has that, assembling a nuclear device would take another year or more, and “putting that device onto a missile would take even longer.” Any of those easily detectable steps would trigger a devastating U.S.-led military campaign.

For now, it looks like Netanyahu will just have to be patient, said Anshel Pfeffer in Ha’aretz (Israel). Obama wants to market himself to voters as the president who “ended America’s ‘decade of war,’” so he won’t support a strike on Iran before the November election. GOP candidate Mitt Romney won’t clamor for war, either, knowing that voters are weary of expensive foreign conflicts. If Netanyahu wants the support of the next president of the U.S., he’ll have to hold his fire until the voters have spoken.

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