Iran's nukes

As the Bush administration wound down, a number of stories filtered out of the White House concerning Iran's nuclear program. The headlines focused on two thing - the alleged vetoing of an Israeli plan to bomb an Iranian facility, and a U.S. covert operation against the Iranians.

The person or persons who mentioned the covert program ought to be shot, but that's another issue.

Buried inside the stories and implicit in some of the details was the fact that Iran probably now has enough nuclear material for one bomb. Which means that within a relatively short time, they will have enough material for two or three. (I'll skip the details here for space. You need more than one warhead since you want to be able to test the design and still have a bomb left in case you need it. As a practical matter, a country would probably need or at least want material for anywhere from four to six warheads before a test; the test announces that you have the weapon and, certainly in this case, invites an immediate strike from Israel if you don't have something to retaliate with. The design, by the way, doesn't have to be tested on your soil.)

Nothing looming on the horizon seems likely to prevent Iran now from "harvesting" additional material. Its missile program, while far from perfect, is already capable of sending a warhead to Israel.

We haven't formally entered a new era of Middle East calculus yet, but we're only a few months away.

Except as a deterrent against an invasion or direct attack, Iran's nuclear program may prove next to useless; nuclear bombs handcuff responsible leaders to a much greater extent than conventional weapons. But that surely remains to be seen, and the next steps of "engaging" Iran over the issue will be extremely interesting.

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