President Barack Obama this week clued Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in on the latest US intelligence input confirming that Iran will have enough enriched uranium for 4-6 bombs by March 2013, intelligence reports from its Washington and intelligence sources. His update, which took place in the framework of quiet US–Israeli intelligence-sharing on the state of Iran’s nuclear program, was Obama’s first acknowledgment that sanctions and diplomatic pressure are not having any effect on that program. It is now clear to his administration that Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will press on toward a nuclear weapon capacity at any price – even if faced with a military threat. No pause is to be expected in Iran’s drive to accumulate enough enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear bomb arsenal, while advancing at the same time along a second track toward a plutonium bomb.
This updated US intelligence included three more data:
1. Most of the enriched uranium for the 4-6 nuclear bombs is scattered in 20-percent grade form among different caches. When vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan revealed Iran’s possession of enough fissile material for five nuclear bombs during his debate with VP Joe Biden on Oct. 10, Biden waved the revelation away with contempt.
2. After completing the transfer of advanced centrifuges to the fortified underground site at Fordo, Iran is now ready to expand uranium enrichment at Natanz by doubling the number of centrifuges working there to 6,000. The new annex to house them, on which building began in March 2011, is almost finished.
3. The technological infrastructure for the rapid conversion of 20-percent enriched uranium to the 90-percent weapons grade is now in place. It is estimated in Washington that no more than two to three weeks will elapse between a Khamenei order for the conversion to begin, to the production of enough weapons-grade material for Iran to build its first nuclear bombs.
The US intelligence experts keeping track of Iran’s program are sure they will know when that order is given.
Not withstanding all the facts and figures from his own intelligence experts on the imminence of a nuclear Iran, President Obama is still leaning hard on Netanyahu to hold off a preemptive strike until after the Nov. 6 presidential election. He promises that, shortly after the vote, if he is reelected, he will put before Tehran the endgame document prepared by a White House team in the form of an ultimatum with a deadline for response.
But Obama is still not saying how he will respond to an Iranian rejection of the document’s main points, or whether he will again agree to return to the negotiating table while Iran is allowed to forge ahead on its bomb program. This had been the standard diplomatic format under his watch.
Washington sources disclose that a large group of former high-placed US diplomats, ex-officials and elder statesmen – Democrats and Republicans alike – has come forward to warn the Israeli prime minister to give up any expectation, ever, of Barack Obama’s cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue. These former top Washingtonians all harbor strong reservations about the president’s foreign policy, especially on Iran. Some have called Netanyahu in person and warned him that the White House instituted an intelligence-sharing dialogue with Israel only as a device for delaying an Israeli attack on Iran. If reelected, they say, he will weasel out of his repeated pledges to prevent Iran attaining a nuclear weapon and certainly not countenance preventive military action by Israel.
This is no secret to Tehran. Counting on Obama maintaining this posture and Israel’s compliance, the Iranians are certain they can go full speed ahead toward their nuclear goal without fear of interference.