Back on March 23, we wrote that Iran was moving forward with operation of a 164-centrifuge cascade, and if successful, would move towards assembly of a 3,000 centrifuge unit which could produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a bomb. As we all know by now, that is precisely what happened. Iran has made clear that following the installation of a 3,000 centrifuge unit it will upgrade to "industrial production" via a 54,000 centrifuge unit. Without significant action from the international community, the Iranian march towards nuclear weapons will continue unabated.
On Tuesday, Iran announced a major breakthrough in its drive towards a nuclear weapon, enriching uranium to a level of 3.5 percent using its 164-centrifuge cascade.
This announcement reflects what they see - or rather what they don't see - from the international community. Iran's leaders are keen to the lack of pressure from veto-wielding powers in Moscow and Beijing and frequently proclaim their immunity from action. In the absence of a concerted effort to put the brakes on their plans, Tehran will continue to press forward. "Our enemies know they cannot stop the Iranian nation from its path with such propaganda, meetings and showing an angry face to us," Ahmadinejad has said.
Many pundits have decided that this latest technological accomplishment is something to belittle (WP, NYT, Reuters). Unfortunately for them, and for the American public which relies in large part on their analysis, it is indicative of a fundamental misconception of the nuclear process. In fact, it's far more difficult to go from 0 to 3.5 percent than it is to go from 3.5 percent to 90 percent.
Also of concern to us is that editorial boards, such as the New York Times, consistently frame the debate in terms of the timeline for Iran to actually produce a bomb. That is not the issue, because once Iran masters the process and crosses the technological threshold, then it's not a matter of if, but when. Iran has shown its willingness to skip key steps in the enrichment process and is leaping forward in its capabilities faster than the diplomatic process can advance.
When it comes to Iran, the pundits tend to fall back on the old models of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. Yet Iran is not the Soviet Union and represents a threat on a completely different level. Simply put, the world has never seen an Islamic extremist terrorist state armed with nuclear weapons. The old models on nuclear deterrence are simply not applicable. On Wednesday we saw that even well-respected pundits are thoroughly confused, and it's time to drive a stake through their arguments. By comparing the crisis with Tehran to the Cuban Missile Crisis, readers are given the false impression that this problem can be handled the same way.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, believes that America risks losing its global power in a war with Iran. We beg to differ. In this crisis, the issue is not what we can afford to do, but rather what we can afford not to do. This is one of those nightmares you don't wake up from. An Iranian-dominated Middle East threatens the future of the West.
Iran is creating facts on the ground that are rapidly bringing us to the brink. Time is running out on the diplomatic option, and several more months of inaction will lead the West to one of two terrible options: acquiesce to a nuclear-armed terrorist state, or resort to military action with all the consequences that come along with that. In the words of Sen. John McCain, "there's only one thing worse than using the option of military action, and that is the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons."