More Iranian Response Capacity

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Iran hand Gary Sick discusses one potential Iranian response to an Israeli airstrike that Sam Roggeveen forgot to mention yesterday:

. . .Clearly, one quick strike like the bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 cannot do it. Iran has spread these [sites] around over a wide range of territory and buried many of them deep underground. . .

And it’s hard to believe that Israel could carry out multiple bombing raids, even if they decided to try to do it without U.S. assistance. Then what do you get at the end of your bombing raid? Iran can predictably be expected to resign from the Nonproliferation Treaty and to declare that it’s going for a nuclear weapon built totally underground with no International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors present and probably make more progress than they have been making over the past twenty-odd years since they decided to go for a nuclear infrastructure. In fact, their progress has been very slow. So, in the end, you are probably making it more likely that Iran will get a nuclear weapon, perhaps even faster, and probably the Iranian people will gravitate around this hard-liner government that they don’t particularly like out of national support.

On a more optimistic note, Sick refuses to make any predictions about the outcome of negotiations, but clearly interprets the recent sabre-rattling on both sides as posturing for bargaining position. He also suggests that the “freeze for freeze” formula could lead to an arrangement further down the road whereby Iran could conceivably maintain their 3,000 active centrifuges, eventually running with inert gas instead of uranium. It’s a variant of the enrichment freeze that Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk has mentioned in the past. Sick believes that the Bush administration has now resigned itself to the idea and that Tehran could find it attractive. So there’s still room for some pleasant surprises on the diplomatic front.

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