Last week a shocking milestone was reached. United Nations officials have acknowledged what some private experts have been saying for months — that Iran now has enough enriched uranium for an atomic weapon. The only steps that remain in building an atom bomb — purification and weaponization — are neither beyond Iran’s capabilities nor very time consuming.
This story was literally buried under reports about the stimulus bill and the economy. Very few people even noticed it. Even fewer seemed to care.
Our failure to take Iran’s steady progress towards nuclear arms seriously is nothing new. When experts announced approximately two years ago that Iran was two years away from enriching enough uranium for a nuclear bomb, few noticed. When observers warned last year that Iran was one year away from having enough uranium for a weapon, the news was largely ignored. Thus we have watched the window slowly shut. The dire prediction proved to be accurate. And the years have passed.
The UN assessment followed the disclosure by the International Atomic Energy Agency last week that its inspectors had found 460 additional pounds of low-enriched uranium at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility that Iran had never reported — a full one third of its total supply. The only thing surprising about this announcement was that anyone trusted Iran in the first place. Iran has a consistent record of lying, distorting and hiding its nuclear program from international inspectors. They have been trying to get enough uranium for a bomb before the world caught on. It looks like they have succeeded.
What can be done now? The options are grim. Speaking on Fox News last week, Israeli Ambassador Sallai Merridor warned of Iran’s imminent nuclear capacity and said that “The world must take immediate and serious action in order to prevent this nightmare from happening.” While he did not detail what these actions should entail, he said that “Sanctions should be enhanced significantly.”
Last year, Congress made significant progress in passing an Iran sanctions package. Yet our legislators ended up leaving town before voting on its final passage. This was a lost opportunity of tragic proportions. Now we will need to begin the sanctions process all over again. As frustrating and possibly futile as this effort may be, Ambassador Merridor is right. We must aggressively pursue sanctions and we intend to do so.
Ambassador Merridor hinted that the military option was still on the table by saying that, “The only option that is not on the table is to allow Iran to get nuclear capabilities.” President Obama has likewise stated that all options are on the table. I, for one, do not presume to know enough about our military capabilities — and Iran’s — to suggest which option best promotes American security at this juncture. All I know is that even in the midst of our economic crisis, there is one option that must be taken off the table immediately — continuing to ignore the problem.