Iran has reached a "level of progress" where it is “conceivable” that it could build a nuclear device as early as this year and could field a nuclear armed missile force some time between 2011 and 2015, says CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman in a new book.
The “cumulative weight of evidence” has grown so large that it’s difficult not to conclude that Iran is building nuclear warheads to put atop long range missiles, he says.
The Iranian regime has spent decades building up its nuclear weapons technology base, which is scattered throughout the country, "has at least three different centrifuge designs" and has in place every element of the "production cycle" needed to develop weapons-grade U-235, according to an emailed summary of the book’s findings.
The New York Times reported last week that the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded in a confidential document that Iran has “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable” atom bomb.
Iran’s development of nuclear warheads and long range missiles must be assessed together, Cordesman says. It already has long range Shahab missiles that can target the Gulf states and Israel and is developing missiles with longer ranges and larger payloads as well as cruise missiles. Cordesman says it is only a matter of years before Iran arms its missiles with nuclear warheads. "Iran is the only country not in possession of nuclear weapons to have produced or flight-tested missiles with ranges exceeding 1,000 kilometers."
If the nuclear threat isn’t bad enough, Cordesman says Iran is also acquiring the equipment and core technology necessary to develop and manufacture biological weapons. No wonder he says Iran poses a “critical threat” to the entire Middle East.
While weak in conventional military power, Iran has pursued weapons and training in “asymmetric warfare” and has provided advanced, precision guided weapons to proxy forces in the region such as Lebanese Hezbollah, including anti-ship missiles and the latest generation Russian anti-armor missiles. The shaped-charge IEDs Iran supplied to insurgents fighting American troops in Iraq were the “single most lethal weapons technology in that fighting.”
The findings laid out in the new book, Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Birth of a Regional Nuclear Arms Race?, are not based on access to classified intelligence, Cordesman notes. Rather, they are based on a net assessment of available information and conversations with intelligence and military officials.
Cordesman says Iran is determined to develop a nuclear strike capability and there is very little the U.S. and rest of the world can do to stop it. “The situation has already evolved beyond the point where the key question for policymaking is whether Iran’s neighbors, the United States, Israel, and the world can live with a nuclear-armed Iran. It is far from clear that Iran’s neighbors, the United States, Israel, and the world have a choice,” he writes.
As for military strikes by either the U.S. or Israel, Cordesman questions whether sufficient intelligence exists to target Iran’s many nuclear weapons facilities.
“These uncertainties do not mean that there are not workable military options. It may well be possible to seriously delay Iran’s efforts and make them more costly and inefficient. At the same time, it is far from clear that prevention is really possible through either diplomatic or military means.”"There is considerable evidence that Iran’s actions will be opportunistic and driven by future events, rather than part of any fixed or coherent master plan," he writes.
“Even successful diplomatic negotiations might lead Iran to dismantle its known facilities while creating, or strengthening, a covert program that any negotiable IAEA inspection regime might fail to detect or verify. Even relatively successful Israeli or U.S. preventive strikes might also end in failure. Iran may have advanced to the point where a determined Iranian government can carry out an indigenous nuclear program in three to five years that supplies at least a few nuclear weapons.”