Iran's Nukes: The Threat is Closer Than it Appears

by CYNTHIA E AYERS November 9, 2011
Audiences in big-screen theaters laughed uproariously upon seeing the open jaws of a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex positioned just over the safety warning (“objects in mirror are closer than they appear”) on a Jeep’s side mirror during one of the most memorable chase scenes of the movie Jurassic Park. They laughed, even as they felt the surge of emotion that accompanies impending doom. It was, after all, only a movie.
Reality, however, occasionally mimics art. Eighteen years after the release of Jurassic Park, we can again see the rapid approach of danger in the mirror—but this time, it’s real. The predator is the Iranian regime; and they are closer to attaining a nuclear weapons capability than has heretofore been apparent to (or admitted by) Western or U.N. authorities. In fact, according to experts at a recent Capitol Hill press conference hosted by EMPact America, the predator has caught up with us—Iran already has a nuclear capability. How close they may be to using nuclear weapons against the enemies who Iran’s leaders have long referred to as “the Great Satan” (the United States) and “the Little Satan” (Israel), is open to debate. Regardless, the experts who convened on Capitol Hill, as well as others who participated in a September New York City press event, agree—Iran’s leaders are not likely to wait long, once they have sufficient capacity to ensure a successful outcome.
Why have we not been told this information by our government? What happened to the people, systems, and processes in place to provide information upon which to base decisions about matters such as this? Why have we been hearing that sanctions are working, that Iran’s activities have been slowed, that the nuclear program is struggling, and that its leaders haven’t even decided to go the route of building nuclear weapons? Why do we still hear that Iran is probably a yearor more away from developing a nuclear weapons capability—that there is plenty of time for more talk and more sanctions?
Politics, of course, is and has been a huge factor. The encroachment of political correctness into virtually all government analytic and defense arenas, from the tactical to strategic levels, is another. “Knowing the enemy” as an enemy is extremely difficult in the current environment. Any attempt to do so can be viewed as politically incorrect and therefore not politically expedient.  In addition, most analysts are cautioned against making anything that could be perceived as “worst case” assessments—advice which is easy for them to heed due to an inherent and pervasive fear of risking credibility.  
Foreign policy and intelligence analysts could, perhaps, be forgiven for “mirror-imaging” any and all adversaries they are tasked with studying. Given the expectations and regulations to which they are held in their efforts to simply do their jobs, mirror-imaging may be the inevitable result. Thus, what they see in the mirror ends up being a somewhat slightly more menacing version of themselves—nothing to really be worried about. 
During the Cold War, the ability to analyze Soviet leaders’ culture, expectations, intent, and strength of will without fear of reprisal or ridicule provided us all the luxury of being able to depend on the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)—even though (contrary to conventional wisdom) MAD wasn’t completely effective as a Cold War deterrent.  Indeed,it nearly failed to protect us even after the Cold War. Still, the adversarial image in the mirror in regard to the Soviet Union was relatively clear.
Unfortunately, the practice of political correctness has managed to obscure the current view to the point where even a minuscule amount of menace may be difficult to ascertain. Using the Cold War as a baseline, intelligence preparation of the battlefield can be kept strictly to specifics of weaponry and assessments of strength, with opposing sides conveniently assumed to be similar to those ensconced in the Cold War. It’s the non-controversial way to go. 
But the danger we now face is twofold: 1.) our authorities are virtually blind to the Iranian leadership’s culture, expectations, intentions and strength of will; and 2.) our leaders almost willfully assume that MAD, as a doctrine, can always be relied upon to deter any and all adversaries.  The Iranian regime wouldn’t attempt to use nuclear weapons because they don’t want to be obliterated in response—our country’s leadership believes this because they wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the U.S. nuclear arsenal if they were in control of Iran (mirror imaging). 
It is thus assumed in U.S. foreign policy circles that Iran wouldn’t dare attack the United States. We are too strong and they are too weak. We have nukes and they don’t (or at least we have many, many more nukes than they could possibly have at this point). And because Western authorities now feel so uncomfortable when questioning the various aspects of adversarial resolve (in the realm of political correctness, differences are merely manifestations of cultural “diversity”), the mirror fogs over and the mind compensates. The image morphs into something much less menacing—something more familiar. Mirror-imaging is a very comforting thing.
It takes uncommon valor to see through the fog and confront the danger. Reza Kahlili, a former CIA spy operating within Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), told the Capitol Hill audience that the Islamic Republic had obtained two nuclear warheads and medium-range delivery systems from Kazakhstan, as well as four 152 mm nuclear shells from military officers after the fall of the Soviet Union. He emphasized that Iran now has enough enriched uranium for at least six nuclear bombs, and reiterated information that he had reported earlier this year—not only has the IRGC taken delivery of two new nuclear-capable missile warheads (of Ukrainian design, built with the assistance of China and Pakistan) with eight more to follow, but they are currently building a missile base in Venezuela.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, President of EMPact America and Director of the Nuclear Strategy Forum noted that it only took the United States three years to build two very different types of atomic weapons in the 1940s from scratch. In comparison, Iran has been working on a nuclear weapons program for over twenty years, and has had help from Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Pakistani scientists. In that context, the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability seems much more likely than the alternative that has long been reported--that the West has another 1-2 years to consider sanctions and diplomacy. 
LTC (Retired) Tony Shaffer supported the assertion that Iran already has a “crude” nuclear capability, and further discussed the nature and value of Iran’s deception campaign. Panelists Ken Timmerman, Chet Nagel, and Peter Huessy considered the consequences of a nuclear Iran. The most worrying of scenarios involved a complete “takedown” of U.S. critical infrastructures using an electromagnetic pulse attack. A single nuclear weapon detonated at sufficient altitude above the center of our continent could instantaneously take our country back to a nineteenth century way of life (or earlier), for a period of months to years. With Congressional EMP commissioners and other experts predicting a death rate of two-thirds or more within the first year after an EMP attack, the United States cannot afford to ignore reality.
Three months ago, Mr. Kahlili warned us that an editorial posted in an Iranian newspaper discussed the vulnerabilities of America’s electrical grid—noting that the United States “will be taught the mother of all lessons.” He has shown us the face of enemies (the Iranian regime) who fully intend to remove the United States as an actor on the world state, instantaneously and long-term—and who truly believe that it can be done. Indeed, the regime believes it is their duty to do so.  The end of “the Great Satan” doesn’t have to be quick to be effective.   
Congressman Trent Franks, in a statement read by Dr. Pry, noted: “The IAEA reports that Iran has already developed and tested an implosion system, the technological heart of an atomic bomb.”   It is therefore imperative that we protect our electric grid by passing the SHIELD Act now—“Iran’s proximity to the bomb is alarming, and an urgent national security high priority.”  
The sad fact is that at this point in time, we are not prepared for Iranian nuclear weapons any more than we are prepared for a Tyrannosaurus Rex in attack mode. We won’t have the advantage of viewing the outcome of an attack on widescreen media while sitting in a nice comfortable theater; nor will we be laughing at the scary proposition that the adversary in the mirror may be perfectly positioned, ready, willing, and able to destroy us.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Cynthia E. Ayers is currently Vice President of EMPact Amercia. She recently retired from the National Security Agency after over 38 years of federal service, including 8 years at the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership.

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