It’s Gillermania, back from a long hiatus. A simple question: Why would Iran, which floats on an ocean of oil, choose to invest in a nuclear energy program instead of upgrading its refining capacity so that it doesn’t have to import gasoline? He fears there’s only one answer. So does Israeli intelligence: “If one looks at the investment, if one looks at the nature of the project, if you look at the cost to the Iranian economy, there is no logical explanation other than that the Iranian program is not benign.” Even the Times acknowledges that mastering enrichment, which will Iran will now certainly be allowed to do, is the hard part of building a weapon; ElBaradei himself estimated just a few weeks ago that if they’ve worked out the kinks in their 3,000-centrifuge cascade, they could have a bomb in a year. The cause for celebration, especially on the left, isn’t that Iran is no longer a threat, it’s that it’s a threat that Bush has no grounds for confronting militarily and is unlikely to be able to pressure diplomatically. It’s the next president’s problem now.
WaPo has an interesting look at how the new intel on Iran came out of Bush, fresh from the Iraq intel fiasco, demanding better information on the program in 2005, but here’s the takeaway just to show you how slender a thread our new “comfort” hangs by: “While Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to make nuclear weapons, including knowledge of how to enrich uranium to a level usable in bombs, the new intelligence collected through intercepted communications raised doubts about Iran’s intended use of the technology.” It’s not a question of capability, in other words, it’s a question of simple will. And now that they know we’re not confident enough in their intentions to press them, they’re leveraging that knowledge.
Read this WaPo story too about what the new intel consists of. The key appears to be an intercepted communication from a senior Iranian military figure complaining about the bomb program having been “shuttered” years ago. Ehud Barak says it’s true, the program was dropped — and then, according to Israeli intel’s best guess, restarted again.