November 20, 2018

More explosions, but nothing much changed with Iran

As conflicting reports on the most recent explosion in Iran make it hard to assess the seriousness and severity of this event, CNN published an enlightening photo of the damage created by the explosion earlier this month. The Institute for Science and International Security published this photo alongside an earlier one of the same site. The damage seems significant even to the naked and untrained eye.

While all this activity puts Iran back in the front pages of newspapers around the world, the basic facts concerning Iran’s nuclear program haven’t changed much in recent weeks. I’ve just discovered that the good people of Watching America had translated an article I wrote for Maariv (Hebrew) about Iran’s US policy, and rereading it this morning I didn’t see much I would change had I written it today (except for re-translating many paragraphs, especially the concluding paragraph – one that the translator obviously didn’t quite understand).

Anyway – here’s a bit from this Nov. 9 translation:

What will Obama do with this important information? He is definitely as committed as his predecessor to attempting to prevent Iran’s military nuclear capability. But he can also say that just like his predecessor, he tried and failed. George Bush and his Vice President Richard Cheney, who ranted and raved about the Iranian nuclear threat in his book, did not achieve much more than Obama has.

On the other hand, no rogue state achieved nuclear capability without advance warning on their watch: The Indians and the Pakistanis showed (Bill) Clinton their cards. North Korea mocked him. Libya gave up because they were afraid of Bush. Syria suffered a pre-emptive strike with Bush’s approval. Perhaps it is random coincidence, or perhaps it is because of the way in which the American president is perceived in countries that are uncertain whether to develop a nuclear program or not.

My point: To make deterrence effective one has to have a president that seems, well, determined to deter (a country from acquiring nuclear weapon). Additional point: The case of North Korea is, obviously, more complicated than what I said in the above paragraph. The Koreans started cheating the world during the Clinton years (the Clinton administration naively thought the problem was solved after signing an agreement with Pyongyang). However, the first real North Korean test of an atomic weapon occurred during the Bush years (in 2006 – you can see a more detailed timeline of the North Korean nuclear program here).