The Pentagon’s forward planners have targeted two Iranian nuclear facilities after weapons-grade enriched uranium has been found in one by UN inspectors. A UN report published this week says the country could acquire a nuclear bomb within two years.
Particles of weapons-grade enriched uranium were discovered at Natanz. Iran claims the particles were from “contaminated components” it bought on the black market in the 1980s when it was trying to set up its “peaceful nuclear programme” – and could not find a supplier in the West ready to help.
But both the CIA and MI6, who have now each made intelligence gathering on Iran a priority, discount Iran’s claim of how it came to have sufficient enriched uranium to make an effective “dirty bomb”.
Neo-conservatives around Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld have not discounted a pre-emptive strike against the plants at Natanz and Arak. They are sited south of Tehran, in the remote fastness of central Iran.
Unlike the rift that developed over the war with Iraq between the United States and the European Union, there is a consensus that it is “essential and urgent” for Iran to stop arming itself with nuclear weapons.
Washington is supporting a UN resolution – sponsored by Britain, France and Germany – that Iran must stop its nuclear programme by the end of October. Implicit in the resolution is a warning the plants could be hit by missiles fired from US warships in the Gulf.
The plant at Natanz is far bigger than anything Iraq ever had. Natanz is guarded by a heavily patrolled thirty-mile deep perimeter within the featureless landscape.
The Tehran regime claims the Natanz plant is only working to develop the country’s peaceful nuclear energy programme to bring power, heat and electricity to its hundreds of small towns and villages.
But British and German intelligence agents have pinpointed an underground complex capable of holding 1,000 personnel.
UN inspectors, diverted from searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, have confirmed the existence of the complex.
Buried thirty-feet below ground, it has eight-feet thick walls to protect two large halls.
In a report last week to the 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, the inspectors told their closed meeting in Vienna they are certain the underground complex is designed to carry out the process of turning enriched uranium into weapons-grade material.
The report states: “there are 1,000 gas centrifuges and components for the manufacture of 50,000 further centrifuges”.
Highly enriched uranium is an essential element in producing a nuclear weapon.
Iran has two plants – one at Arkadan, east of Natanz, the other near the historic town of Isfahan – to convert uranium ore into yellowcake, a processed form of uranium. The yellowcake can be converted into enriched uranium as well as producing hexaflouride gas, essential to drive the centrifuges.
Russian engineers are helping Iran to build a heavy water plant at Arak. Iran again claims the plant will be used only for peaceful purposes.
But the UN report states: “heavy water can also produce more plutonium than light water reactors, and therefore can produce significant quantities to be used in weapons”.
Kenneth Brill, the US ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna said last week that the evidence against Iran “already justifies an immediate non-compliance verdict”.
Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the UN Security Council could introduce crippling sanctions against Iran. That would most certainly place the United States on a collision course with one of the nations President Bush has named as being part of the “axis of evil”.
There is also a clear danger that Israel could act unilaterally and launch its own air strikes against Iran’s nuclear plants. It has done so before – when it destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor outside Baghdad in March, 1981.
“We will not stand by and allow the Iranians to use the same cat-and-mouse games over their nuclear plants that Saddam used over many years”, said a senior Israeli intelligence officer in Tel Aviv. “There is a need to take a touch line now. In two years time, it could be too late”.
The prospect of military action came that much closer after Hashemi-Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s most influential clerics and the country’s former president, called on Muslim states last December to use nuclear weapons against Israel.
Mossad analysts told Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, that the appeal was directed not only at Pakistan, the one Muslim nation known to have nuclear weapons, but also to Iran’s partner in the “axis of evil” – North Korea.
That possibility has led to the Pentagon forward planners continuing to prepare their own missile strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
As the Israeli intelligence officer said: “it could be a race who presses the button first – us or the Americans”.
Courtsy Gritzle and togethernet