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March 29, 2015 10:50 am

To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran

avatar by John Bolton

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The Iran nuclear program's heavy-water reactor at Arak. Photo: Nanking2012 via Wikimedia Commons.

For years, experts worried that the Middle East would face an uncontrollable nuclear-arms race if Iran ever acquired weapons capability. Given the region’s political, religious and ethnic conflicts, the logic is straightforward.

As in other nuclear proliferation cases like India, Pakistan and North Korea, America and the West were guilty of inattention when they should have been vigilant. But failing to act in the past is no excuse for making the same mistakes now. All presidents enter office facing the cumulative effects of their predecessors’ decisions. But each is responsible for what happens on his watch. President Obama’s approach on Iran has brought a bad situation to the brink of catastrophe.

In theory, comprehensive international sanctions, rigorously enforced and universally adhered to, might have broken the back of Iran’s nuclear program. But the sanctions imposed have not met those criteria. Naturally, Tehran wants to be free of them, but the president’s own director of National Intelligence testified in 2014 that they had not stopped Iran’s progressing its nuclear program. There is now widespread acknowledgment that the rosy 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which judged that Iran’s weapons program was halted in 2003, was an embarrassment, little more than wishful thinking.

Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident. Now the arms race has begun: Neighboring countries are moving forward, driven by fears that Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is fostering a nuclear Iran. Saudi Arabia, keystone of the oil-producing monarchies, has long been expected to move first. No way would the Sunni Saudis allow the Shiite Persians to outpace them in the quest for dominance within Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitical hegemony. Because of reports of early Saudi funding, analysts have long believed that Saudi Arabia has an option to obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan, allowing it to become a nuclear-weapons state overnight. Egypt and Turkey, both with imperial legacies and modern aspirations, and similarly distrustful of Tehran, would be right behind.

Ironically perhaps, Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other states in the region understood — even if they couldn’t admit it publicly — that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.

Iran is a different story. Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions. Saudi, Egyptian and Turkish interests are complex and conflicting, but faced with Iran’s threat, all have concluded that nuclear weapons are essential.

The former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said recently, “whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same.” He added, “if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that.” Obviously, the Saudis, Turkey and Egypt will not be issuing news releases trumpeting their intentions. But the evidence is accumulating that they have quickened their pace toward developing weapons.

Saudi Arabia has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with South Korea, China, France and Argentina, aiming to build a total of 16 reactors by 2030. The Saudis also just hosted meetings with the leaders of Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey; nuclear matters were almost certainly on the agenda. Pakistan could quickly supply nuclear weapons or technology to Egypt, Turkey and others. Or, for the right price, North Korea might sell behind the backs of its Iranian friends.

The Obama administration’s increasingly frantic efforts to reach agreement with Iran have spurred demands for ever-greater concessions from Washington. Successive administrations, Democratic and Republican, worked hard, with varying success, to forestall or terminate efforts to acquire nuclear weapons by states as diverse as South Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa. Even where civilian nuclear reactors were tolerated, access to the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle was typically avoided. Everyone involved understood why.

This gold standard is now everywhere in jeopardy because the president’s policy is empowering Iran. Whether diplomacy and sanctions would ever have worked against the hard-liners running Iran is unlikely. But abandoning the red line on weapons-grade fuel drawn originally by the Europeans in 2003, and by the United Nations Security Council in several resolutions, has alarmed the Middle East and effectively handed a permit to Iran’s nuclear weapons establishment.

The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.

Rendering inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations and the Arak heavy-water production facility and reactor would be priorities. So, too, would be the little-noticed but critical uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan. An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.

Mr. Obama’s fascination with an Iranian nuclear deal always had an air of unreality. But by ignoring the strategic implications of such diplomacy, these talks have triggered a potential wave of nuclear programs. The president’s biggest legacy could be a thoroughly nuclear-weaponized Middle East.

John R. Bolton, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was the United States ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006. This article was originally published by The New York Times.

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  • On March 3, 2015, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel said in the US Congress that Iran is expanding its influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen…

    In reaction to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, President Obama said that the Israeli Prime Minister had said “nothing new” !?!

    a- Only three weeks later a coalition of ten Arab states was formed to fight against the ‘Houthis’, the Iranian “pawns” in Yemen.

    b- In a news conference on March 28, the Turkish President Ergogan CONFIRMED Netanyahu words in Congress, and said that he will NOT ACCEPT Iranian dominance in the Middle East!

    Today the world is beginning to properly internalize and understand the meaning of Iran with the Atomic Bomb!

    My question:
    Where is President Obama in this dangerous political game?

  • Virginia Apple

    “The president’s biggest legacy could be a thoroughly nuclear-weaponized Middle East.” If the world survives after the path Obama is following, history will certainly mark his legacy a lot different than he now desires.

  • Atilla

    One bullet could solve this problem.

  • Please, are we all so naive as to think that Obama is not a muslim, and like every muslim his loyalty is and will always be to Islam !
    We know so very little of Obamas past, which is murky at best, invented and obtuse.
    Where did he come from, a short tenure in politics and a giant leap to the the office of President !
    I as one would like to see our Senators, Congressman sanction him with a vote of “No Confidence”. Which could open a door to impeachment.
    The amount of muslims he has posted to high offices is staggering, google and see for yourself.
    Some of his most trusted advisors are muslims.
    If this is obvious to me at my age of 78, younger Jews everywhere can glean enough information to vet what I have written.
    I am old enough to have lived through enough wars, the testing of Atomic bombs in Nevada, televised on TV !
    Iran cannot be allowed to have any nuclear capibility, none ! Not even reactors !
    It is a vile theocratic dictatorship, Iran will use their Atomic muscle as the ultimate show of strength,if they achieve their goal of fissionable material expect to see somewhere a test or an attack on Israel, Saudi Arabia or any nation which does not comply to it’s warped theocratic beliefs, I am afraid this will happen with certainty.
    They will not waste a bomb on a empty deserted area of their own soil, but on Tel Aviv, or a testing nation of their own choosing, ” The Great Satan” ? Probably.

  • thorolf nyfors

    OK, Go ahead, bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities and sit down and wait for the next 911 type disaster. Fox News, Israel and the whole Obama administration never forget to tell us that Iran is financing terrorist activities all over the globe. Obama himself seems to be the only one having some good thoughts about Iran. With countries like North Korea and Pakistan having nukes, I do not think Iran having a nuclear bomb will make that much of a difference. By the way, has anyone made sure that Obama knows the difference between Shias and Sunnis and that Islam is not just one big happy family. Until two weeks before US attacked Irak, George Bush did not know it.

    The agreement HAS TO BE STOPPED!

    It is high time to take this Nuclear Arms Race threat serious and stop with what ever means are necessary.

    And doing the right thing without any hesitation, the whole Middle East will suddenly get calm as there will be no Iran to support all the chaos that it has created.

  • Streaming the BBC radio4 news this morning I heard in sequence an regurgitation – dare one say plagiarism without acknowledgement – of the author, Bibi’s warnings to congress regarding the question of “how long Iran could be deterred from making its first nuclear bomb”. Contiguous was the report about Ehud Olmert’s corruption charges. Bibi will never ever be credited by the BBC with this ” original thought/ anxiety”.

  • Ward Damon Hubbard

    What every single American needs to do, is to think, Think of the ones you love, the things you love, then take a hard look into the mirror. And ask yourself this, “Do we need a nuclear arms race, in the most unstable region on this blue marble?” Once you have come to grip’s with that, then why are they not (Iran) as concerned about the threat of nuclear proliferation as you are? For myself, and in my opinion, it’s is like ordering biscuits and sausage gravy in a French Café in Paris. They do not understand the language and it’s meaning that we are speaking. So we need to say to them some thing they will understand, in a way that will leave little doubt, what it is we are talking about. Violence and war is a option that Iran understands very well, we all remember them attacking a mac up of a US Aircraft Carrier, what it meant? Besides being laughable was a statement in a language they chose. Equally and proportional we as a nation should realizes the cost of a military action, that would destroy Iran’s capability of ever attaining a nuclear arsenal. That means “Collateral Damage” of the loss of innocent lives. Men, women, and children, smoldering ruins, childless mothers, parentless children, wimping cries of widows, and all the devastation that comes with a United States of American Military Action. Will it be worth it? Is that a fact that is acceptable? Well there are several things that will happen, [1] It will end the chances of Iran obtaining a nuclear arsenal, [2] it will give those who doubt the resolve of our nation, a moment of pause [3] the hatred they have for the west, which means The United States of America, a tangible meaning. But really, we hear “Death To America” already, so that’s no big deal now is it? and [4] let Putin, North Korea, and China, and the UN, condemn us all they want. But we would be doing, what all the talking could not. Just like in WWII, Yes it’s a dirty job, ugly job, but it has to be done, and we’ll do it right, because we can. Some one need to check them, if not the stage is being set for the world’s worst nuclear exchange, devastation, and loss of life mankind will know. That will effect those young family members we all have and love so much. In my humble opinion, that is how it’s playing out right now, because Obama is not getting this right, he and his administration are failures on the world stage

  • We should have the HOTS (head of the snake)for TOT (take out Teheran)

  • Tawanda Chichinye

    The writer thinks Israel’s nuclear weapons are a deterrent while that of Iran if aquired would be used offensively what absurd thinking. By secretly building nuclear weapons itself in a volatile region as theirs Israel started the region’s nuclear arms race. Israel has to accept that eventually it is not going to remain the only legitimate nuclear power in the region. Israel can not arm itself to peace with its neigbours but should negotiate its way to peace. The earlier they realize this the better.

  • Howie Subnick

    John Bolton, I have heard you speak. It is a shame you cannot get through to the many MORONS in Washington.
    God Bless You!

  • Mandrake

    John Bolton always hits the mark.

  • Ivana Talya Tufakov

    This president is not merely “sleeping with the enemy”.

    This president IS the enemy.

  • Joseph Ozer

    It would take more than one bombing raid. They would counterattack, then we would have to destroy their navy to prevent them from attacking shipping in the Persian gulf. We should start by killing their nuclear scientists. That would slow them down.

  • JIm

    Hit them before they hit you.

  • Ivan Gur-Arie

    I hope that history condemns Obama and his idiotic foreign policy.

  • Malcolm

    I agree with Bolton’s analysis, but does anyone seriously think Oabam would actually act against a country that sees the US as an enemy? Attack a friend, piece of cake for Obama, but an enemy? Heaven forbid.

  • Mark_NYC

    This opinion piece by Bolton was posted on the OP ED page of the NY Times and received over 1000 comments. Looking through them, it was very difficult finding any (perhaps a handful)that agreed with the author. The general consensus seemed to be that Bolton was stark raving mad. When one commenter wrote (to paraphrase) no thank you, been there done that- in obvious reference to Iraq- I replied, are you referring to Hiroshima and Nagasaki? in obvious reference to what might be in store for Israel. The NY Times chose not publish that response. What’s really sickening is that a large proportion of the readers of that paper are Jews. They just don’t know how lucky they are to be living in this country, relatively insulated from the problems Jews are suffering now all over the world. Perhaps when the bombs start going off here with some regularity they’ll wake up from their fantasy world. Or completely renounce their Jewish heritage.

  • Julian Clovelley

    Unbelievable silly article

    One example:

    “Ironically perhaps, Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other states in the region understood — even if they couldn’t admit it publicly — that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.”

    Yeah right – the left leg has bells on it

    Drivel – dear oh dear oh dear…