Iran May Have the Bomb

A report suggests that the most recent North Korea nuclear test, which used Uranium, not Plutonium as in their others, may have been the Iranian bomb.

the RAND Corporation reports that the third North Korean nuclear test appears to many experts to be fundamentally different from its previous two efforts. North Korea’s first tests used plutonium to trigger the nuclear explosion. This one, according to some atmospheric tests, likely used highly enriched uranium, exactly the form of nuclear weapon pursued by Iran.

The report is not that positive about the weapon type.

Key aspects of North Korea’s third nuclear weapon test, carried out on Tuesday, remain unknown. We do not know whether it was a test of a plutonium or highly enriched uranium weapon, though many experts suspect the latter.

The report is hardly definitive but it would not be a surprise if Iran has pushed through to a success in its program, unencumbered by any serious US opposition. Still, there is some serious concern.

The question is whether the weapon North Korea tested this month was its own, Iran’s or a joint project. A senior U.S. official told The New York Times, “It’s very possible that the North Koreans are testing for two countries.” It would be foolish for Iran to test a nuclear weapon on its own soil. Nuclear weapons cannot be detonated in secret; they leave unique seismic markers that can be traced back to their source. An in-country test would simply confirm the existence of a program that for years Iran has denied.

If that were not enough:

Ralph Peters has some serious concerns about where the Obama administration is going.

Like Garbo, President Obama wants to be left alone.

The world annoys him. His personal interests and political agenda are domestic in focus: “An economy that works for everybody” (without everybody working for the economy, of course) is his dream. But foreign-policy crises will be his second-term nightmare.

Obama and his party behave as isolationist Republicans did in the 1930s, when they refused to take Hitler or Japanese imperialism seriously. Obama’s infamous Cairo speech, pandering to Islamists and Israel-haters, is likely to be seen by historians in a light similar to Charles Lindbergh’s giddy infatuation with the Nazis.

A recent book suggests that there is no real Obama foreign policy. It is all domestic and political. His behavior in the sequester affair suggests that everything is focused on his power to implement a leftist agenda in his last two years with a Democrat majority in the House. He has little interest in the present circumstances in the country. In fact, he seems intent on creating the most chaos and pain from the sequester, small as it is, in order to beat the Republicans with stories of citizen distress.

The book is self serving. Its author, Vali Nasr, served with Richard Holbrooke in the Obama State Department in 2009.

Vali Nasr, a university professor who was seconded in 2009 to work with Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, records his profound disillusion at how a “Berlin Wall” of domestic-focused advisers was erected to protect Mr Obama.
“The president had a truly disturbing habit of funnelling major foreign policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers whose turf was strictly politics,” Mr Nasr writes in The Dispensable Nation: America Foreign policy in Retreat.
The book sets out in detail how Mr Holbrooke, appointed with great fanfare in 2009, was systematically cut out of decision making as both he and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, tried to argue the merits of engaging with the Taliban and the dangers caused by the overuse of drones.

This fits well with our impression of the Obama administration.

“The White House seemed to see an actual benefit in not doing too much,” Prof Nasr writes, “The goal was to spare the president the risks that necessarily come with playing the leadership role that America claims to play in this region.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until September 2011, is quoted lamenting how little support Mrs Clinton received from the White House, even though she remained on good personal terms with Mr Obama.
“They want to control everything,” Admiral Mullen is quoted as saying of a White House that Prof Nasr says was “ravenous” in its desire to manage foreign policy, even by the to-be-expected standards of turf wars between diplomatic and national security teams.

Mr Nasr may have fears that Ralph Peters is correct and a disaster is impending. He wishes to distance himself from the source of such events.

We, unfortunately, are unable to do so.

22 thoughts on “Iran May Have the Bomb”

  1. Michael: The one thing that bothers me about this analysis is the logic of it from the Iranian viewpoint. If I were Iran I would want the entire world to know that I had the bomb, so I would conduct open air tests in Iran. It would be almost as good as actually having it because friends and enemies would have to make their plans as if I had a number of bombs. It would also give an argument to those people who do not want to bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure: “It is too late to stop them now, we have to work on containment”.

  2. Iran has had nuclear weapons for years. The issues are getting them to work reliably as warheads for the ballistic missiles Iran can produce, and manufacturing missile-capable warheads on a rapid enough basis to serve as a deterrent against American and/or Israeli attack.

  3. I wish I were as certain that deterrence is an issue with Iran. The leadership is facing a demographic collapse, as are most Muslim countries, and does not have the support of the people. What we see is a small, relatively, collection of Islamist fanatics who see martyrdom as a supreme good. I don’t know if they can be deterred. They face a situation somewhat like that of Assad. Their subjects hate them and, if the Revolutionary Guard ever lost control, they might end on lamp posts. Hitler decided to take the German people with him at the end of World War II. These leaders might feel the same way about their apostate citizens.

  4. There are serious reasons that an Iranian test would not be publicly acknowledged as their own.

    1) Assuming it works, what if that was the first production version akin to our Trinity test. A test that was successful, before there was deployment, would leave Iran vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike by anyone who had both the capability and who had been on the receiving end of threats of annihilation by Iran. Say a certain country referred to by Iran as the “Lesser Satan”. A successful nuclear test attributed directly to Iran just might cross the “red line” that Israel has for their own survival.

    2) Assuming that it did not work, a public failure would be vastly counterproductive to Iran, and would be concealed as best they could. So why not conceal it until they knew if it would work.

    3) There is a history of a possible nuclear test that could not be attributed, the VELA incident:

    On September 22, 1979, Vela 6911 recorded a series of nuclear intensity in the Indian Ocean. Immediately after, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico picked up an ionospheric disturbance — essentially an increase of ionization in an upper portion of the atmosphere. The U.S. Navy also picked up a thud under the ocean in the area. All of these events occurring at roughly the same time pointed to something huge, like a massive explosion. It should be mentioned that the Vela satellites method of detecting this sort of incident had never failed before.

    The Vela satellites were incapable of pinpointing the exact location of an event. Later, experts put the area of the event somewhere between Africa and Antarctica or in a few thousand-mile vicinity of Bouvet Island — the most isolated place on Earth. The site where the event took place was never found, if the even took place at all.

    When experts looked at the information collected by Vela 6911, they saw indications of a nuclear explosion. The intensity and pattern of the flashes were identical to those made by nuclear blasts. Furthermore, there is no known non-nuclear event that makes that pattern or reaches that intensity of light. Everything seemed to point to an unsanctioned nuclear test. In fact, the initial U.S. report on the incident posed that a nuclear device between two and four kilotons had detonated. However, a committee later found that the evidence was inconclusive and that the satellite may have been hit with a micrometeorite. This may have been because President Carter was not prepared to deal with the fallout of such an event.

    4) Iran and North Korea share common enemies, certain common goals, and Iranian-North Korean cooperation on this issue would be massively beneficial to both. Iranian scientists have been seen in North Korea, which is not known as a tourism Mecca for nuclear physicists getting their freak on. If it is confirmed that the blast was a U-235 device [and I believe that sampling probably has already confirmed or denied from daughter products of the fission]; cooperation is the reasonable first order assumption that must be a basis for at least some of the reaction planning by both Israel and the US. Israel, to defend its existence, the US to avoid having to face up to an Iranian nuke.

    5) I commend to the attention of all; the classic analysis of the sequalae of such an event by Richard Fernandez aka “Wretchard” of BELMONT CLUB, “The Three Conjectures”.

    I note that the “Golden Hour” has run out. The war on terror is over. Terror won.

    Subotai Bahadur

  5. Subotai, there is another good summary of the Iran history in the WSJ today. I chose not to link because it is behind the pay wall and just reenforces others.

    The Vela event is thought to have been an Israeli test or a South African one. Never proven.

  6. Deterrence of the nation of Iran will work with two significant caveats:

    Iran will gain tremendous intimidation power in the middle east as a result of the belief that it is a nuclear power. Reports that a bomb exploded in North Korea will be sufficient to start the growth of this power. An Iranian test would seal it. We would lose tremendous credibility in the region.

    The real risk of the use of an Iranian bomb is by a terrorist group that acquires it. The delivery system would be a shipping container with operators on board. This is a real risk we run today with a Pakistani arsenal that numbers in the hundreds and is of questionable security. What we must consider is whether we are worried about the Iranians acting more irrationally or carelessly than the Pakistanis. That’s a close call.

  7. I think we run far more risk from a container than an ICBM. The container has no return address. I think the chances are about 40% that one goes off in the rest of Obama’s term. When he leaves office, our military will not be a threat to anyone. We will have been disarmed and probably in an economic depression more severe then the one we are in now.

  8. Mrs. Davis,

    The major risk of actual use of Iranian and Pakistani nukes is in their own countries in their internal power struggles.

    The major risk created by Iranian nukes is to our freedom, from the loss of freedom ensuing from our defensive security measures against terrorist nukes. See:

  9. Mike K Says:
    March 5th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Haven’t seen the WSJ piece, but will look for it if it escapes the firewall.

    I tend to agree with the likely explanation of the VELA event.

    We have a choice of the obvious explanation; that matches exactly what we are/were looking for in a nuclear explosion, confirmed by multiple other sources. Or we can accept that an event of infinitesimal odds [micrometeorite collision], that was just enough to create a false positive that just happened to coincide with a bunch of other, separate, sensors reading what they would see if there was a nuclear detonation there. And the latter explanation just happens to be what would allow an American Democrat politician to avoid making a decision on a critical subject.

    I’m going to agree with William of Ockham.

    Subotai Bahadur

  10. Suppose North Korea invades and captures most of South Korea, killing or capturing the entire US garison and embassy staff. Suppose Obama is forced to intervene militarily by angry US citizens and Congressmen.

    Given the current weak US military, resignations of top Generals, and a president who is convinced the US should never interfere in foreign disputes, will a US intervention to 1. protect S Korea from N Korea and 2. to avenge the murder of our troops lead to localized Vietnam type war or will it be World War 3 with nukes?

  11. It’s amusing to me that we usually talk about the USA. The Israelis know who their enemies are. They will not worry about a package’s missing return address.

    If a nuclear weapon levels Tel Aviv, how many hours will pass before Tehran, Cairo, Riyadh, Tripoli, Damascus, Baghdad, Mecca, and Medina are puddles of glass, made to serve as a warning—as apparently Berlin in ’45 did not—about the perils of anti-Semitism?

  12. One more thing, I suppose: do you know why there are no more Assassins? Now that Islam has taken on the role of Assassin to the world, we should remember that the there are no more Assassins because the Mongols killed them all. Will that be Islam’s fate?

  13. Not that I ever want to find out, but I have wondered for some time how a religon which sees everything that happens as God’s will would react to Mecca being essentially erased from the earth. Tribulations to test the faithful are one thing, but how will Muslims interpret an event that makes something as central to Islam as the haij impossible? I don’t pretend to know, but it seems like the sort of thing that could shatter Islam and see it reform as something very different.

  14. Erisguy, I worry that the Iranians have read Obama correctly and will conclude that a nuke in a container in New York harbor will have a salutary effect on him. Israel, especially with Netanyahu in charge, is not to be trifled with. If they are really suicidal, that is another matter.

  15. grey eagle Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 12:12 am

    I think that a key point here is; “How do the ROK’s view the chance of any sort of US intervention if they are attacked, to what extent do they trust the US to intervene at all, and in whose interest?”.

    You look at the actions, and not the words. What are the ROK’s deploying.

    And in point of fact, the ROK’s have been building and deploying both ballistic and cruise missiles for some years in violation of the agreements with the US, including at sea. The CEP’s of their ballistic missiles are such as to not make a lot of sense with conventional warheads. Look at South Korea’s industrial base, the current push to allow nuclear fuel reprocessing [the limitations expire in 2014, on January 1, 2013 South Korea asked that they be lifted], and that they have a history of ignoring US restrictions in the name of national security.

    Either they are spending a great deal of resources bluffing, they are stupid, or they either have or intend to have something non-conventional to put on those missiles. The Koreans I know tend not to bluff, and they are not stupid by any measure.

    phwest Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 8:49 am

    It is an interesting vulnerability, akin to the old Mesopotamian city states whose temples embodied the power of their deity. When the temple fell, the god was assumed to have been killed. As far as archeology is concerned, there is a claimed relationship between the Islamic deity, and a previous deity Hubal whose shrine was the Ka’aba pre-Islam. Hubal supposedly was brought from Mesopotamia, specifically from Hit in what is now northern Iraq.

    There is commentary, but no official revelation that I know of, to the effect that their deity will protect Mecca and Medina from any harm.

    The Five Pillars of Islam, central to their faith, are:

    1) Shahada, the declaration of faith.
    2) Salat, Prayer 5 times a day directed towards the Ka’aba in Mecca.
    3) Zakāt, the giving of alms.
    4) Sawm, Fasting during Ramadan, which fast must be directed from Mecca by Imams there. It is based on the sighting of the phase of the moon only from Mecca.
    5) Hajj, Pilgrimage to Mecca once in your life.

    Three of the five are Mecca-centric, and many of the specific rites of the Hajj are tied to specific local landmarks and artifacts.

    I suspect a glowing, glass-lined crater in an uninhabitable area would not be an adequate theological substitute. When a culture centers a religion on an artifact, loss of the artifact usually cripples the religion. The one exception that I can think of is the Jewish faith that evolved from the Temple and Ark to being a spiritually based individual religion. I don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood adopting a Jewish belief system.

    Third and final post on this thread.

    Subotai Bahadur

    ps. no preview showed up below.

  16. @Grey Eagle, such a hypothetical simply isn’t possible. North Korea could inflict an appalling amount of civilian casualties on South Korea if they wanted to (which is the reason nobody’s knocked over the series of tin pot dictator’s that have set up shop in NK), but they could in no way invade and take over South Korea. The South Korean military is far, far too strong in comparison to NK’s for that to be even a remote possibility, even aside from US assistance.

  17. You cannot put Genies back in the bottle. We now face a period of change towards a united world which is really our only hope.

    The test of power. Can we handle it?

  18. “You cannot put Genies back in the bottle. We now face a period of change towards a united world which is really our only hope. ”

    No, the trend of history is back toward nation states. Our “only hope” is a rational ruling class. A “united world” is a leftist dream that they hope to rule.

  19. North Korea hss helped Iran build the bomb and they just tested it. North Korea wants ro capture South Korea. Iran wants to rebuild the Caliphate, this time run by Persians.

    The U.S. used to have a foreign policy that protected S Korea and Israel. Now, maybe we do, maybe we don’t. However it is clear that Obama and the Ruling Class are strongly against any new wars. Also, we no longer have the military power to enforce our traditional policies. Something’s gotta give.

    We could muddle through these two crises one-at-a-time, but can we win both at the same time? Further Russia wants to prove it can make the US back down. And China wants to rebuild the Empire of the Qin.

    Russia and China are ready for a major confrontation and they know we will back down. They know we are all words and no action. Proof? We blustered alot about our embassy that was invaded and the ambassador that was murdered, but we did nothing. We backed down over Georgia. We back down over Chinese expansion into “the Near Sea”.

    So N Korea has a potentisl ally in China and Russia; and Iran has an ally in China and Russia. Can the tail wag the dog? Can there be another catastrophic series of misjudgements? Last time this situation arose it was before WWI.

  20. The use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) by the Norks means we are looking at a 2nd generation gun bomb design.

    The 2nd generation gun-type bombs are actually two guns each shooting a piece of HEU into a central chamber.

    This type physics package was in American 8-inch cannon nuclear shells from the late 1950’s through the end of the Cold War.

    The bottom line is the Norks now have an operation missile warhead capable of delivering a 5kt to 50 kt nuclear bomb to Hawaii and the West Coast.

    Whether they have the quality control to make their likely Chinese design ICBM re-entry vehicle work is a different, but related question.

  21. This is the wikipedia entry on the “Vela Incident”

    “The Vela Incident — sometimes referred to as the South Atlantic Flash — was an unidentified “double flash” of light that was detected by an American Vela Hotel satellite on September 22, 1979 near the Prince Edward Islands or Antarctica. There is uncertainty as to the true nature of the flash though it is widely believed to have been the result of a nuclear detonation.

    While a “double flash” signal is characteristic of a nuclear weapons test, the signal might have been a spurious electronic signal that was generated by an aging detector in an old satellite or a meteoroid hitting the Vela satellite. No corroboration of an explosion, such as the presence of nuclear byproducts in the air, was ever publicly acknowledged, even though there were numerous passes in the area by U.S. Air Force planes that were specifically designed to detect airborne radioactive dust. Other examiners of the data, including the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), and defense contractors, have come to the conclusion that the flash was a result of a nuclear detonation.[1][2][3] Much of the information relating to the event remains classified.”

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