The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran
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The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran

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The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran

The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran

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The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran Document Transcript

  • Vol. 11, No. 19 10 November 2011 The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran Dore Gold  Many analysts asked why Iran, which had huge oil and gas reserves, needs to invest in a program to produce electricity from nuclear reactors? Why did Iran need to build a huge infrastructure at Natanz to enrich uranium for nuclear reactors that it didn’t even have? And why did it keep this industry secret if it only had civilian applications?  In February 2008, IAEA deputy director-general Ollie Heinonen gave a highly classified briefing in which he revealed Iranian documents that detailed how to design a warhead for the 1,300-kilometer-range Shahab-3 missile that had to be detonated at an altitude of 600 meters. A conventional explosion at that altitude would have no effect on the ground below, but 600 meters is the ideal altitude for a nuclear explosion over a city – as it was in Hiroshima in 1945.  The November 2011 report showed that the IAEA no longer had ”suspicions” about the Iranian weaponization program – it had hard intelligence from “more than ten Member States.” There was documentation in Farsi detailing the safety arrangements for conducting an actual nuclear test. The Iranians had also sought to obtain uranium for a secret enrichment program, that would not be under IAEA safeguards.  Iran already has enough uranium on hand for at least four or five nuclear bombs, should it decide to further enrich its stock of low-enriched uranium. The November 2011 IAEA report provides the details for what the agency has long suspected – that Iran is determined to obtain nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to target. 1
  • Why Does Oil-Rich Iran Need Nuclear Fuel?The dramatic November 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) comesafter years that the agency has come close to concluding that Iran is seeking nuclear weaponswithout saying so explicitly. Since the Iranian nuclear program was first disclosed to the publicin 2002, there have been growing suspicions that it had a military purpose, but no one couldoffer any definitive proof.Many analysts asked why Iran, which had huge oil and gas reserves, needs to invest in aprogram to produce electricity from nuclear reactors? Iran could have used its budgetaryresources more effectively if it had invested them in its oil production infrastructure. Analystsalso asked why Iran needed to build a huge infrastructure at Natanz to enrich uranium fornuclear reactors that it didn’t even have. After all, Russia had promised to supply enricheduranium for the sole reactor at Bushehr that it constructed specifically for the purposeof producing electricity.Moreover, many countries with nuclear reactors – such as Finland, South Korea, Spain, andSweden – all imported enriched uranium. Why was Iran building an expensive uraniumenrichment industry for itself? The limited size of the deposits in Iran’s uranium mines was toosmall for producing nuclear fuel for all of Iran’s electricity needs; Iran would have to importuranium in the future in any case. Finally, the question remained, why did it keep this industrysecret if it only had civilian applications? Iran was forced to disclose its uranium enrichmentfacilities (as well as its heavy water reactor at Arak) because others made them public in theWest in 2002 and again in 2009.While France already in 2006 accused Iran of developing a nuclear weapons program, Irancontinued to make the case that its nuclear work had only civilian applications. Russian ForeignMinister Sergei Lavrov would always demand that his colleagues in the UN Security Councilprovide him with the proof that Iran had a military program. In the meantime, Russia and Chinaalways defended Iran in the Security Council and sought to water down the six resolutions thecouncil adopted against Tehran.The Credibility of the IAEAThe U.S. apparently discovered the proof of the Iranian nuclear program back in 2004. FormerU.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton describes in his memoirs how Secretary of State ColinPowell decided to reveal that he had seen new American intelligence about Iranian efforts tofit a nuclear weapon into the warhead of a missile. But in the years that followed, the credibilityof the U.S. to convince the world that Iran indeed wanted nuclear weapons was badly impairedwhen the Bush administration argued that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and nonewere found by inspectors after the U.S. invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. 2
  • The importance of the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) grew partlybecause of how the assessments of the U.S. were perceived in international circles after theIraq War. In the case of Iraq, the IAEA argued right up to 2003 that Saddam no longer hadweapons of mass destruction. If the IAEA, which was “dovish” on Iraq, would give “hawkish”assessments on Iran, then the world might listen.A Classified IAEA BriefingA critical turning point in the IAEA’s attitude to Iran occurred in February 2008 when its deputydirector-general, Ollie Heinonen, gave a highly classified briefing to representatives of morethan one hundred states. According to a description of the meeting reported by David Sanger ofthe New York Times, Heinonen displayed original Iranian documents that he stressed camefrom several member states of the IAEA – and not just from the U.S. Der Spiegel reported inJune 2010 that the material came from a joint operation by German and American intelligenceagencies that got hold of an Iranian engineer’s laptop computer.The IAEA had the international standing to authenticate U.S. intelligence reports for those whodoubted their veracity. When the IAEA said they were true, many more states were willing toaccept them. Sanger wrote that he believed that Heinonen hoped his classified briefing wouldleak – and it did.The Iranian documents detailed how to design a warhead for the 1,300-kilometer-rangeShahab-3 missile, which had been operational in the Iranian armed forces since 2003. While theIranian documents made no reference to a nuclear warhead, they did show the arc of amissile’s flight and that the warhead of the missile had to be detonated at an altitude of 600meters. To the experts of the IAEA, a conventional explosion at that altitude would have noeffect on the ground below. But 600 meters is the ideal altitude for a nuclear explosion over acity. Indeed, as Sanger notes in his book on this period, The Inheritance, 600 meters was theapproximate altitude of detonation of the first atomic bomb that was used over Hiroshima in1945. Heinonen did not yet say that the Iranians were making nuclear weapons, but he left hisaudience in Vienna with many questions they were not asking before.By May 2011, the IAEA had become far more explicit in its report on Iran than Heinonen hadbeen. It raised its concerns about the “possible existence” of seven areas of military research inthe Iranian nuclear program, the last of which was the most alarming: “the removal of theconventional high-explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing itwith a spherical nuclear payload.” It should be remembered that the Shahab-3 missile has therange to strike Israel from Iranian territory. Back in May, the IAEA was not ready to say it hadreached any conclusions. It only sought “clarifications” about its suspicions. 3
  • The Latest ReportThe November 2011 IAEA report was important in a number of ways. First, it showed that theIAEA no longer had “suspicions” about the Iranian weaponization program – it had what itcalled “credible” information. The annex of the report, moreover, devotes a whole section tothe “credibility of information.” It was not relying on the Iranian laptop that was at the heart ofHeinonen’s 2008 presentation, but also on a much larger volume of documentation. The IAEAreport states that the agency had over a thousand pages of material to substantiate its claims.In case there were suspicions that this material came from U.S. intelligence agencies alone,the annex makes sure to clarify that the sources for the IAEA involved “more than ten MemberStates.”Second, the material that the IAEA presented pointed clearly to the fact that Iran wanted todevelop a deliverable nuclear weapon. There was documentation in Farsi detailing the safetyarrangements that would have to be put in place for conducting an actual nuclear test.The Iranians had also sought to obtain uranium for a secret enrichment program, that wouldnot be under IAEA safeguards. The uranium that would come out of this clandestine programwould be further processed to produce the uranium metal required for a nuclear warhead. Theplanned warhead design also underwent studies that investigated how it would operate if itwas part of a missile re-entry vehicle and had to stand up to the stress of a missile launch andflying in a ballistic trajectory to its target. The IAEA concluded that “work on the developmentof an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components” had beenexecuted by the Iranians. That “indigenous design,” however, required external help. The IAEAreport discloses that aspects of Iran’s nuclear weapons “design concept” came from a foreigncountry, presumably from a nuclear-weapon state.Third, the IAEA report provided further proof that Iran’s inventory of enriched uranium, whichthe agency monitored, was continuing to grow despite the reported damage caused to Iran’scentrifuges. Lately, it has been suggested that Iran’s centrifuges are operating less efficiently. IfIran had 839 kg. of low-enriched uranium, according to the June 2009 IAEA report, it had 2,427kg. according to the May 2010 IAEA report. In September 2011 the IAEA report stated that Iranhad enriched a total of 4,543 kg. of low-enriched uranium. The November report put thatnumber at 4,922 kg. If all Iran requires is a little over 900 kg. of low-enriched uranium toproduce sufficient weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb, then Iran already has enoughuranium on hand for at least four or five nuclear bombs, should it decide to further enrich itsstock of low-enriched uranium. Iran’s smaller stock of 20 percent enriched uranium alsocontinued to grow, albeit in smaller quantities.Finally, it is important to recall when reviewing this information that at the end of 2007, theU.S. published the “key judgments” of its National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. Thatdocument asserted with “high confidence” that Iran had halted the weaponization componentof its nuclear program back in 2003. The release of that declassified summary caused enormousdiplomatic damage at the time, undercutting the effort to pressure Iran. 4
  • The November 2011 IAEA report shows how wrong the 2007 NIE document was. The laterreport specifically says, “some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosivedevice continued after 2003, and that some may be ongoing.” The IAEA also reports on“modeling studies” that were undertaken by the Iranians in 2008 and 2009 that investigatedhow a high-enriched uranium nuclear device would respond to “shock compression.” They alsolooked at the “nuclear explosive yield” of these devices during this period.The November 2011 IAEA report provides the details for what the agency has long suspected –that Iran is determined to obtain nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to target. Asthe report’s summary states: “The information indicates that Iran has carried out activitiesrelevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”Roughly five years have passed since the UN Security Council took up the Iranian nuclear issueand adopted its first resolution demanding that Tehran halt its uranium enrichment program.The new IAEA report should be used to ratchet up the sanctions on Iran. But it is doubtful thateven with this new information, there will be a sufficient consensus at the Security Council fordecisive measures that might cause Iran to change the course it has decided upon. * * *Dr. Dore Gold is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is the author of The Riseof Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West (Regnery, 2009) 5