Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Nightmare Scenario

Given that Iran already has the bomb, an Iranian ship or submarine, or an Iranian-financed ship from some third country, if it gets within 1,000 miles of the east coast of America, can fire two KH-55 nuclear tipped cruise missiles programmed to fly beneath our radar horizon. The missiles can reach New York City and Washington D.C. in less than two hours. Struck by the equivalent of 12 Hiroshima bombs, each city and its suburbs will be leveled.

To the best of my knowledge, we have no defense against such an attack. Our Patriot anti-missile system is designed to shoot down high-flying ballistic missiles, not low-flying cruise missiles. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Patriot system was defeated by a relatively primitive CSS-C-3 Silkworm cruise missile.

If the attackers scuttle their ship in deep water and commit suicide, we will not know for sure who hit us. (Such martyrdom is an ingrained feature of Iranian Shiite culture.) If we don't know who hit us, we may fail to counterattack, or worse, attack the wrong country. With all or most of our corporate, government, and military leaders dead, our ability to respond quickly will be compromised. With our two most vital hubs gone, we could begin to starve in weeks.

I see no reason why this attack could not take place today.

Iran Has Nuclear Weapons

For the past seven years, President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other officers of our federal government have been saying that we must prevent Iran from obtaining or creating nuclear weapons. This rhetoric is now pointless: Iran has the bomb. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. It is so specific that we can even estimate the number of warheads that Iran has produced to date. That number is at least 75.

The evidence is both plentiful in quantity and various in nature:

1. It makes no sense for an oil-rich country to have nuclear reactors. Yet Iran has at least six. Due to construction problems, the big twin reactors at Busheir have never produced any electrical power, nor are they likely to for several years. However, the construction difficulties are in the part of the facility that generates electricity, not in the reactors. Almost certainly, one of the reactors has been operating since 2004: It takes a powerful reactor to produce polonium-210, and we now know that Iran has been making this substance since 2004.

2. The type of nuclear fuel that Iran is producing at other sites cannot be used by the reactors at Busheir. Yet the Busheir reactors are the biggest in Iran. It makes no sense to produce nuclear fuel that cannot be used at Busheir: this Iranian-produced fuel is either for small reactors or for nuclear weapons.

3. Iran has been caught lying to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) repeatedly. If Iran's nuclear program were for the production of electrical power alone, no lying would have been needed.

4. Iran has rejected an offer by the Russian Federation to supply Iran with nuclear fuel and to cart away its nuclear waste. This program would have supplied Iran with uranium that is not pure enough to make a bomb. It also would have removed any plutonium or polonium-210 produced by the reactors; both are used to make nuclear bombs.

5. Iran has more than 50 nuclear-related facilities. They are too plentiful for a domestic electrical power production program. On the other hand, nuclear weapons require a large number of finely-machined parts, extremely pure metals, and extremely pure explosives. If Iran is mass-producing nuclear weapons, then 50 sites might well be necessary.

6. These nuclear-related facilities are needlessly dispersed instead of conveniently centralized. By dispersing them, Iran has made it difficult for an attacker to disable them all simultaneously.

7. They are owned and managed by officers of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,) a uniformed branch of the Iranian military. If these facilities were related only to the production of domestic electrical power, the military would not be interested in them.

8. Increasingly, these nuclear-related facilities are being moved underground. Typically, a nation buries only its most vital weapons and weapons production facilities, because they must be protected at all costs.

9. Iranian officials have openly threatened Israel by calling it "a one-bomb country." Only a nuclear bomb has the capacity to destroy all of Israel.

10. Many of Iran's ballistic missiles are over 50 feet in length. It makes no sense to fly a multi-million-dollar rocket thousands of miles only to knock down a few buildings with conventional explosives. These are nuclear missiles.

11. From 1986 through 2003, Iran was repeatedly visited by agents of Abdul Qadeer Khan's clandestine nuclear sales network. Dr. Khan, Pakistan's top nuclear expert signed a consulting agreement with Iran in 1987. He sold to the Iranians as much as 18 tons of materials, including drawings, components, and P-1 centrifuges for enriching uranium to weapons grade. In 2005, IAEA inspectors in Iran found documents from A.Q. Khan that show how to cast uranium metal into hemispheres. The only known use for a uranium hemisphere is to trigger a nuclear explosion.

12. The Mobarakeh steel factory in Isfahan is producing maraging steel, which can be used to build centrifuges, missile components, and casings for nuclear weapons.

13. In March 2004, American IAEA officials discovered that Iran has been producing polonium-210. Polonium-210 is the most toxic and dangerous substance known to mankind. Trace amounts exist in nature, but substantial quantities can only be produced in a nuclear reactor, like the ones at Busheir. Polonium-210 has only one use: to act as a neutron source in order to trigger a nuclear explosion. (Polonium-210 gives off so much heat that it was once used as a heat source in unmanned space probes. It was also used recently to poison a former Russian KGB agent in London.) It makes no sense to produce polonium-210 without putting it into a nuclear warhead; that would be like a gunsmith constructing a trigger without also constructing a pistol.

14. In November 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed that Iran was working on an interface designed to couple a nuclear warhead to a missile. There is no such thing as a "one size fits all" nuclear warhead: warheads have particular shapes. They can't simply be placed inside a rocket: they have to be bolted in place. The bolts on the warhead have to match the holes in the missile, or vice-versa. The missile and warhead must also be wired together with sensors, controls, and fail-safe devices. An interface is an intermediate structure that binds to the missile on one side and to the warhead on the other. It is not possible to construct an interface without first constructing both the missile and the warhead.

15. In January 2005, Ukraine announced that an earlier Administration had illegally sold 6 or 12 Soviet KH-55 “Granat” nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran. The KH-55 can carry a 200-kiloton warhead; equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs. The Iranians have reverse-engineered the missile and are now mass-producing copies of it at the Khaibar missile base in Karaj.

16. In April 2006, Iran announced that it has been conducting research into nuclear fusion for at least five years. Nuclear fusion can only be used for two things: producing electrical power and making a thermonuclear warhead. But no one has yet succeeded in making cost-effective electrical power via nuclear fusion. This means that Iran is building a hydrogen bomb.

17. According to an Iranian dissident, 31 miles southwest of Natanz, the IRGC has built an underground complex, which is protected by a blast door 20 feet tall and 60 feet wide. The complex divides into six blast-hardened bunkers that contain two Shahab-3 ballistic missiles on mobile launchers, a centrifuge cascade capable of refining uranium to weapons grade, and 15 nuclear warheads.

Given all of this data, it is impossible to believe that Iran's 27-year drive to produce nuclear weapons has not yet succeeded.

Either the reactors at Busheir alone, or Arak alone, or Natanz alone can produce 25 nuclear warheads per year. If only one of these facilities has been operating continuously since 2004, then Iran presently has at least 75 warheads.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Nature of Modern Nuclear War

In 1945, we used the atomic bomb twice in order to end World War II. Had we not used it, almost certainly hundreds of thousands more people would have lost their lives needlessly, including many American soldiers. The bombs were dropped from airplanes. A necessary precondition for this attack was to first secure the airspace over Japan so that Japanese air defenses could not shoot down the bombers. But before American forces could secure Japanese air space, they first had to get close to the Japanese coastline. This effort, alone, cost us hundreds of thousands of lives.

The next time a nuclear warhead gets used, things will be very different:

The United States will no longer be the only nation on earth possessing nuclear weapons.
Among the 202 sovereign countries of the world, 30 have either begun or completed their own development of nuclear weapons or have purchased such weapons from some other state. Of these nations, 10 are known to possess nuclear fission warheads, and 6 are known to possess nuclear fusion warheads. Only 188 countries have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; of these, three, including Iran, are known to have broken the treaty.

As the number of nuclear-armed countries goes up, it becomes more difficult for us to counter them all. Furthermore, should we be struck by a nuclear missile, it will be correspondingly difficult to ascertain who launched it. (During the 1950's, that calculation was easy: only the Soviet Union could strike us.)

The preferred delivery vehicles will no longer be airplanes.
Securing the airspace over a defending nation is costly in lives to the attacking nation. A nuclear missile minimizes the loss of life among the attackers. Therefore, in today's world, the inexorable logic of combat almost insures that nuclear missiles will be used.

The logic of combat also dictates that expensive weapons will be used only where they will inflict the most serious harm upon the enemy. Nuclear missiles are very expensive. Therefore, they are mostly designed to be city-killers. Launching a nuclear missile at open farmland makes no sense. The only notable exception to this rule is a nuclear missile specifically designed to break open a hardened bunker. Such redoubts are used to hide the defender's most valuable assets; typically, these are the defender's own nuclear missiles and nuclear production facilities. These tend to be hidden underground in rural areas.

The devastation will be greater.
The yield of the Hiroshima bomb was equivalent to the explosive force of 15 thousand tons of TNT. Today, a large fusion warhead delivers the equivalent of 50 million tons of TNT.

We will be much more vulnerable.
During the 1960's, disabling the United States would have required the attacker to launch thousands of nuclear missiles. Today, because so many of our vital networks pass through New York and Washington, two missiles may be all that is needed to cripple us. The roads, railways, air routes, and telecommunication lines that pass through these key cities will be disrupted. Essential goods and services, most especially food, will take much longer to reach us.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The term “weapons of mass destruction” was first used by the White House in 2002. It is a shorthand way of saying “chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons.” Such verbal shortcuts are common in vernacular English, and are essential for rapid communication. However, they are easily misused. Furthermore, they can confuse not only the public, but the government itself.

Both radiological and nuclear weapons release subatomic particles that can kill many people. But a radiological weapon, or dirty bomb, creates neither a shock wave nor intense heat. It is more like a poison than a bomb.

It is right for us to work toward the destruction of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons. Nuclear weapons, however, pose a much more serious threat to American lives. As we have already seen, the logic of war is dominated by the psychology of the adolescent male mind. (This is not an indictment of men. There are deep evolutionary roots to this psychology. It serves the survival of the human species.) The mentality of the sandlot does not like subtlety; defeating a rival by poisoning him does not establish dominance as thoroughly as does a public beating. Hence, aggressor nations and terrorists alike have a preference for explosives.

An explosion is more easily targeted and more easily controlled than an indiscriminate poison. It also sends a strong message of dominance. The bigger the explosion, the stronger the message, the more firmly the dominance of the aggressor over the victim is demonstrated. Hence, in the world of explosions, bigger is better.

The psychology of militant Muslim men, especially Arabs and Iranians, is driven by shame: The defeat by tiny Israel of the combined Arab armies three times in the last century is shameful to Arabs. The fall of the Persian Empire at the hands of the Greeks is shameful to Iranians. The fall of the Arabian Empire, after a hegemony of 1,300 years, is shameful to Arabs and Iranians alike.

If a Muslim nation decides to strike America, it will want to do so through one or more giant explosions; nothing less will staunch its shame. If, in addition, this Muslim nation aspires to seize the leadership of all Islam, a big explosion is even more desirable; nothing less will establish its dominance.

Therefore, it would be better for America to focus on the threat of nuclear missiles, rather than on the combined threat of weapons of mass destruction. Without the proper focus, our government may fix upon the wrong enemy. For example, in 2003, a risk assessment of dangerous regimes in the Middle East based upon nuclear missiles rather than upon weapons of mass destruction would have identified Iran as our most important target instead of Iraq.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nuclear Missiles

Recently the State Department announced that Iran is at least ten years away from building a nuclear bomb. This is absolutely false; Iran has already built as many as 75 nuclear fission warheads. Evidence of this will be presented after we have finished accumulating the necessary background in this and the next few postings. The State Department's misleading statement arises from a failure to lay out the technical aspects of the issue in a way that the American public can understand. For instance, if the State Department is using the term "nuclear weapon" as a nickname or euphemism for "thermonuclear weapon," then technically they are right; it will probably take Iran a decade to produce a thermonuclear bomb. But Iran already has an atom bomb; the kind of device that was used to destroy Hiroshima or Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Such a device could easily destroy Manhattan or Washington D.C.

In this posting, we will lay out the vocabulary and concepts that you will need to understand these issues.

Nuclear Fission Warheads
A nuclear fission warhead gets its immense power from the breakdown of uranium or plutonium nuclei when bombarded by neutrons. In 1945, the United States detonated the world’s first fission weapon. It was called an “atomic bomb” or “atom bomb.” Before ballistic missiles, an “atomic bomb” was really a bomb: it was actually dropped from an airplane. Nowadays, the term, “atomic bomb,” usually refers to a nuclear warhead in the nose cone of a ballistic missile or a cruise missile. A more proper name for such a weapon is “nuclear fission warhead.” This precision of naming matters because there is another type of nuclear warhead, variously called a “hydrogen”, “thermonuclear”, or “fusion” warhead, that is much more powerful.

It took the United States three years to develop the first atomic bomb. Israel developed a bomb in 18 years. Iran has had 27 years; their nuclear weapons program began in 1979.

Nuclear Fusion Warheads
A nuclear fusion warhead gets its power by driving together pairs of hydrogen nuclei to produce helium nuclei. A nuclear fusion warhead is also called a “hydrogen” or “thermonuclear” warhead. Before ballistic missiles, this weapon was known as a “hydrogen bomb” or “H-bomb.” A nuclear fusion warhead can be a thousand times more powerful than a nuclear fission warhead. In fact, you need a nuclear fission explosion to drive together large numbers of hydrogen nuclei. (In the vocabulary of the early Cold War, you need to set off an A-bomb in order to detonate an H-bomb.)

On May 29, 2006, Sadat Hosseini, the head of the technical department of Iran's Nuclear Research Center, announced that Iran has been conducting research into nuclear fusion for the past five years. Nuclear fusion technology can only be used for two things: producing electrical power and making a thermonuclear warhead. But no one has yet succeeded in making cost-effective electrical power from nuclear fusion. This means that Iran's fusion research can only have been directed at making a nuclear fusion warhead: a hydrogen bomb.

Triggering a Nuclear Explosion
A fission warhead, or a fission explosive designed to trigger a fusion warhead, can be detonated in one of three ways:

• By slamming together two sub-critical masses of enriched uranium or plutonium.

• By compressing a sub-critical mass of plutonium until its density becomes critical.

• By firing a stream of neutrons at a sub-critical mass.

A critical mass is an amount of uranium or plutonium large enough and dense enough to trigger a nuclear chain reaction. A chain reaction occurs when uranium or plutonium atoms break down and emit subatomic particles, notably neutrons. These neutrons then collide with and break down other atoms, causing more free neutrons. The breaking up of atoms in this way produces large amounts of energy that are quickly converted into heat. The heat is so intense that it vaporizes all matter in its vicinity, and sends out a tremendous shock wave. The devastation caused by a nuclear explosion is caused by the intense heat, the shock wave, electromagnetic radiation, high-energy subatomic particles, and radioactive nuclear waste materials that disperse at high speeds all over a city.

Delivering a Nuclear Warhead
A nuclear warhead can be delivered to its target in one of three ways:

• By secretly transporting it into a city, and then detonating it locally or remotely.

• By placing it inside a bomb, and dropping the bomb upon the target. (This is now sometimes referred to as a gravity bomb.)

• By placing it in the nosecone of a missile and firing the missile at the target.

The first option — manual delivery — has recently garnered much attention in the press and in fiction, especially in recent movies and television programs. However, transporting the components of a nuclear bomb by hand is difficult, delicate, and dangerous, especially from outside the target country. The Soviet Union is reputed to have built dozens of suitcase-sized atomic bombs. But these weapons are not city-killers; they are too small.

The second option is no longer viable against a modern state. Western countries and many others have radar and missiles that can detect and destroy an approaching bomber. However, the advent of stealth technology, which effectively renders a stealth jet invisible to radar, may bring back the threat of the nuclear gravity bomb.

Therefore, the main nuclear threat today comes from ballistic missiles and cruise missiles that have been specifically designed or altered to contain a nuclear warhead.

Ballistic Missiles
A ballistic missile is a rocket which, after an initial powered flight upward, continues on to its target under the influence of gravity, alone. (The first ballistic missile, the V-2, was invented by the Nazis.) An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is one that can fly between 2,000 and 8,000 miles. Long-range ICBMs have to pass up through the earth's atmosphere, travel through space, and then reenter the atmosphere in order to reach their targets.

It took the United States 14 years to develop its first ICBM. Iran didn't bother to develop its own ICBMs: it simply bought and copied them:

• Iran purchased between 90 and 100 SCUD-B short-range missiles from North Korea. The North Koreans built a rocket plant near Isfahan so that Iran could mass-produce its own copies of this missile. The Iranians are now building copies of the SCUD-C, known in Korea as the No-Dong, probably at the same factory. The No-Dong missile can reach Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

• More ominously, it bought ICBM-class liquid-fueled engines from Russia, and solid-fueled engines from China; it was not difficult to wrap Iranian-made rocket housings around them. Iran is developing at least one long-range ballistic missile that can reach the United States. In this design, four Russian RD-216 booster rockets are strapped together to form the first stage of the missile. A Chinese-made rocket is used for the second stage.

Cruise Missiles
A cruise missile is designed to fly hundreds of miles at low altitude, changing its path as needed to avoid obstacles and detection, and deliver a payload at a precise target location. (It is possible to program a cruise missile to fly into one particular window in one particular building.) Cruise missiles require advanced computer technology packed into a very small space. It would be difficult for Iran to develop the engineering capability to build cruise missiles; so they’ve bought it instead:

• In January, 2004, the United States Congress learned that Iran was acquiring cruise missile technology from Pakistan.

• On January 28, 2005, Ukraine announced that an earlier Administration had illegally sold 12 Soviet KH-55 “Granat” nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran. The KH-55 can carry a 200-kiloton warhead. The Iranians have reverse-engineered the missile and are now mass-producing copies of them at the Khaibar missile base in Karaj.

In recent years, there has been a blending of missile technologies: some cruise missiles can now reach targets that at one time could only be reached by ICBMs; some ICBMs can now alter their flight paths before they drop on a target.

Missile Defense Systems
The United States and Canada are protected from long-range bomber and missile attacks by an array of detection and defensive systems. One of them, administered by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD,) was designed to deter attacks from over the North Pole from by the Soviet Union. Such systems now protect the entire North American continent from attacks from afar.

The Pentagon claims that we can shoot down incoming ballistic missiles. But I doubt that we have a complete missile defense shield. If we did, it would be common public knowledge. Otherwise its existence could not act as a deterrent to other nuclear powers. (Israel does have a missile defense shield; it consists of Israeli-designed Arrow Interceptor missiles.) If we do not have a missile shield, Iran can strike us at will with ballistic missiles. So can China, the Russian Federation, and other nuclear powers. But as we will see, unlike these other countries, Iran has everything to gain by striking us, and little to lose.

Moreover, these Cold War-era missile defenses are only effective against large ballistic missiles. Such missiles typically have to ascend into space before they can fall on a target. This makes them relatively easy to detect, gives the target population hours to take shelter against the explosion, and allows us to counterattack by launching our own long-range ballistic missiles before the incoming rockets can destroy them on the ground.

But our Cold War-era missile defense plans did not foresee the advent of cruise missiles. A cruise missile can be launched at sea level, and can be programmed to fly so low that our defensive radar systems cannot see it. On September 11th, 2001, a key part of al-Qaeda's strategy was to fly the hijacked planes down below the radar line so that no one could see where the planes were heading. If we cannot detect a slow-flying jumbo jet, then we cannot detect a small missile traveling faster than the speed of sound.

Mutual Assured Destruction
During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had enough ICBMs to destroy each other. Both countries could also detect an incoming strike, and counterattack before the enemy's missiles reached their targets. The result was a tense stand-off that, fortunately, forestalled a nuclear war. This policy was referred to as "mutual assured destruction," for if one side attacked, the other would be destroyed, too.

Today, in the Middle East, there is a scaled-down version of the mutual assured destruction policy in place between Iran and Israel: if Iran launches a nuclear attack on Israel, Tehran will be destroyed. At least one Israeli submarine is on patrol at all times in the Indian Ocean in order to do this.

Mutual assured destruction works if the two rival nations are roughly equivalent in power. But the safety afforded by mutual assured destruction does not apply when one of the rivals is significantly bigger than the other. Such is the case between America and Iran; simply put, we have much more to lose than Iran does.

Therefore, while it is folly for Russia to attack us, and folly for Iran to attack Israel, it is not folly for Iran to attack us; they have much to gain and little to lose. They have fewer cities than we do, and many of their people are still living as their ancestors did in the Middle Ages; on family farms in small communities, or with small herds of domesticated animals on open land. On the other hand, by attacking America, Iran would gain enormous and instantaneous prestige throughout the Muslim world.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons

We now come to the most serious threat Iran poses to America: the use of nuclear missiles against New York City and Washington D.C. This is a large, complex topic, and will require several postings to explain. In order to simplify the task, we will begin by listing several little-known or little-appreciated facts about nuclear energy, nuclear warheads, ballistic and cruise missiles, and nuclear war. We will then connect this knowledge to the Iranian nuclear program and to the nuclear deterrent policies of the United States and the United Nations. In this posting, we will begin by looking at nuclear energy and its relationship to nuclear weapons.

There is no way to prevent a nuclear reactor from being misused to produce an atomic bomb.
A nuclear reactor can be used to provide electrical power, and to produce radioactive isotopes for medical use. (To kill tumors, and to trace blood flow.) However, there is no way to prevent the peaceful use of atomic energy from being co-opted to produce an atom bomb. (The term "dual use" is sometimes used to express the idea that a nuclear reactor can be used for both peaceful and warlike purposes.)

This presents nuclear scientists and regulators with a dilemma: On the one hand, a well-constructed nuclear reactor is a relatively safe, clean source of electrical power whose waste products do not contribute to global warming. On the other, these waste products — especially plutonium — are very good for making nuclear weapons.

The promise of cheap abundant electrical power is especially attractive to undeveloped nations. This potential benefit to developing economies has blinded the United Nations. On July 29, 1957, the U.N. established the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to govern the worldwide development of electrical power from nuclear reactors. At the same time, the IAEA was charged with enforcing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT.) Signatories to the NPT pledge to use nuclear power for peaceful applications only. But it is impossible to prevent a signatory nation from secretly using its reactors to produce atomic bombs.

At least three NPT signatories have broken the treaty, despite frequent IAEA inspections.
Iraq, Iran, and North Korea signed the treaty; Israel did not. Therefore, under international law, it was legal for Israel to develop an atomic bomb; but it was illegal for Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to do so. Nevertheless:

• In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT, and, on October 9, 2006, detonated an atomic bomb.

• In 1991, David Kay, an American inspector for the IAEA, discovered that Saddam Hussein had no less than three separate programs to develop nuclear weapons. The most advanced of these had been severely set back in 1981 by the Israelis when they bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor. U.N. economic sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War decimated the other development programs.

• As we will see in the next few postings, Iran has also broken the treaty, and now has in its possession as many as 75 nuclear fission warheads.

Pakistan's A.Q. Khan helped three countries to break the NPT.
Between 1989 and 2003, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's lead nuclear scientist, secretly sold nuclear weapons design specifications and know-how to the governments of Libya, North Korea, and Iran. He also attempted to sell them to Iraq. Khan peddled his knowledge and expertise through intermediaries headquartered in Dubayy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE.) His activities were probably unknown to the Pakistani government until 2003. In December 2003, Libya announced that it was stopping its development of nuclear weapons.

Israel has both atomic and hydrogen bombs.
Israel did not sign the NPT, and was therefore free to develop nuclear weapons. Israel is reported to have the capacity to produce between 10 and 15 nuclear fission warheads per year. (By comparison, Iran can produce 25 per year.) Israel has also produced at least three hydrogen bombs.

It takes a lot of uranium to power a nuclear reactor; but it only takes a little to make an atomic bomb.
A nation that uses atomic reactors to produce electricity must have a steady supply of large amounts of uranium. On the other hand, an atomic bomb can be constructed from as little as 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of enriched uranium. (Uranium enrichment is described below.)

An oil-rich country doesn't need a nuclear reactor.
Commercial-scale nuclear reactors are very big and very expensive. They are dangerous to build, and produce large amounts of toxic, radioactive nuclear waste that must be buried in a safe location far away from people. Although generally safe, nuclear reactors have been known to malfunction and even explode, releasing deadly radioactive gases into the air.

One of the benefits of a nuclear reactor is that it does not produce excessive carbon dioxide as a waste product. Carbon dioxide from coal and oil-burning electrical generators has contributed to global warming. However, oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran do not need nuclear reactors. They have huge oil reserves, and relatively little industry. They can easily supply their people with cheap electrical power from oil-burning generators without significantly contributing to global warming.

The easiest way to power a nuclear reactor is through uranium enrichment.
The least expensive fuel for a nuclear reactor is uranium. Natural uranium contains very little u-235, the uranium isotope usually used as fuel in a nuclear reactor. Only 0.72% of natural uranium is u-235.

In order to use natural uranium to create atomic fission, it has to be refined. (This process is also called “enrichment.”) Usually, uranium is refined by converting it into uranium hexafluoride gas, spinning it in a centrifuge, and then separating the light and heavy gases. The light gas is then centrifuged again, and again, until at least 4 percent of the gas consists of fissible material. (Nuclear fuel; uranium-235.)

However, there is nothing to prevent the gas from being repeatedly centrifuged again. (This is done in a cascade: an array of as many as 50,000 centrifuges.) When at least 90 percent of the gas is fissible, you've got the makings of an atom bomb.

On April 11, 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had successfully enriched uranium. (What he did not say, however, is that Iran had already used enriched uranium to produce an atomic bomb.) The world community reacted negatively, and began to seek ways of curtailing Iran's nuclear program. In a clever stroke of diplomacy, Russia proposed to relieve Iran of its need to enrich its own uranium by enriching it for them. But once Russia has purified Iran's uranium to 4 percent, there is nothing to prevent Iran from boosting its potency to 90 percent: all Iran needs is a secret installation containing a centrifuge cascade. There is evidence that Iran has at least one such secret cascade.

Iran’s Proxy Armies in Iraq

When the American-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam’s reign of terror ended, and Iraqis were grateful and jubilant. But within months, Iraq fell into a bloody internal war so severe that the Coalition was powerless to stop it. For us, this brutal insurgency has been devastating: as of January 19, 2007, no fewer than 3,030 Americans have perished.

To the American public, the conflict in Iraq looks like the American Civil War, with the Sunni minority playing the role of the North, and the Shiite majority playing the role of the South. But, for the most part, what is happening in Iraq is not a civil war: it is the systematic destruction of a fragile, nascent democracy by its next-door neighbor: Iran. To continue with the Civil War analogy, it is as if Canada had secretly invaded the United States in 1861, killed a group of Northerners, killed a group of Southerners, funded both the Union and Confederate armies, and then scuttled every effort to make peace.

How is it possible for Iran to exert so much influence on events inside Iraq? The answer is simple and astonishing: Iran has no fewer than three proxy armies operating inside Iraq:

• The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC,) a uniformed branch of the Iranian government.

• The Mahdi Army, led by the young radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr.

• Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which until recently was led by the man known publicly as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Proxy Army # 1: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
One of the oddities of fascist regimes is the multiplicity and redundancy of their armed forces. Iran has a regular army and navy; but it also has a separate military organization called the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC.) The IRGC was created by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Khomeini saw the new organization as an armed intelligence service. (Iranians speak a language called Farsi. The Farsi name for the IRGC is “Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Islami.” Hence, the IRGC is also referred to as “the Pasdaran” or “Sepah.” There is also a kind of IRGC reserve called “the Basij.” The IRGC also has a special branch called “the Qods Force,” which conducts foreign terrorist activities.)

By far the most blatant manipulation of Iraq by the Iranian government has been accomplished through the direct intervention of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. IRGC officers of all ranks have simply infiltrated Iraq by the hundreds. Under their direction, there may be as many as 90,000 Iranians inside Iraq:

• In 2003, at least 52 IRGC officers were trained in Tehran to infiltrate Iraq and aid in the opposition of American forces.

• In April, 2003, a pro-Iranian cleric took over the mosque in the city of Kut — a city of 300,000 near the Iranian border — and proclaimed himself mayor. The IRGC provided him with a militia, weapons, money, and logistical support.

What is remarkable about these developments is that a regular, uniformed branch of the Iranian military is operating freely inside Iraq. How did they get there?

The answer is that we let them in: During the run-up to the Second Gulf War, IRGC officers approached the United States Army. They offered to infiltrate southern and central Iraq through its porous border with Iran. From these positions, the IRGC would then forward valuable intelligence to American forces. The Army agreed, and the IRGC moved in. Initially, the IRGC made good on its promise, and helped the Coalition defeat Saddam. Then, with the Iraqi military destroyed, the Iranians shut down the channel to the U.S. Army, and began to use their intelligence officers to strangle the newborn Iraqi democracy.

In 2003, the United States Army certainly knew that Iran has been hostile to the United States since 1979. Why, then, did the Army agree to accept the Iranian Trojan Horse? My guess is that, like the President, the Army did not fully realize the extent to which Iran had murdered Americans. Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq has been, for America, a war conducted on the cheap: it is now clear that we went into Iraq without sufficient men and resources. The Army probably jumped at the chance of saving money by employing the Iranians.

Proxy Army # 2: The Mahdi Army
On June 8, 2003, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President of Iran, held a meeting with the young Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moghtada Sadre (known in the West as Muqtada al Sadr.) Sadr is the son of Ayatollah Seyed Mohammed Sadr, the onetime leader of all Iraqi Shiites, who was murdered by Saddam Hussein in 1999. On behalf of the government of Iran, Rafsanjani proposed to fund an Iraqi Shiite militia — the Mahdi Army — with Sadr as its leader. Rafsanjani specifically compared Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Mahdi Army in Iraq. Both, he said, were funded by Iran: Hezbollah was created to throw the Israelis out of Lebanon; the Mahdi Army was created to throw the Americans out of Iraq.

Sadr accepted, and Iran thereby created its second proxy army inside Iraq. By April, 2004, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had sent Sadr over $70 million to fund the Mahdi Army; it is likely that Iran has continued to support Sadr at this level of annual funding ever since.

Sadr did not disappoint his handlers in Tehran: In early 2004, Sadr almost succeeded in derailing the American turn-over of authority to the new interim government of Iraq. Coalition authorities had recently shut down Sadr's newspaper because it was inciting violence. (One article alleged that Americans were mounting suicide bombing attacks against Iraqis.) Sadr mobilized his Shi'a followers to demonstrate. On April 4, fighting broke out in Najaf, Basra, and a section of Baghdad called Sadr City. The Mahdi Army killed dozens of Coalition soldiers. Sadr’s actions also triggered violence by Sunni rebels in Baghdad, Samarra, Ramadi, and Fallujah. Thus, all of this killing was either financed or instigated by Iran.

Proxy Army # 3: al-Qaeda in Iraq
We have already described Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s rise to power in Iraqi Kurdistan. By 2003, he had commandeered a militia called Ansar Al-Islam. However, as we have already seen, Zarqawi and his commanders were all members of al-Qaeda. Most of them were veterans of the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. While most of Zarqawi’s 600 fighters were in northern Iraq, their officers were in Iran, and have remained there, more or less, ever since. (Zarqawi, himself, shuttled continually between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and his native Jordan.)

In this roundabout way, the government of Iran used al-Qaeda to create its third proxy army inside Iraq, while keeping its leadership mostly inside Iran. From this strong position, Iran proceeded to wreak havoc on American interests through Zarqawi:

• In March, 2003, the American-led coalition launched a massive offensive against Ansar Al-Islam. Zarqawi lost one-third of his men. Undeterred, Ansar Al-Islam simply slipped across the border into Iran, rebuilt its strength, and reentered Iraqi Kurdistan.

• On August 20, 2003, Zarqawi exploded a truck bomb at the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations, killing the U.N.’s special representative and 16 others. This drove the U.N. out of Iraq.

• On April 9, 2004, 26-year-old Nicholas Berg, an American civilian, was kidnapped in Baghdad. On May 11, Zarqawi (or possibly one of his closest lieutenants) personally beheaded him, and then released a video tape of the execution. It was a coldly calculated act designed to seize the leadership of all Sunni extremist groups in Iraq. Within days, several of these militias announced their merger under Zarqawi’s new banner group, called Tawhid wal Jihad, or “Unity and Holy War.” The militias included the former Ansar Al-Islam, Ansar Al-Sunna, Jaysh Mohammed, Al-Jamaa Salafiya, Takfir wal Hijra, and Jund Al-Sham. Overnight, Zarqawi’s forces grew from 600 to as many as 1,500, and now included specialists in explosives, missiles, and chemical weapons.

• In July 2004, Zarqawi began calling on Iraqi Sunnis to kill Iraqi Shiites.

• In September 2004, Zarqawi kidnapped and executed two more American civilians: Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley.

• On October 23, 2004, Zarqawi murdered 50 Iraqi National Guard recruits as they left their training camp near Kirkuk. This was a major blow against the newly-elected Iraqi government, which was struggling to assert control of the country in order to reduce its dependence on America.

• By the end of October, Zarqawi had killed 675 Iraqis and 40 foreigners.

• On February 22, 2006, Zarqawi destroyed the Shiite Askariya Mosque in Samarra, igniting a new round of violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

All of this killing — including the assassinations of Nicholas Berg, Eugene Armstrong, and Jack Hensley — was financed and supported by Iran.

Zarqawi’s organization recently underwent one more name change: it is now known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. This is a calculated move designed to give the impression that Zarqawi’s militia has linked up with Osama bin Laden’s. But in reality, Zarqawi and his commanders were official members of al-Qaeda from the beginning.

With three separate armies — the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Mahdi Army, and al-Qaeda in Iraq — Iran is now firmly in control of the armed conflict in Iraq. This means that, ultimately, it is Iran who is killing our soldiers. The IRGC and al-Qaeda in Iraq are Sunni; the Mahdi Army is Shiite. Iran is playing both sides against each other, against the newly-elected government of Iraq, and against the armed forces of the United States and its allies.

Iran’s Proxy Army in Afghanistan
When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, Iran initially opposed them. Then the American-led coalition ousted the Taliban. Protected by the Coalition, the Afghani people elected a democratic government headed by President Hamid Karzai. American forces remained to support the new government. This was not to Iran’s liking: from their viewpoint, the American military was beginning to encircle Iran; first in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq.

To counter the influence of the United States in the region, the clerics in Tehran made peace with the Taliban, and began to support and supply them. This, in effect, transformed the Taliban into an Iranian proxy army. Iran wasted no time deploying it:

• Beginning in December, 2003, a force of 20,000 former Afghan Taliban members trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps began infiltrating southern Afghanistan. Their goal was to topple the democratic government of President Hamid Karzai. During a six-month period in 2005, these insurgents killed 48 American soldiers.

• On February 18, 2004, a train exploded in Neyshabur, Iran. It was destined for Afghanistan and contained 17 wagons of TNT. (The Iranian railway system is owned by the State.)

• In June, 2004, Khamenei gave $10 million to anti-Karzai insurgents in Afghanistan.

The Iranian Attack Model
It is time to review, for the last time, the Iranian Attack Model that was presented in postings 3 and 4. As we review each of its seven features, we will list examples of its application that have been documented in this and other postings:

1. The chief instrument of Iranian geopolitics is the IRGC, a uniformed branch of the Iranian military.
The IRGC was directly involved in the Marine barracks bombing; the Khobar Towers bombing; the assassination of Robert Dean Stethem; the attacks of September 11, 2001; and the insurgencies in Iraq. The IRGC is also responsible for deploying Iran's nuclear missiles. (We will learn more about this in the next few postings.)

2. Iranian acts of aggression are carefully planned and executed, from beginning to end, by Iranian citizens working for the Iranian government.
The Marine barracks bombing and the Khobar Towers bombing were both planned by Iranian diplomats in Damascus, Syria, and by members of Iran's MOIS. The hijacking that led to the assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was probably ordered by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The attacks of September 11th were approved and ordered by all five of Iran's top political leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Iranian Head of State; the IRGC, MOIS, and the Office of the Supreme Leader all participated in the planning. The Iraqi insurgency led by Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army is being funded by the government of Iran through Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

3. The final phase of each attack, however, is carried out by proxies who may or may not be Iranian citizens.
The Marine barracks bomb was detonated by an Iranian. The Khobar towers bomb was built, deployed, and detonated by members of Saudi Hezbollah. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was done by a Hezbollah militiaman. The attacks of September 11th were carried out by al-Qaeda, which was acting, in part, as an Iranian proxy. In Iraq, suicide bombers, both Shia and Sunni, are being armed and funded by Iran. The takeover of the town of Kut was led by an Iraqi cleric supported by the IRGC.

4. The Iranians hide their culpability by attacking where non-Iranian radical groups can easily be blamed.
The Marine barracks bombing took place in war-torn Lebanon. The Khobar Towers bombing occurred in Saudi Arabia, in which several small armed groups are trying to topple the Monarchy. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem occurred during an airline hijacking that, on the surface, looked like hijackings previously perpetrated by Palestinians and other Muslim extremists. The attacks of September 11th, except for their use of commercial jetliners as flying bombs, looked like many other hijackings done by several radical Muslim groups. The activities of the Mahdi Army, al-Qaeda, and the IRGC are hidden in the noise of other insurgencies in Iraq.

5. The Iranians' weapon of choice is a suicide truck or car bomb.
The Marine barracks was destroyed by a suicide truck bomb. The Khobar Towers facility was not a suicide because it was perpetrated by Sunnis; until recently, suicide has not been typical of Sunni extremists. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was not a suicide attack because Imad Fayez Mugniyeh is too narcissistic to kill himself. The attacks of September 11th simply substituted suicide plane bombs for suicide truck bombs. Car and truck bombs are now common in Iraq, and are routinely used by Iran's proxy armies.

6. Each attack advances the geopolitical ambitions of Iran.
The Marine barracks bombing succeeded in expelling American forces from Lebanon. The Khobar Towers bombing contributed to the reduction of American troops in Saudi Arabia. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem humiliated the United States and obtained the release of 766 Lebanese Shiites from prison in Israel. The attacks of September 11th united radical Islam around Osama bin Laden, who is now, in effect, a minister in the government of Iran. The loss of 3,030 soldiers has caused many Americans to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

7. Each attack is funded by Iranian petrodollars.
The IRGC is enormously expensive to maintain; it is no less than a complete duplicate of the regular Iranian Army. The Mahdi Army receives at least $70 million in funding per year from Iran; Hezbollah receives in excess of $100 million per year. In 2004, Khamenei gave $10 million to insurgents in Afghanistan, probably the Taliban.

War by Proxy
We can now see how Iran is succeeding in its drive to dominate world politics. Like their Pan-Arabist predecessors, the clerics in Tehran are calling for Muslims worldwide to unite behind them, and are using their oil wealth to destabilize their rivals. But unlike their predecessors, the clerics have an enormous advantage: Iran possesses no fewer than eight proxy armies:

1. In Iraq, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
2. In Iraq, the Mahdi Army.
3. In Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq.
4. In Afghanistan, the Taliban.
5. In Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah.
6. In Lebanon, Islamic Jihad.
7. In Lebanon and in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas.
8. Worldwide, al-Qaeda.

During the early Cold War, the Soviet Union supported armed insurgencies in China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Yemen, Congo, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and Cuba. When Iran added al-Qaeda to its roster of proxy armies, it automatically acquired an organized, armed presence in 60 countries. Not since the days of Joseph Stalin has one nation been in control of so many militias in so many countries. Iran has become an Islamic Comintern.

Joseph Stalin knew, however, that he could not sustain communist insurgencies worldwide unless he could counter the United States militarily. But America had the atom bomb. Stalin made it his highest priority to get it, too, and in 1949, he succeeded. This lesson was not lost on the Iranians.