Daniel W. Drezner

The horrible optics of containing Iran’s nuclear program

The horrible optics of containing Iran’s nuclear program

Well, it appears that Jeffrey Goldberg’s warnings about Israel attacking Iran within the next year have been — for now —  overtaken by events

The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats.

As a general rule, a lack of bombing certainly seems like good news.  The question is, why?  What’s slowing down the Iranians? 

It is unclear whether the problems that Iran has had enriching uranium are the result of poor centrifuge design, difficulty obtaining components or accelerated Western efforts to sabotage the nuclear program….

Some of Iran’s enrichment problems appear to have external origins. Sanctions have made it more difficult for Iran to obtain precision parts and specialty metals. Moreover, the United States, Israel and Europe have for years engaged in covert attempts to disrupt the enrichment process by sabotaging the centrifuges.

The sanctions and the lack of technical competence are probably heloping, but if I had to guess, I’d wager that the covert attempts at sabotage are yielding the most promising results.  The thing is, no administration can publicly say, “hey, everyone should relax about Iran’s nuclear program, cause we’ve got covert operatives crawling all around Natanz, Bushehr, and Qom.”  So, the public face of U.S. foreign policy towards Iran’s nuclear program remains sanctions and a willingness to negotiate.  The optics of this policy posture don’t look good. 

Now, I don’t know this to be true — it’s possible that covert action has yielded little in the way of results.  Still, this might be a situation in which no news on Iran is actually good news.