Concerns over Iran’s nuclear program promise to keep pressure on U.S. gasoline prices all summer long. If anything, the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program is intensifying, with no likely solution anywhere in view.
Within Iran, ultra-conservative forces led by Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi are expected to push for increased control in the Assembly of Experts, the body of senior clerics who select the Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, 85-years-old and the current chairman of the Assembly of Experts, is seriously ill with advanced cancer. Weakened by months of chemotherapy, Ayatollah Meshkini was forced to leave early a three-day session of the Assembly of Experts where he was only able to deliver the opening speech. Ayatollah Meskini played a key behind-the-scenes role in selecting the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who at the time he assumed the role of Supreme Leader was not considered a senior cleric.
According to a report recently published by the Independent in London, Ayatollah Yazdi may himself aspire to be the next Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Yazdi is the spiritual leader of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yazdi’s promotion of Ahmadinejad to Ayatollah Khamenei and Khamenei’s subsequent decision to back Ahmadinejad in last year’s presidential election are key reasons the relatively obscure former mayor of Tehran beat former President Rafsanjani in the presidential run-off. Ayatollah Yazdi is a lead proponent of the theory that the "Lost Twelfth Imam," also known as the "Mahdi," went into reclusion when he hid down a well in 941 AD. Ahmadinejad has claimed publicly that his mission is to create the apocalypse that believers see as a precondition for the messianic second coming of the Mahdi.
Iran has advanced to enrich uranium to 4.8% with their current cascade of 164 centrifuges, adequate for peaceful purposes. Plans have been announced for Iran to install 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz. The IAEA report released last week confirmed that Iran had enriched uranium at Natanz to 3.5%. The terrorist-opposition group MEK through its political arm NCRI has disclosed that Iran is working on advanced P2 centrifuges, with the assistance of Chinese and North Korean nuclear experts. The NCRI also suspects that Iran might be exploring P3 centrifuge technology that was acquired through the black market contacts of rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. These reports support the concern that Iran is proceeding at breakneck speed to develop and test the technology needed to enrich uranium to 90% uranium-235, commonly considered weapons-grade.
At the end of April, Israel launched an ImageSat International Eros-B spy satellite to keep watch on Iran’s nuclear progress. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, the head of the Israeli Space Agency, recently said in an interview that the observation of Iran from space would allow Israel to monitor precisely the above ground evidence of nuclear activity even at the deeply-buried and concrete-reinforced facilities at Natanz.
The Israeli Eros-B spy satellite is very possibly the best optical surveillance technology any country in the world has in orbit, including the U.S., Russia, and China. The few Eros-B photographs which have been made public reveal remarkable sharpness and detail, with the spy satellite capable of capturing on the ground objects as small as 70 centimeters (27.6 inches).
Israel is a one-bomb state that would be virtually destroyed by an atomic 9/11 over Tel Aviv. In this game of nuclear chicken, Israeli security and military forces need precise prediction of Iran’s capabilities. We continue to be concerned that Iran may be able to establish 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz within three months, with the ability to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium only five months later. A timetable this successful would give Iran the ability to start making simple gun-type atomic bombs by early 2007.
On April 29, 2006, Israel’s prime minister designate, Ehud Olmert, denounced Ahmadinejad as a "psychopath" who is as dangerous as was Adolf Hitler. Olmert launched this accusation only after Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, gave him an intelligence briefing on Iran’s nuclear program. Reportedly, Dagan told Olmert that Israeli intelligence has concluded that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than previous intelligence estimates had thought possible.
Meanwhile, the United States is still proceeding along the time-consuming path of overcoming Russian and Chinese objections to get a Chapter 7 resolution passed, requiring Iran to resume a moratorium on uranium enrichment.
Iran, seemingly unconcerned about Security Council action, continues to escalate the rhetoric. This week, Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Mahammad Ebrahim Dehghani said that Israel would be the first target for retaliation if the U.S. should launch a military strike against Tehran.
Meanwhile, world oil prices have surged to over $74 a barrel, the spike largely due to uncertainty over Iran. What is building is the prospect for an escalating crisis as intensifying U.S. threats are likely to be met by ever more defiant Iranian counter-threats. Maybe before summer even begins we will see oil at more than $80 a barrel, a situation which would only increase Iran’s windfall profits and their economic ability to scoff at sanctions.
The crisis is heading toward war the moment Israel loses patience with the Bush administration’s inability to produce any meaningful diplomatic impact on Iran. This brewing crisis may quickly overwhelm the Iraqi news cycle with an Iranian nuclear crisis that appears to have no favorable conclusion. The brewing war with Iran and the resulting oil crisis is shaping up to be a more severe threat to the Bush presidency than anything we have experienced so far.