Before our eyes, Iran is slipping into what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has termed "the zone of immunity" – the position where the critical elements of its nuclear weapons program are so far advanced and so well-protected in underground bunkers that they cannot be destroyed by conventional means.
The latest report from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) notes that the number of centrifuges installed just since May 2012 at the deeply-buried Fordow enrichment site has doubled (to 2,140 from 1,064 in May, even though all of them are not yet up and running). Enrichment at the Natanz enrichment facility continues as do conversion activities at Isafahan and construction at the Arak heavy water research reactor.
Significantly, Iran also seems to be focusing on increasing its output of uranium enriched close to the 20% level, from which it is not difficult to go all the way to the 90% or above needed for weapons grade uranium. All of these activities are in violation of IAEA Board of Governors and UN Security Council resolutions.
Additionally, the new IAEA report describes extensive clean-up activities visible in satellite imagery at the Parchin military site, where Iran built a large containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments (explosives experiments for nuclear warhead triggers). At least five buildings at Parchin have been demolished; power lines, fences and all paved roads have been removed; and "significant ground scraping and landscaping have been undertaken over an extensive area." Despite repeated requests, Iran has not permitted the IAEA to visit and inspect Parchin.
In contrast to the IAEA's permissive stance towards Iran under former Secretary General Mohamed ElBaradei, recent reporting from the IAEA candidly addresses the "possible military dimensions" of the Iranian program and once again in the August 2012 report also cites "activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile" and "activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."
There are other alarming developments as well. Towards the end of the late August 2012 , at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in Tehran (attended by Egypt's new Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi and featuring a turnover of the group's leadership from Egypt to Iran), North Korea and Iran signed a new technology agreement.
While the two long have cooperated in both nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems development, a July 2012 report from veteran national defense reporter Bill Gertz focused attention on a Chinese military journal article about a North Korean program to develop a "super-EMP," a small-scale nuclear warhead that produces massive emissions of high-powered gamma rays that could disrupt or destroy all electronics in its range.
Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear scientist considered by Western observers to be Tehran's top "nuclear guru," according to the Wall Street Journal, is back in action after having worked out of the public eye for a number of years. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is a senior officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite Iranian military organization charged by the Ayatollah Khomeini in the mid-1980's to "get the bomb." In 2000, he began working at Parchin; now, Fakhrizadeh has opened a new research facility in Tehran's northern suburbs which is focused on nuclear weapons work.
Evidence that Iran is closing in on the capability to produce and deliver nuclear weapons, possibly including the devastating "super-EMP," is mounting. Further, evidence that Iran increasingly is protecting this capability in deep, underground sites that soon may be invulnerable to a conventional air strike is unavoidable. The Jewish State of Israel has never been more vulnerable to existential threat—and yet, now too, the distance between Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. has never been greater.
Despite protestations by President Obama that "we've got your back," White House actions speak louder than words. The U.S. has drastically scaled back its troop and equipment commitment to the annual joint U.S.-Israel military exercise, called "Austere Challenge 12." First postponed from early 2012 to October, the exercise now looks likely to go forward just before the November U.S. presidential election; but the U.S. has slashed the number of its troops that will be participating by more than two-thirds, Patriot anti-missile systems are to be sent without crews to operate them and even the two Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense warships promised as a replacement are not a definite.
Jeffrey Feltman (second from left)On the diplomatic front as well, the Obama administration is sending signals that align its policy more closely with that of Tehran than Jerusalem. When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon ignored an Obama request not to lend legitimacy to the mullahs' regime by visiting Iran and attended the NAM meeting, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State went along, too. Jeffrey Feltman (who now works for Ban Ki-Moon at the UN), was photographed at an August 30 meeting (looking distinctly uncomfortable), seated on a couch between Ahmadinejad's senior Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Moon during an audience with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
As journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) Claudia Rosett wrote at PJMedia on August 29, "This is a diplomatic coup for Iran's regime, which tops the U.S. list of terrorist-sponsoring states, thumbs its nose at UN and U.S. sanctions, and continues to pursue nuclear weapons, coupled with threats to America and America's allies — including the genocidal threat to annihilate Israel." It's also a slap at U.S. ally Israel, which will not have missed the message from its erstwhile friend and protector.
Finally, lest it be thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, there's the craven comment from the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who told reporters in London during a late August visit that he thought Israel could damage but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities—and then added, "I don't want to be complicit if they choose to do it."
Bottom line: Israel can be in no doubt that it is being abandoned in its hour of supreme need by its sometime champion, the former defender of the free world—a United States of America now willingly implementing policies that embolden and empower the forces of Islamic jihad and shariah, whether Sunni or Shi'a, which are dedicated to the destruction of us all.
Clare Lopez is a senior fellow at RadicalIslam.org and a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on the Middle East, national defense and counterterrorism. Lopez began her career as an operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).