What Is Iran Really Doing With Its Nuclear Program?

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The natural assumption is that the end game for Iran's nuclear energy efforts is an atomic bomb sitting on top of a long-range ballistic missile, but intelligence agencies secretly think that may not be the case. According to The Los Angeles Times, national intelligence estimates from as recently as last year, say that Iran stopped trying to actively build a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has no plans to do so at the moment.

If that were true it would mean taking Tehran at its word when its leaders say they want to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes only. Taking the Ayatollah at his word, however, is not something Israelis and many American leaders are inclined to do. The  chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (who has presumably seen these reports) has stated outright that the country is pursuing nuclear weapons. And just because they aren't building one right now, does mean they can't change direction. Once you master the secrets of nuclear energy, turning that knowledge into weapons is not a huge leap. Nuclear inspector David Albright says it would only take six months for Iran to use its centrifuges to create bomb material, should they change their minds. 

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Still, "intelligence professionals calling balls and strikes the way they [see] them" are forced to conclude that Iran hasn't done so yet.  Maybe it's a bluff, maybe they're biding time until they can secure their facilities from Israeli bombs, or maybe American intelligence just doesn't have the capability to know what's really going on there. There's no doubt that Iran has pursued nuclear energy for decades and has never been very open about what they are up to. (Why deny inspectors if there's nothing to hide?)

So are the experts dumb, lying, or smart enough to know that militarization is inevitable? None of the possibilities seem particularly comforting, given the saber rattling on both sides of the divide. There's no trust of anyone, no matter what the analysts say, and there are more than enough hawks preaching the doctrine of "better safe than sorry."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.