In my column for the National Post, I discuss the dwindling options left for Iran:
Three thousand years ago, the author of the Biblical Psalms delivered a useful warning to people considering employment in the Iranian nuclear-bomb program:
Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out,
falls into the pit they have made.
The trouble they cause recoils on them;
their violence comes down on their own heads.
Or, as Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast on Friday:
“All told, five Iranian scientists or engineers affiliated with the nuclear program have been killed since 2007, the latest being Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency says was responsible for procurement at the Natanz enrichment facility. A sixth, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived an assassination attempt in 2010 and is now the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency. William Tobey, a former deputy administrator of the [U.S.] National Nuclear Security Administration and a National Security Council specialist on nuclear issues, said five of the six attacks on the scientists since 2007 used magnetic limpet bombs that would be attached to a vehicle carrying the target.”
The Iranian nuclear bomb program has faced other challenges, too.
Its computers have been sabotaged by viruses that have accelerated its centrifuges, spoiling the nuclear fuel and wrecking the machinery. Last year, three Iranian weapons facilities were hit by huge explosions. One explosion, on Nov. 12 at a missile-testing base west of Teheran, was felt 45 kilometres away, killing at least a dozen people including (by some reports) a visiting North Korean delegation. Another huge blast was reported at the end of the month in Isfahan, site of an important nuclear fuel production facility. On Dec. 11, an explosion ripped through a steel works that produces the special metals required to build nuclear centrifuges — of which Iran needs a great many to replace those ruined by computer viruses.
Reeling from these damaging and humiliating events, Iran has responded with louder and cruder threats, including a threat to close the Straits of Hormuz. But the threats only recoil upon Iran, by discouraging purchases of Iran’s only important product: oil.
Japan, Iran’s third-most important customer after China and India, has cut its purchases from Iran by 40% over the past five years. On Thursday, the Japanese government promised visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner that it would cut purchases by 10% more. The Europeans — who buy 450,000 barrels a day from Iran, about 20% of Iranian production — also are redirecting their trade. South Korea likewise has promised to reduce its Iranian imports.
These promises gain credibility as Libyan oil returns to market and Iraqi oil production soars to 3-million barrels a day, the highest production rate since before the first Gulf War. Even without Iran’s oil, there will be enough to go around.