If Only Iran Nuclear Red Lines Were as Simple as Hockey for Israel

Should Benjamin Netanyahu Take Action on Nukes?

Caught Off-Sides? When the St. Louis Blues took to the ice against the Los Angeles Kings, it was easy to see the ‘red lines’ and what happens if you cross them. Not so with Iran and its nuclear program.
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Caught Off-Sides? When the St. Louis Blues took to the ice against the Los Angeles Kings, it was easy to see the ‘red lines’ and what happens if you cross them. Not so with Iran and its nuclear program.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published May 05, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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Obama tried to explain the complexities to reporters April 30, concluding, “I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts.” Translation: I know I laid down a red line, but I’m not sure where it is.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew an even starker line last September 27, a month after Obama’s ultimatum. Now he’s in an even bigger pickle. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, he waved a cartoon bomb bisected by a fat red line. This, he said, was the threshold where Iran enriches enough uranium for a bomb — 250 kilograms, purified to a consistency of 20% fissionable U-235 isotope. That can be refined in just six months or so to 25 kilograms at bomb-grade 90% purity, enough for one bomb.

If the mullahs can’t be convinced to stop short of that red line, 250 kilos of 20% fissile, they’ll have to be stopped by force.

Some leading experts believe Iran has already crossed the red line — or, more precisely, sidestepped it. In February the International Atomic Energy Agency said the regime had produced 170 kilos of the threshold 20% material. Tel Aviv University’s authoritative Institute of National Security Studies said in an April 23 study that Tehran is deliberately staying below the 250-kilo threshold. Instead it’s adding new centrifuges, increasing its enrichment capacity.

Now it can keep its stockpile at lower grade, to avoid trouble. If it decides it’s safe to proceed, it can reach the 90% finish line in the same quick sprint that Netanyahu’s 250-kilo red line was meant to cordon off.

As the institute director, Amos Yadlin, a former military intelligence chief, explained in an April 23 speech, Iran can remain just shy of Netanyahu’s red line indefinitely, watching and waiting, steadily shortening its breakout time by adding centrifuges and bulking its low-grade supply.

This puts Netanyahu in a tight spot. By his own logic, he should be attacking Iran’s centrifuges already. His defense chiefs say he has the means. But they also say it’s a bad idea.


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