Are the Iranians seeking to attain nuclear weapons?

There is overwhelming evidence in support of a "yes" answer to this question. The Iranians have continued to defy

Khamenaei has said the use of weapons of mass destruction is forbidden.

the IAEA and enrich uranium, a vital part of the process of making nuclear weapons. They have claimed that they are enriching the uranium for civilian purposes, but highly respected non-proliferation expert David Albright of ISIS points to the fact that the Iranians have at their disposal enough raw-material, "yellowcake", for the making of nuclear weapons but not for the creation of a domestic electrical energy program. Clearly, their enrichment program is for nuclear weapons purposes. They also have a heavy water plant at Arak, and the large plant at Bushehr, the pilot plant of which is to be inaugurated in late February 2009.

While the supreme Iranian leader Khamenaei has said the use of weapons of mass destruction is forbidden by Islamic law, other leaders, including former President Rafsanjani, have threatened Israel with a nuclear exchange.

There are many geopolitical reasons for Iran to wish to attain nuclear weapons. Among these are its being surrounded by nuclear neighbors Pakistan, India and Israel. The Iranians also see the attaining of nuclear weapons as enhancing their prestige and as means of extending their power in the Middle East.

How close are the Iranians to attaining nuclear weapons?

Former American Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says the Iranians have mastered all the technical difficulties involved in creating a nuclear weapon. It is generally acknowledged that the most difficult part of the process is the enriching of the uranium. The Iranians have increased the number of centrifuges in their Natanz plant to four thousand and Albright believes that they will have enough enriched material for at least one nuclear bomb in 2009. He also believes that the "weaponization" process can be carried out quite swiftly.

Once Iran has enough enriched uranium it can, in effect, be said to have nuclear weapons.

The Iranians have the missile capacity not only to reach every point in the Middle East, but also in southern Europe. That is to say that all US bases in the Middle East may soon be in range of Iranian nuclear weapons.

How can Iran possibly go to the final stage of the process, weaponization, when it is being observed and supervised by the UN?

Yaakov Lappin, in a February 22, 2009, article in the Jerusalem Post, cites a report of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency claiming Iran has produced 1,010 kg. of low-enriched uranium. The figure is a third more than Iran had previously disclosed. Moreover, Prof. Raymond Tanter, President of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, told the Post, "Because it takes more time to create LEU (low-enriched uranium) than to go from LEU to HEU (highly enriched uranium), the discovery of the additional LEU suggest that the Iranian regime has accelerated its quest for nuclear weapons capability."

Tanter also claims that Iran has a secret underground facility in its military complex at Lavizan 2, in northeastern Tehran, where the weaponization process can take place. The UN is not permitted to inspect military facilities like this one.

Is Iran likely to transfer its nuclear weapons to Hizbullah, Hamas or any of its other surrogates in the world?

There are those who point out that Iran has a WMD capacity with chemical and biological weapons, but has never transferred them to its surrogates. They argue it is extremely unlikely that Iran would give the surrogates the power to initiate an action, the reaction to which might bring great harm to Iran. Yet, it is impossible to be certain about this, as Iran has in the past used surrogates in terror attacks, in order to cover its own tracks.

Does Iran intend to use its nuclear weapons against Israel?

Many argue that Iran would not risk this, as they understand that Israel and the United States have the capacity to level Tehran, destroy the heart of their civilization. They contend that no matter how hate-filled the regime is in relation to Israel, it is not suicidal. So the general consensus is that Iran would not try a first strike against Israel. But there is, of course, no way of knowing for certain that this is the case.

Will the United States - when it understands it is being strung along, deceived by Iran - decide on nuclear preemption?

The Obama Administration will do everything it possibly can to avoid taking military action. It will show a great deal of good-will and understanding towards Iran. It will attempt to lure it into a dialogue. Iran will probably engage in such a dialogue, but not at the price of halting its nuclear program. It will continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons and will not accept the alternatives the US offers it. But it will delay and deceive, making promises it won't keep. And it will probably string the Obama Administration along for a long time. Yet, at some point it is likely the American patience will run out. In this, it would seem that Iran and the US are on an inevitable collision course.

The confrontation now seems certainly to happen after Iran has acquired a nuclear capability. In other words, an open clash might mean a nuclear war and massive destruction. The United States may then simply take the military option off the table. My guess is that for many of Barack Obama's closest foreign policy advisors, it has never been on the table.

It should be remembered that the Bush Administration promised repeatedly to prevent Iran from becoming a

It would seem that Iran and the US are on an inevitable collision course.

nuclear power, yet Iran proceeded unimpeded towards this goal during the Bush years. That President Obama will be true to his promise of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed power is thus extremely doubtful.

If the United States does not preempt Iran, must Israel do so?

It is conceivable that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would do more harm than good. This would be the case if Iran does have the capacity to strike Israel with a nuclear weapon. That is, to be successful any Israeli strike has to not only destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities and its capacity to manufacture new weapons, it must also ensure that no Iranian weapon is used in retaliation. All this suggests that the decision for Israel is a complex one and cannot be made simply.

New York Times correspondent David Sanger reported on January 2009 that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert requested from President George Bush in 2008 permission to fly over Iraq and was refused. Bush also reportedly refused an Israeli request for an advanced kind of bunker-buster ordnance and new refueling technology. All this suggests that an Israeli operation is almost a mission impossible.

How should Israel respond to an Iranian attack?

It is to be hoped that we would be able to preempt it, or if not, to intercept the missiles. But if not, it is not true, as former Iranian President Rafsanjani claims, that in a nuclear exchange Iran would survive and Israel would not. Most likely, both societies would survive and be terribly crippled. Only an insane, messianically driven Iranian leadership would dictate such an outcome. But for deterrence purposes, the Israeli leadership must make it one-hundred-percent clear that any attack on Israel will be met with a devastatingly disproportional response.