On Sunday, Iran test-fired a new medium-range surface-to-air missile near the Strait that it claims has advanced radar-evading abilities. On the same day, Iran announced that it created and tested its own nuclear fuel rod and installed it in a research reactor in Tehran. Fuel rods included pellets of enriched uranium and although they are not directly related to nuclear weapons, their production requires some of the same expertise and reflects Iran’s “increasing sophistication in nuclear fabrication,” explains Edwin Layman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. It has not been stated whether the fuel rod included uranium pellets.
Iran also said it wants to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear program but that ending its uranium enrichment is not an option. Further sanctions against Iran seem inevitable. The last International Atomic Energy Program disclosed that Iran has a secret enrichment program, is working on a nuclear warhead and nuclear “triggers,” and has even made preparations for an underground nuclear test. Furthermore, in October, the U.S. revealed an Iranian-sponsored plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C. by blowing up a restaurant. The operatives also discussed attacking the Saudi and Israeli embassies in D.C. and Buenos Aires. And last month, two separate rulings blamed Iran and Hezbollah for Al-Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings and the attacks of September 11, 2001.
If further sanctions are enacted, Iran will have to decide how to respond and whether to make good on its threat to shut down the Strait of Hormuz. Military expert Anthony Cordesman said that Iran would only be able to shut it down for “a few days to two weeks.” If Iran is seeking to scare the West and make the price of oil spike to alleviate its economic woes, then it doesn’t necessarily need to shut the Strait down. It can just spark an incident that will drive the price up.
Iran has five mine-laying vessels, 200 missile patrol boats and about 2,000 mines, as well as a large fleet of speedboats, three Soviet submarines and an array of anti-ship missiles. Asymmetric attacks can also take place against oil tankers in the narrow passageway through attacks like the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. These types of attacks are much more likely than a full-scale assault on the Strait. An editorial in the Washington Times makes the point that “it would be the biggest mistake the mullahs ever made,” destroying Iran’s economy and providing a basis for military action against it.
The U.S. and its allies are finally talking about the type of sanctions that make the Iranian regime tremble, but time is short. Secretary of Defense Panetta says Iran may build a nuclear weapon within one year. We will be very lucky if 2012 passes without a major confrontation with Iran.
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