Updated: December 13, 2011 8:27AM
The verdict is in: Iran is doing its damnedest to develop a nuclear weapon.
The only sane international response is clear: Iran must be stopped.
Reasonable people may disagree on just how to compel Iran to abandon all efforts to build a nuclear weapon, but no one should doubt any longer the urgency to do so quickly and completely. Diplomatic and economic pressure should be applied to the fullest degree, as a first measure, ideally now in concert with previously reluctant Russia and China.
But should further diplomacy and sanctions fail, we would hope the Obama administration goes the extra mile to assemble a truly international military response, as it did in Libya. That cool-headed approach, though ridiculed by Republican critics, proved remarkably successful politically as well as militarily in ridding the world of Moammar Gadhafi.
Military action — by the UN, the United States or Israel acting alone — carries its own grave risks. It could drive Iran’s nuclear program deeper underground or unleash a wave of regional violence, a horrific scenario for Israel.
In a chilling report released Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency, a branch of the United Nations, presented a wealth of credible evidence that Iran’s government is secretly working to develop a nuclear weapon. The report does not say Iran is close to completing a working bomb, but describes at least a dozen covert projects that indicate the effort is being made.
Equally important, the report cites a “wide variety of independent sources” for its findings, clearly making the point that this assessment is far more credible than the bogus claims of “weapons of mass destruction” used by the Bush administration in 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq.
The danger of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran, an Islamic republic whose president is the bellicose Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is ominous. This is the same rogue state that recently, according to the Justice Department, tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington — in Washington.
An Iran with the bomb would revolutionize the balance of power in the Middle East, posing an existential threat not only to Israel but to other Muslim states. As Dan Elbaum, director of the Chicago Regional Office of the American Jewish Committee, said Wednesday, Ahmadinejad “might be tempted” to carry out his repeated threat to “wipe Israel off the map” and could ship nuclear weapons to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
The United States and the United Nations have imposed economic sanctions on Iran for years to some effect — Ahmadinejad has admitted as much — but Iran’s bomb-making schemes apparently continue. A significant tightening of the screws might begin with a U.S. Treasury Department ban on transactions with the Central Bank of Iran, which would cut off from the American financial system any third country that did business with the Central Bank.
It’s important to stress, though, that greater economic sanctions should not handcuff the Obama administration’s ability to communicate with Iran through diplomatic channels. Sanctions should be in the service of diplomacy.
A clock is ticking. Iran, we are told, is working on the bomb. And this time we don’t hear a false alarm.