Saturday, February 27, 2010

Another Riddle

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

David E. Sanger of the NY Times recently wrote an intriguing piece on the latest twist in the ongoing saga of Iran’s nuclear program. In yet another enigmatic move, at least to Western observers, the Iranians have moved their entire stockpile of low-enriched nuclear fuel to an above-ground location. This comes some five months after the US released details of a secret enrichment plant at a military base close to Qom. The Iranians claimed the underground facility was necessary given a hostile international reception to their attempts to build a peaceful nuclear program. So why the change?

The move has prompted a lot of discussion but little in the way of definitive answers. Sanger posits three of the most likely hypotheses. In the first, Iran, and in particular the Revolutionary Guard Corps, is tempting Israel into a first strike. In the other, they are leveraging for further negotiations and then concessions from the West. The third, and seemingly most benign, envisions Iran having simply run short of storage containers for radioactive fuel.

The first option seems to be the most irrational because there are more unknowns. When would Israel commit a first strike, if ever? And what would the result be in terms of the nuclear program? Viewing it as irrational may be a case of mirror imaging, however, especially considering the leaders of the Revolution may perceive their grip on power as slipping. Desperate situations have induced desperate actions before. The second seems more likely, as Kenneth Pollack points out in the article, but the third option is the one which the Obama administration is ostensibly touting. Only the answer to the riddle will tell, but until then, let the theorizing continue.

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