A couple of things need to be made clear regarding the Iranian nuclear program, and Iran’s broader current situation. Both of them are of practical relevance to the form that the negotiations now opening up between the west and Iran should take.
First, the Iranians are now very close to achieving a nuclear weapons capability. Iran now has 186 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20%. It is generally considered that it will need 250 kilograms, which it can then rapidly enrich further to 90% for the production of a nuclear weapon.
This point, according to former head of IDF military intelligence Amos Yadlin, is a matter of “months” away.
Yadlin thinks that achieving the ability to place a deliverable nuclear warhead on a missile might take Iran longer to master. But the Iranians are into the final stretch. All that is now required to take them to the threshold of nuclear capability is an amenable international atmosphere for the next year or so.
Second, the sanctions against Iran have hit the Iranian economy hard. Foreign currency reserves have been severely depleted. The value of the Iranian riyal has plummeted.
This has led some observers to conclude that the election of Rohani and the proclaimed turn toward flexibility may this time have some substance to it. The argument is made that whatever the ideological intentions of the Iranian regime, the sanctions have placed it in an impossible position, from which it now has no choice but to seek a dignified exit through rapprochement with the west.
This view is belied by the evidence of Iranian behavior on matters not directly related to the nuclear file. For the last two and a half years, Tehran has been directly challenging the west in one of the most important Mid Eastern arenas –- that of the Syrian civil war. In offering their backing to their client Assad regime, the Iranians have spent somewhere in the region of $10 billion. This is a massive outlay for any country. For a country suffering the demonstrable effects of international sanctions it is an enormous investment, carrying a clear message.
The message is that where the regime’s core strategic interests and ambitions are at stake, it will not compromise, but rather will find a way through. Severe internal repression will serve to dampen any public response to the undoubtedly deleterious effects of the sanctions. So far, it appears to be working.
This is demonstrably and undeniably the choice the regime chose to make regarding the costly but ultimately secondary issue of defending a key regional ally. It is not clear on what the optimists base their view that when it comes to primary, cardinal issues such as their nuclear program, the regime will for some reason choose to adopt a more flexible stance.