Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran, and has wanted to for a while now. America is trying to avoid having to go to war again, but has Israel in their interests. The recent attacks on Obama by the G.O.P. candidates made me want to understand what this controversy was about.
According to the Economist, Iran has 9 known main nuclear facilities (but a suspected 10), which we learned 10 years ago that they were building to produce enriched uranium. What does "enriched" uranium mean? Learning from the World Nuclear Association, two isotopes of uranium occur in nature. The uranium we find in nature is around 0.7% U-235 and 93.7% U-238. The U-235 stuff is what is used in nuclear reactors. "Enriched" uranium is uranium with an increased percentage of U-235, usually in the 3-5% range, which is used for Nuclear Reactors. Iran has about 4000 kg (4 metric tons) of uranium enriched to about 3.5%, and 100 kg enriched to 20%. It takes 90% enriched uranium to make a bomb. Let's look at the graph that I found on the World Nuclear Association website linked above (I hope they don't mind if I use it).
Let us view the curve as the steep hill of technological resourcefulness. As you can see, to enrich uranium to the 4-5% range takes the technological resourcefulness equivalent of scaling a cliff. Once there, it is a steep climb, but not as difficult to enrich uranium to 20%. From there, it is a long leisurely walk, comparatively, to enrich it to 90%. From what I've read, this is a nice easy, and probably not to far-off way of interpreting. So, if Iran enriches the uranium it has already at 20% to 90%, it will be able to make about 4 bombs.
After learning about enriched uranium, which took less than about 5 minutes, I got a kick out of Thomas Joscelyn's analogy of Iran's enriched uranium to your neighbor's motorcycle parts. He points out that if you saw your neighbor load a bunch of motorcycle parts into the garage and close the door, what would you assume he will do in the garage? The problem with this analogy is that motorcycle parts can only be used to build a motorcycle (not an electric generator, say). Enriched uranium can be used for two things. Good energy and very bad energy. So far, Iran has been using it for good energy. However, this doesn't mean we should be naive to think they don't have their mind set on a bomb.
One of their nuclear facilities is in Fordow, and is buried deep enough in the ground that some say it could not be destroyed by an aerial attack. This facility has enough room to hold around 3000 centrifuges. This is the main area of concern.
We should be concerned about this because the leaders of Iran (Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) are fundamentalists, and it is dangerous for fundamentalist leaders to have access to nuclear bombs. Let me take a moment here to point out that this is a great reason Rick Santorum should never, ever, EVER be elected president. The Iranian leaders are also outspoken anti-Semites. If they developed a bomb, Israel would feel the threat.
Just so you all know, Israel has a bomb and is capable of attacking. They attacked the Osirak reactor in Iraq back in 1981 and a reactor near al-Kibar in Syria in 2007. Given they have made these attacks before, the question is why have they not attacked the reactors in Iran yet, especially back when the nuclear program in Iran was more vulnerable. The answer may very well be that it must not be that easy of a decision.
What is holding Israel and America back? An attack will most likely only delay Iran from producing a nuke, not stop it. Is it worse to just stand aside and let Iran produce a nuke unprovoked, or to attack and make them angry and have them produce a nuke in a provoked state of mind, but just delayed a little? This is a tough question. One that Obama is taking very seriously, and this is a huge concern of his. An attack will almost ensure gas prices to explode putting the slow economic recovery we've been experiencing in danger. I'm not surprised that G.O.P. candidates are wanting to do the provoking. If it came down to going to war and Obama made that call, you could bet your ass the G.O.P. would completely shift their focus to gas prices and the economy again and not concede at all that this was what they were yelling for in the first place.
So what if we stand by and not do anything? Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak fears that as soon as Iran has the 3000 subterfuges in place at Fordow, they will pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as North Korea did in 2003, and therefore cease all inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Two years after North Korea did this, they announced they had a bomb, which they tested a year later. It is bad that North Korea has nuclear bombs. It will be worse if Iran gets them. This will cause a shit-storm in the Middle East. Tough decisions lie ahead on this issue, and I don't envy the people that have to make these decisions.
It would be nice if a G.O.P. candidate conceded that these are tough decisions and that they would probably not do anything that much different than what Obama is currently doing. They are simply too afraid to agree with Obama on anything, which would, in my opinion help them more than hurt them, this issue in point. Doug Mataconis's article points out the Republicans' and Obama's few differences on this issue. If a candidate wasn't eager to point out everything that they disagree on and instead conceded some of the things Obama does right along with their disagreements, this would ENERGIZE those on the fence without losing much (if any) of their own constituency. This would almost guarantee a G.O.P. victory. I hope that they don't take this advice, because I really don't want to see any of the current G.O.P. candidates as president.