Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This Summer's Fashion: Nukilar

It is the new fad this season; Nukilar! Everyone wants to go Nukilar.

If the North Korean pseudo-tests have demonstrated anything, it is that a Nukilar Middle-East is still far away.

Iran’s designers appear to have accelerated in their race for the latest fashion. But Iran is likely to take the wrong lessons from the semi-failure of the North Korean program, and from Israel supposed arsenal. Its policies are serving Russia’s interests more than its own and, with its feeble Syrian ally; it is now mired in the Lebanese quicksand.

Israel’s Unproven Nukes.

There is much talk about the Israeli nukilar arsenal, but no clear determination has been made of the program’s extent. Mordechai Vanunu’s revelations uncovered much, but key doubts remain:

1- The Extent of the Arsenal: Any numbers can be based on indirect estimates of the potential production of the reactor at Dimona. If we consider that the operational average of the reactor is about 200 days annually, and that the capacity of the reactor does not exceed 200 MW (based on the size of the cooling towers), we can estimate a production of about 18 kg/yr of Plutonium. Since Israel’s vectors can carry, on average, a 200 Kg warhead capacity, this means that each nukilar bomb would use about 4 to 5 Kg of plutonium. So Israel may have no more than 100 deployable warheads.

2- Do the Nukes Work? No matter how good your technology is, this still requires testing. That is where the Israelis have a problem; there is only evidence for a couple of tests, if any. On November 2nd, 1966, the Israelis may have carried out a “zero-yield” or “implosion” test, at Naqab, in the Negev. And in September 1979, American satellites detected a suspicious flash off the Namibian coast, which could have been a joint South African-Israeli test. This is not enough for the designers to know for sure “whether or not they could count on the higher yield that they have presumably designed into the weapon”.

Iran’s Nukilar Program

As far as non-conventional forces, Iran’s is somewhat inspired by Israel; to the extent that Ahmadinejad can control his temper (that depends on Mojtaba), it tries to maintain a position of “Strategic Ambiguity”, neither confirming nor denying its pursuit of nukilar weapons.

This is as far as the similarity goes. Because of the lack of support for its program, it has to deal with a single technology supplier; Putin’s Russia. And it has to pay top dollar for the plant and the parts, as well as endure Russia’s endless “delays”… which can be sped up for the right price.

This is all money that could go on to develop the country’s much beleaguered economy; the experience of Soviet Russia taught us that the most performing missiles do not a country feed. In addition to all the money spent, Iran has been rearming, buying lotsa Russian weapons:

USD 1 Billion for a few refurbished Anti-Aircraft tanks that still need an integrated radar system (sold separately). Even more for a few used Russian submarines…

This frenzy suits Russia very well; it needs to retool an industry that, for the past 50 years, was focused on weapons development. The Russians can dump much soon-to-be-outdated euipment, in exchange for hard cash. Thanks to all this cash, the Russians are increasingly able to churn out more and better quality washing machines, PC’s, cars... etc. Those "additional" pumps and valves that teh reactors still need are going to be pricy.

Your petro-dollars at work for others. The British took the oil in exchange for supporting the Shah’s dream of Grandeur, the Russians are now taking the cash is exchange for supporting the Mullah’s dreams of Grandeur.

Different regimes, same delusion.

Syrian Nukes?

Unlike Israel, Syria found little support for the development of a potential nukilar arsenal. Indeed, Israel had strong support early on to develop its nukilar arsenal; notably from the French, strewn with guilt over their less than stellar record during the Second World War (Vel d’Hiv was a particularly low point). Indeed, “French premier Guy Mollet is even quoted as saying privately that France ‘owed’ the bomb to Israel”. In contrast, Syria’s supporter, Russia, is mostly interested in cash, and any political leverage that it can gleam from the United States.

Under its Atomic Energy Commission, Syria has made a few feeble attempts at developing a nukilar industry. In the past, earlier deals on purchasing nukilar reactors went nowhere. Under pressure from the United States, it lost deals on purchasing nukilar reactors from China, in 1991, and form Argentina in 1995. Then it signed an agreement with Russia, on 23 February 1998, in which the Russians would help them build a 25 MW light-water reactor. But Russians may rather use the contract as leverage with the Americans to secure more subsidies, or more work for Atomstroyeksport and Nikiet to fill the funding gap, as its industry retools.

And even if you have the reactors, where do you get the Uranium? The Syrians are hoping for extracting it from phosphates, using the Russian D2EHPA-TOPO process. They do have fertilizer plants at Homs that operated by the Atomic Energy Commission.

But this will yield too little; the Israelis tried something similar, with little effect, and soon had to resort to some creative gymnastics to supplement their paltry production. Back in November 1968, when the Liberian-flagged “Scheersberg A” left Antwerp with a cargo of 200 Tonnes of Uranium Oxide destined for Genoa, it ended up in Iskederun, Turkey, with a new crew and without its cargo.

Still, even if you could start the process, where do you get the funds? Geld ist er den Nerv des Krieges gesichert, and with Syrian oil set to run out by 2010, and Syria's economy in the doldrums, the shortage of funds is not far away. To recoupe all the investment in military hardware, there is still the option of selling ad space on their new equipment...

Lebanon’s Moving Sands

In Lebanon, Iran aims to divert attention from its Nukilar program. But it may be sucked in our own moving sands; the country’s politics are notoriously inhospitable to the Lebanese, let alone others.

So far, Iran has wasted more than 10 Billion dollars arming and supporting Hezb’s various charities in Lebanon. All for a “Divine Victory”. OK, Lebanon’s pro-Iranian Shiites are now in control of the country, but how can Iran benefit from such a prize, now that its leverage has been spent? And how can Hezb afford to “maintain” that victory, in the face of much internal Lebanese opposition, and much Arab hostility?

Recall that, in 1978, Bachir Gemayel was riding high after a similar “victory” against another foreign enemy. 4 years and much blood and destruction later, he was sacrificed on the altar of greater interests. Today, there is much Arab money shoring up Hezb’s rivals, and compensating for Iran’s largesse. In the short term, this may lead to some compromise, similar to what brought us this ineffective government. But it will not last.

The Hariri assassination has demonstrated plainly that no man can be “larger” than his country. In time, Hezb will similarly learn that no community can be “greater” than its country.

In time, even planets get demoted.

1 comment:

Free Cedar said...

Nice work and interesting post.
Here's a possible outcome to all that crap?