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It All Depends on What the Word 'Imminent' Means

10:55 AM, Aug 23, 2010 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
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U.S. Assures Israel That Iran Threat Is Not Imminent” was the headline in the New York Times last Thursday. The article reported that U.S. officials were telling Jerusalem not to worry. It “would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a ‘dash’ for a nuclear weapon.”

Let’s assume for a moment that that the administration’s estimate is correct, even though our intelligence assessments of the Iranian nuclear program—and nuclear matters generally—have been notoriously problem riddled. Iran has been pursuing a nuclear capability for decades; if only a year remains in the effort, it is already in the “dash.”

But the fact is, our assessment of a year remaining may well be entirely wrong. Writing in the Atlantic, Gary Milhollin points out the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 

while acknowledging that it could, indeed, take this long, says also that it could take as little as three months. Theoretical calculations based on Iran's known capacity support the IAEA's lower figure. There is also the risk that Iran has one or more secret centrifuge sites (it was caught building one recently). If even one such site exists, the administration's estimate -- based on the sites that we know exist -- becomes meaningless. 

Is a “year” imminent? The question is irrelevant given the degree of uncertainty that we—and Israel—are now facing. 

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