Even as Western sanctions ravage their economy, some Iranians are reaping a cash harvest from an unexpected source: a booming illicit drug industry that law enforcement officials say is producing record quantities of a powerful synthetic drug.
Over the previous few years, the president has used his office to repeatedly extend offers of rapprochement to Iranian leaders. And when those attempts have been rejected — firmly — he has used diplomacy to build an unprecedented wall of international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and preside over the imposition of the harshest economic sanctions in the country’s history.
Western spy agencies for years have kept watch on a craggy peak in northwest Iran that houses of one the world’s most unusual nuclear sites. Known as Fordow, the facility is built into mountain bunkers designed to withstand aerial attack. Iran’s civil-defense chief has declared the site “impregnable.” But impregnable it is not, say U.S. military planners who are increasingly confident of their ability to deliver a serious blow against Fordow, should the president ever order an attack.
Long denied access to foreign technology because of sanctions, Iran has nevertheless learned how to make virtually every bolt and switch in a nuclear weapon, according to assessments by U.N. nuclear officials in internal documents, as well as Western and Middle Eastern intelligence analysts and weapons experts.
A military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would probably only delay the country's progress toward nuclear-weapons capability, according to a study that concludes that such an attack could backfire by strengthening Tehran's resolve to acquire the bomb.
The abrupt resignation of the Pentagon's top Middle East commander has silenced one of the Bush administration's fiercest opponents of a unilateral military strike against Iran, yet top administration officials themselves do not see real prospects for military action before the end of President Bush's term, current and former U.S. officials say.
Iranian nuclear engineer Mohsen Fakhrizadeh lectures weekly on physics at Tehran's Imam Hossein University. Yet for more than a decade, according to documents attracting interest among Western governments, he also ran secret programs aimed at acquiring sensitive nuclear technology for his government.