The ticking clock of Iran's nuclear threat
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility in this April 2008 file photo. (AP Photo/Iranian President's Office)
He says 20 percent enriched uranium is only one step away from bomb grade material: "Once you have 25 kilos of this material, in one month time you can produce uranium enough for a nuclear bomb."
Before that happens, the U.S. and its European allies intend to levy harsh sanctions on Iran that would put its central bank out of business.
"It's a big problem for Iran, because basically the central bank handles all the payments for their oil, so it is obviously a way to affect Iran's ability to sell their oil," said Ross.
On top of that, Europe - which buys about 18 percent of Iran's petroleum, a fifth of their oil revenue - is expected to ban imports of Iranian oil.
Iran's response has been to stage war games and threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz through which 15 million barrels of Mideast oil pass each day.
"For the Iranians to act on that threat they do themselves more harm than anybody else," said Ross.
Closing the Strait would cripple Iran's own oil exports and alienate virtually every nation which depends on Mideast oil, or cares about the price of oil.
"This wouldn't just be the United States that would have a concern about keeping it open," said Ross. "It would be the international community and it would be some of their most important trading partners, like China, for example."
Actually, the U.S. would be more than just "concerned" if Iran tried to close the Strait. Panetta said Iran blocking Hormuz would be a red line that America would not tolerate. Also a red line: Developing a nuclear weapon.
If it comes to that, the B-2 Stealth bomber has been outfitted with a 30,000-pound bunker-busting bomb designed to destroy Iran's underground nuclear facilities.
In an interview with Scott Pelley for "60 Minutes," Panetta warned Iran could cross the nuclear red line as early as this year.
"When the Secretary of Defense said a year, that's the worst case . . . the more likely case would probably be several years," said Ross.
That sounds like time enough for sanctions to decimate Iran's economy, and make the Ayatollahs think twice about how badly they want the Bomb.
There's one problem:
"The Israelis look at what time they have available still to them to use a military option if it was necessary," said Ross.
Israel's Defense Minister has warned Iran will soon have dispersed its nuclear facilities and hidden them underground to the point that a military strike could no longer stop the program.
"He's publicly giving interviews where he talks about 6 to 9 months from now," said Ross.
The red lines are fast approaching.
Assassination, sabotage and sanctions might delay them, but they will not be erased unless and until Iran gives up its nuclear ambitions.
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