The Iranian Nuclear Program Keeps Crossing Red Lines Without a Response

Multiple signs indicate that the Iranian nuclear program is crossing several red lines and that the need for military action, to delay its progress, is closer than ever.

Despite intensive Iranian efforts for over 2 decades, Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon. There are two main reasons for this. The first, according to foreign reports, is a covert Israeli effort designed to disrupt Iranian progress, sometimes conducted in cooperation with the United States. The second reason is a temporary pause by Iran as part of the nuclear agreement signed with the Obama administration in 2015 (which would have allowed Iran, if fully implemented, to become a nuclear threshold state with full international approval at its end).

Without delving into the debate about the pros and cons of the Trump administration’s decision to cancel the nuclear deal in 2018, it can be said that today, the Iranian nuclear program has reached an unprecedented status that should set off red warning lights. But due to the war in Gaza and the confrontation with Hezbollah, the issue has been pushed to the margins of public discourse, both in Israel and in the world. This is occurring despite the clear understanding that a breakthrough to nuclear weapons by Iran will, if it occurs, change the face of the region, creata large sphere of immunity to the Shiite axis led by Iran in the Middle East, weaken Israel and the Arab – Sunni states, and significantly global stability in a negative manner.

According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) from April 25, since the missile and drone attack launched by Iran on Israel on April 14, and parallel to the statements by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, who noted recently that Iran is weeks [not months] away from completing the amount of nuclear material sufficient to produce a nuclear bomb, officials in the Iranian regime, especially from among the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), have increased their threats of a nuclear breakout, namely the development of a nuclear bomb.

According to MEMRI’s assessment, the open and explicit discussions on this topic probably herald a change in Iran’s nuclear policy and are intended to accustom the public in Iran and outside it to the fact that an Iranian nuclear bomb is not a taboo.

On April 18, the former head of the Israeli National Security Council, Dr. Eyal Hulata, stated that it is necessary to closely monitor the Iranian nuclear program. Hulata added that when the time comes, Israel will need to act decisively. If Iran becomes a nuclear state, he warned, the next Iranian attack on Israel will look “dramatically” different from the one that occurred on April 18.

Even if Iran does not use a nuclear weapon, the mere ability to do so will significantly change Israel’s array of considerations. Israel will be deterred from using its military capabilities against the Shiite axis led by Iran, while the axis and Iran itself will likely carry out even bolder attacks that will escalate the situation.

Israel and the moderate Sunni states cannot be dragged into this situation, warned Hulata. It is important that Israel continues to prioritize the goal of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons holder, and not to allow other issues to distract it from this critical goal.

On April 23, the German news agency DW quoted IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi as stating that Iran’s progress in enriching uranium to almost military level is a cause for deep concern. At the same time, Grossi emphasized that assembling a nuclear warhead is a separate process from the uranium enrichment process. This process requires a large number of steps beyond enriching fissile material.

Despite the prevailing assessment that Iran will need at least a year to build a nuclear bomb, it is possible that it has already begun planning this weaponization phase. Moreover, there are estimates that Iran could build a ‘crude’ nuclear bomb within only about six months, significantly shortening the time required to become an active nuclear power.

Particular attention should be paid to the activities at the uranium sites in Natanz and Fordow. According to international media reports, the Israeli attack carried out on April 19 on an S-300 battery at the Iranian Air Force base in Isfahan (150 kilometers from Natanz), was intended among other things to send a clear and threatening message regarding Natanz, which this battery protects.

Alongside the enrichment sites, there is a separate Iranian ‘weapons group’ responsible for taking the fissile material and turning it into nuclear warheads. At the head of this group stood the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh until his assassination on Iranian soil in November 2020.

The weapons group is responsible for tasks such as building a mechanism for igniting a nuclear explosion and adapting the warhead to the missile delivery system.

The current activity status of the Iranian weapons group is a big and troubling question mark, but it is to be assumed (and hoped) that the Israeli intelligence community has a detailed picture of this activity.

The attack carried out on the Isfahan area by Israel, according to international media reports, may have been a test to check Israel’s ability to disable the air defense systems that protect Natanz.

This would mean that the attack can help decision makers assess the ability to strike nuclear facilities in Iran. According to international media reports, the nuclear facility in Natanz has already been damaged in the past in covert attacks by Israel.

According to Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is based in Washington DC, Iran is at a critical turning point on its way to acquiring nuclear weapons. In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal on April 19, 2024, Dubowitz noted that the West’s deterrence policy has failed and that Iran’s nuclear program has advanced to more advanced stages than ever.

Dubowitz describes how the maximum pressure policy previously adopted by the Trump administration did not lead to significant results and Iran continued to advance its nuclear program, now enriching uranium up to 60% – a small step from enrichment to the level required to create a nuclear weapon (90%).

In addition, Dubowitz described how, since 2021, the Biden administration has engaged in appeasing Iran and in an ongoing, failed attempt to tempt it to return to a nuclear deal – an attempt that included a lack of enforcement of sanctions against China for large oil purchases from Iran (Iran is now exporting 2 million barrels of oil a day for the first time since the days of the old nuclear deal). Dubowitz noted how Iranian oil exports have grown tenfold since Biden stopped enforcing sanctions against Tehran. All these attempts did not stop Iran’s nuclear program, but on the contrary, caused it to accelerate.

Dubowitz argued that Iran has begun taking initial steps that will help it build a nuclear bomb. These steps include progress in computer models and in multiple-point explosion systems, which can serve non-nuclear purposes at first glance, but in fact constitute a critical part in the development of nuclear weapons.

He emphasized that these activities indicate the technological leap that Iran has achieved in this area.

A report by the Institute for Science and International Security, published on March 4, 2024, noted that Iran holds a stock of 121.5 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% (in uranium weight) as of February 10, 2024. The report states that Iran is capable of producing from this stock enough raw material for seven nuclear weapons within one month, and a quantity of 13 nuclear weapons within five months.

The report noted that Iran is capable of producing sufficient quantity of uranium enriched to supply a first nuclear weapon within just seven days. The report demonstrates the ongoing acceleration of Iran’s enrichment program, with an increase in the molecular separation capability of the advanced centrifuges it operates.

In addition, the report details how Iran holds a stock of 712.2 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% (in uranium weight). This progress indicates Iran’s improved ability to produce raw material for creating nuclear weapons more quickly and in larger quantities, while bypassing international oversight.

A monitoring report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published on February 26, 2024, confirms that the total stock of enriched uranium in Iran, at all enrichment levels and in all chemical forms, has increased by 1038.7 kilograms: from 4486.8 kilograms to 5525.5 kilograms (in uranium weight). The increase in stock demonstrates the speed and efficiency with which Iran is able to enrich uranium, as it continues to develop and upgrade its enrichment infrastructure.

In addition, another report dated March 24, 2024, published by the Institute for Science and International Security, explains how Iran is preparing to enhance the defense of its nuclear facilities by building a new underground facility deep in the Kolang Gaz La mountain mountains in Natanz. The new facility is intended to replace the centrifuge assembly facility that was destroyed in a mysterious attack in 2021 and is designed to be harder to destroy.

The implication is that Iran now has the ability to produce a significant quantity of uranium enriched to weapon level more quickly and in greater quantities than ever before.

At the same time, reports from the IAEA indicate concerns that Iran is exploiting temporary breaks in inspections by IAEA weapons inspectors, especially since June 2022, and that this has caused the IAEA to doubt its ability to know whether Iran has begun using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium.

It is possible that Iran took advantage of this break to transfer materials and technology to secret facilities not known to the agency. In the report from February 26, 2024, an increase in Iran’s enriched uranium stock and an increase in the technological capacity for enrichment at a faster rate were recorded.

Iran’s insistence on advancing its nuclear program, despite international sanctions, threats of attack from Israel, and political pressures, reveals the strategic intention of the regime to acquire nuclear weapons. The ongoing activity in the nuclear facilities and attempts to conceal details from the international community also hint at that intention.

If all these are not enough, in the Zagros mountains in central Iran, Iran is building an underground nuclear facility near Natanz to enrich uranium to replace the current above-ground facility. When this project is

 completed, it will be very difficult – and perhaps impossible – to destroy this site, according to sources quoted in a report by the AP news agency in May 2023. In December 2020, AP reported that Iran began to expand its uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, near the Shiite holy city of Qom, by digging deep into the mountain.

The current information illustrates the many challenges facing the international community and Israel in trying to control and monitor the Iranian nuclear program. The situation requires close monitoring, and it is possible that Israel will be required to act alone in the absence of American willingness to attack the nuclear sites.

The Iranian nuclear threat also includes the development of various, numerous ballistic missiles, which can carry warheads in the future. For example, the Iranian Emad missile (based on the Shahab-3 missile), which was launched at Israel in an attack on April 14, is apparently intended to carry a nuclear bomb head.

The reality in which Iran is so close to achieving military nuclear capability requires a resolute global response – but there is great doubt whether this will present itself.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Yaakov Lappin

Yaakov Lappin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up to stay current on Israel’s border conflict.
Skip to content