While the world has been distracted by Coronavirus, Iran has been busy making its moves. What a mere twelve months ago would have been big front-page news all across the world now barely even registers in the mainstream news media at all. Yet, despite the lack of coverage, Iran seems to be rapidly approaching the point of acquiring a viable nuclear weapon. Shockingly, nobody in the mainstream media even seems to care.
At this writing, it is widely assumed that Iran is now mere weeks away from nuclear breakout status. If true, this is a crisis that is very soon going to come to a head.
Jake Sullivan, White House national security advisor, referred to Iran’s forthcoming nuclear breakout status as a “critical early priority” for the Biden administration. Sullivan went on to state that this issue could well become an “escalating nuclear crisis as they move closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”
As a show of force and possibly intention, US B-52 nuclear bombers have been flying sorties over the Gulf and right up to the border of the Islamic Republic, clearly signposting Western intent should the revived nuclear deal negotiations fail.
French President Emmanuel Macron has described how the international community has but a “very short time” to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But there is a problem with all this hard talk. Iran, it would seem, is not buying this show of strength, and they are not afraid. The uncomfortable reality is that they simply do not seem to fear President Joe Biden, as they once feared President Donald Trump. The inauguration of a new president, rather than put them on notice and high alert, seems to have emboldened them.
In the face of all the tacit threats from America and Europe, Iran remains belligerent. The Islamic Republic has thus far refused point-blank to come back to the negotiation table for talks, something Joe Biden put so much faith in during Obama’s final term.
Tehran has flatly ruled out any amendments to the nuclear accord, describing the document the Biden administration believes can bring Iran back in line as “non-negotiable.” Before they have even begun, the negotiations are dead in the water.
So entrenched and emboldened is Iran that even before any conversation is had, before they even sit down at the table, Tehran wants the harsh sanctions the United States has imposed on them previously for violating the original terms of the nuclear deal, completely removed.
To do so would essentially reward the Iranians for breaking the terms of the original nuclear accord and is something the West is understandably very reluctant to do. But time is against the West, just as time is against little Israel. On this present course, if nobody does something soon, the issue will become a fait accompli – Iran will have a viable nuclear weapon.
Even the United Nations nuclear watchdog has conceded that the Iranian nuclear weapons program is back in full swing, revealing that a second cascade of advanced IR-2m centrifuges for enriching uranium has once again begun working at Iran’s underground Natanz facility. They also believe there is a third cluster just waiting to go.
The Iranians have openly admitted that they have enriched Uranium to the critical 20% level at their Fordow plant, still a large level below the 90% enrichment required for a nuclear weapon, but a significant step in that direction nonetheless. The reason for this is that the time and processes involved in enriching uranium to 20% are much longer and more difficult than that of taking it from 20% enrichment up to 90%. This can be achieved in a relatively short period of time.
Most surprisingly, Iran has been really quite frank and open about these violations. Perhaps this is because Iran no longer fears the reaction of the United States under its current presidential leadership, as it clearly did under its previous incumbent.
At this point, Israel is grappling with a huge number of uncertainties regarding Iran and its nuclear program and the wider geopolitical environment. It is at best unclear to even the most informed Iran pundit just how advanced Iran’s nuclear program now is, or exactly how close they may be to a feasible weapon. It’s all about best estimates, and all the best estimates seem to conclude that Iran is getting very, very close.
Iran is clearly making rapid progress towards nuclear breakout status. It is also widely agreed that Iran would not go for nuclear breakout status unless they had enough material to produce 3-5 viable weapons. They just won’t take the risk for one weapon, as the US or Israel would simply destroy it, and all their efforts would be in vain.
Israel or the United States would think twice before attacking Iran if they knew there were five weapons, not just one. So, this rush to breakout status is likely not for just one weapon but multiple warheads.
As we speak, the IDF is actively preparing to take on Iran’s nuclear weapons program – even if it has to do it alone. The United States, however, would be mistaken to think that this was an issue critical to Israel only. The world is watching new United States President Joe Biden, and just like Iran has done, rulers like Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un are weighing Joe Biden and measuring him.
Whether Biden will be found wanting will be directly determined by the outcome of this issue, not by his response to Coronavirus, and may well determine the Biden administration’s international standing during the rest of his term.
Time is not on Israel’s side. Israeli Defense Force chief of staff Lt. General Aviv Kochavi issued his own blunt assessment of the state of play: “I have instructed the Israeli Defense Forces to prepare a number of operational plans, in addition to those already in place.”
So significant is Lt Gen. Kochavi’s concerns over Iran’s imminent nuclear breakout status that these comments were entirely unsanctioned and from his own initiative, something he himself was sanctioned for.
Israel’s hand is being forced, and it is increasingly likely that if they are forced to act, they will do so alone. Iran knows this. Last week Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami issued an ominous threat to raze Tel Aviv and Haifa “to the ground” should Israel launch any pre-emptive action against Iran or its nuclear program.
It seems evident from President Biden’s first few months in power that he would likely not be willing to overtly engage the Iranians in direct military intervention, especially if side by side with Israel. To do so would be to enrage a great portion of his base at home, to whom he is so beholden.
On February 2nd, Senior Israeli Minister Tzachi Hanegdi commented that in his opinion, he cannot see the Americans agreeing to take on such a military initiative, leaving Israel to face this growing threat alone.
Time is clearly running out. Whether Israel’s hand will be forced or not remains to be seen. If Israel and the West are not careful, though, we will all wake up one morning and an Iranian nuclear weapon will have become a fait accompli.
The drumbeats of war are getting louder and louder.