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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Iran: The Next Nuclear Weapons State?

Iran Missiles
Iranian ballistic missiles. Image: Creative Commons.

How fast could Iran build a nuclear weapon? U.S. officials believe Iran is inching closer to obtaining a nuclear bomb and could be just a few weeks away from reaching full breakout capabilities. In a press briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that Iran’s proximity to acquiring sufficient fissile material for one nuclear bomb had shortened significantly from about a year to weeks, concerning the White House. 

The nuclear breakout period refers to the time needed to produce fissile materials for the bomb, but not necessarily the bomb itself. To achieve a fully functioning nuclear arsenal, Iran must first obtain the technology and materials to build the core of the weapon and to attach it to the warhead of a missile. However, considering Iran’s history of dodging inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and non-compliance to treaty obligations, the regime could be much closer to achieving a robust nuclear arsenal than assumed.

In the latest IAEA quarterly publication issued in March, inspectors’ findings amplified the warning that Iran is expanding its arsenal materials exponentially. The report found that Iran has nearly 33 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 60% purity. According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran is just 7 kilograms short of producing enough weapons-grade nuclear fuel for a weapon. 

The Biden administration’s annual report on arms control and nonproliferation compliance issued in late April also discussed these alarming findings. The State Department recognized Iran’s continuous dodging of international inspectors and concealment of its nuclear expansions in at least four locations. According to the report, undeclared nuclear activities and experiments with a uranium metal disc are among the issues that “raise significant questions of what Iran may be trying to hide, and whether Iran is in compliance with its safeguards obligations today.” 

Despite the State Department’s admission of Iran’s copious compliance failures, the White House remains fervent that re-entering a joint nuclear agreement with Iran is a top priority. Under the Obama era 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) guidelines, Tehran was granted sanctions relief in exchange for some cutbacks to its nuclear program. Tehran frequently defied its obligations before the U.S. withdrew from the arrangement in 2018 under the Trump administration. In addition to preventing IAEA officials from inspecting designated sites, Iran expanded its ballistic and cruise missile development programs. 

The current nuclear negotiations in Vienna have not slowed the rate of Iran’s nuclear expansion. Since the talks commenced, Iran has continued to build up its uranium enrichment and fissile materials – critical components in a nuclear program. Iran has ramped up its deployment of more powerful centrifuge models, increasing the concentration of raw materials needed to produce a weapon. According to Iran Watch, these new models have increased the size and enrichment level of Iran’s uranium stockpiled after being installed in production lines. 

Iran’s enlarged and potentially underreported uranium enrichment levels and lack of inspector access to its weapons development sites indicate the rogue state’s official breakout time is looming. While it seems inevitable they could have the fissile material in a few weeks; it’s unclear how long it would take them to make a usable warhead. A nuclear threshold state does not necessarily have the capabilities or aim to acquire a nuclear weapon, but Tehran’s clandestine efforts reveal a lack of peaceful intent. Therefore, their road to a bomb is likely imminent. 

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in a wide range of publications including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel. 

Written By

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Him

    May 5, 2022 at 2:16 am

    Iran getting nuclear weapons is a direct consequence of the Leftist ideology that: if we be nice to them, they’ll be nice back to us.

    For example: “defund the police” is based on the notion that the nasty people are that way because the police provoked them – so if we “defund the police”, the nasty people will become nice because there’s no more provocation.

    This applies to Obama and Biden’s Leftist ideology of dealing with nasty Iran. The Democrat assumption is that Iran hates the United States because the U.S. was the first to be nasty, so that if the U.S. starts bending over to be extra nice, the Iranians will start to become an integrated part of the world society. (See how that worked so well for Communist China and its entry to the WTO).

    Leftist dogma rejects the Bible’s proposition in Romans chapter 7 that every human being wants to do good – but finds themselves doing evil. Each of us is like that. And it’s the same multiplied in a national level. And each person, when doing evil, fools themselves that they are doing good.

    That is why, when you see people doing crazy evil things – those people think they are doing good. You see that in human relationships, and it’s the same at national level.

    So Obama and Biden thought that, by removing sanctions against Iran and allowing them to use nuclear, that Iran would think “Oh, the U.S. is now being nice to us, so let’s be nice to everyone”.

    No, when, for decades, Iran has stated that they see the U.S. as the evil empire, and they want to destroy Israel, it’s not going to suddenly change that by being nice.

    The reason is, when Iran aims to destroy the U.S. and Israel, in their mind, that is the best possible outcome from their perspective.

    Ultimately, this Leftist dogma of refusing to acknowledge evil in others, it actually stems from refusing to acknowledge evil in ourselves. Each person refuses to see that they themselves are capable of great evil.

    For example, in every marriage split, each side thinks it’s the other partner who is crazy. How many husbands or wives have you met who acknowledged that they were the crazy one in the divorce?

    In summary, the Bible says: Every person ultimately desires to do good – but they are incapable of overcoming the evil inside them that prevents them doing the good that they desire. And in doing that evil, they refuse to acknowledge their own darkness.

    This is why, the first step to coming back to God — according to the Christian gospel — is to repent and acknowledge one’s own evil. Whereas, all these problems that we see in global politics is people refusing to acknowledge their own evil, and blaming the other side for being the evil one.

  2. Jim Higgins

    May 5, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    It is truly interesting that Iran is so bound and determined to commit suicide by Israel. As soon as the Israelis detect the quake signature of a successful nuclear test or Iran delivering a nuke on Israel the following scenario will start: Iran will go back to the Stone Age. Israel will ask NO ONE’S Permission-they will launch a full throated nuclear destruction of Iran.

    They will be fully justified in doing so. If someone says that they will kill you-believe them.

  3. Stephen Kennedy

    May 5, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    If a country has enough talented physicists and a leader who is both determined to become a nuclear power and is patient, development of nuclear weapons by that state is inevitable. North Korea is a good example of how even a poor country can become a nuclear power with conditions that are favorable to that goal. First, Kim Jong Un received a BS in Physics which no doubt gives him insight on how difficult what he is asking his physicists to do is. He also understands that failed experiments are inevitable and the best way to make progress is to allow his physicists to learn from their mistakes rather than being punished for them. North Korea has a small population but one look at the faces of students in an advanced Physics class at say Cal Tech or UC Berkeley tells you that a lot of North Koreans will have the aptitude to became first rate physicists.

    As for Iran, Iranian Americans have been among some of the smartest scientists I have ever met so there is good reason to believe that there are some very good physicists in Iran. The Iranian government seems to support them even when progress is slow. I served at the US Embassy in Baghdad from 1984 to 1986 and realized the real reason Iraq never developed nuclear weapons was because Saddam Hussein would regard anything less than a completely successful test as an act of treason against him. As a result, his physicists did nothing rather than risk a failed test.

    If there was a magic button I could push one time only that would make every nuclear weapon in the world vanish, it would only be a temporary reprieve from the threat of nuclear proliferation because the knowledge of how to make them would still exist. It is impossible to un-invent a technology.

  4. hmm hmmm

    May 5, 2022 at 7:21 pm

    Iran never defied its obligations before the US left the deal..The IAEA attested as such multiple times. Missiles were never part of that deal (granted they require attention on their own). The anger over its current breaches is a flagrant case of pot calling the kettle black!

  5. ArashJ

    May 11, 2022 at 12:36 am

    Show me one country out of 10 that already developed nukes that announced to the world beforehand that they are developing nukes, and I will hate Iran for hiding it’s program!

    Nukes, If they are good for Israel, I am sure they are good for Iran too!

    • Mark Bollen

      May 18, 2022 at 10:45 pm

      You’re a moron read your Bible I put you’re a moron

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