According to Kamal Kharrazi, a former foreign minister who now serves as senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Tehran can build a bomb but has simply chosen not to do so, yet. Kharrazi’s warning followed the end of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Middle East trip, where countering Iran and its malign regional behavior was a prominent topic. His comments also come during a pause in U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna. Iran’s uptick in nuclear fuel production, its noncompliance with international treaty standards, and its prolific weapons development suggest the regime’s “peaceful intentions” are a farce.
A Useful Doctrine
On July 14, the U.S. president and his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, formalized a joint pledge, The Jerusalem Declaration, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to Reuters, the new security pact commits the U.S. and its top Middle East ally to be ready to use all elements of their national power to ensure the Iranian state stays nuclear-free. The joint announcement dovetailed with Biden’s earlier comments to a local TV station that the White House was open to using force to ensure that goal.
This rhetoric mirrors the Begin Doctrine, the Jewish state’s pre-emptive strike policy. This doctrine, which the Israeli government has invoked since the 1960s, formalizes a military component in Israel’s counterproliferation strategy. Israel’s covert efforts in recent years to delay and destroy Iran’s nuclear assets represent the government’s latest implementation of the doctrine. Israel previously called upon it when its military forces took out nuclear reactors in Iraq in 1981 and a plutonium processing facility in Syria in 2007.
Collaboration Against Iran
The U.S. has covertly supported Israel’s operations to counter Iranian assets in the region. Last month, a Wall Street Journal report revealed that the U.S. reviews Israel Defense Forces missions in Syria. While Washington typically does not formally respond to reports of these attacks, the Journal report outlined that, “Behind the scenes, however, many of Israel’s missions for several years have been reviewed in advance for approval by senior officials at U.S. Central Command and at the Pentagon.” The report explains that, “The U.S. aim is to ensure that Israel’s bombing raids don’t interfere with the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State militants whose self-declared caliphate has been destroyed but who have been attempting to mount a comeback.”
Biden’s recent remarks, coupled with his public collaboration with Israel to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, probably provoked Kharrazi’s veiled threat. In recent years, Tehran’s international isolation has grown. Regional coalitions formed in part to counter Tehran have pushed the regime further away from its Arab neighbors. In 2020, a series of peace agreements dubbed The Abraham Accords formalized ties between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Soon after, the Gulf Cooperation Council signed the Al-Ula Declaration, ending a rift that had divided its member states for three years. While the Accords and the Declaration commit their signers to peace and cooperation, the agreements also seal a collective affront to Iran’s dangerous activity in the region.
Decision Time on Iran
Prior to Biden’s Middle East visit, negotiations meant to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action stalled. In June, Iranian officials publicized their intention to remove more than two dozen surveillance cameras from Iran’s nuclear facilities, preventing the International Atomic Energy Agency from monitoring the regime’s nuclear facilities. In the same week, a report by German intelligence detailed nearly 60 instances that show how Iran is violating its nuclear obligations. The report explained that, “The German domestic intelligence agencies were able to identify a significant increase in the indications of proliferation-related procurement attempts by Iran for its nuclear program.”
More concerning, the International Atomic Energy Agency also revealed that Iran has nearly 33 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 60% purity. This number puts Iran just a few kilograms away from producing enough nuclear fuel for a weapon, according to The Wall Street Journal. Nearly four months have passed since the IAEA released this quarterly report.
According to Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, previous administrations have deferred tough decisions regarding Iran’s nuclear program based on the notion that they had time. “The problem with a policy based on kicking the can down the road is eventually the road ends,” he said. Kharrazi’s comments certainly signal that a decision point is near: Are the West, Israel, and the Arab bloc willing to do what is necessary to stop Iran’s drive toward a nuclear bomb, or will the region soon live under the cloud of an Iranian nuclear threat?
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also 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.