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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Did Iran Just Threaten to Build Nuclear Weapons and Hit New York?

Iranian Ballistic Missile. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

A Telegram channel connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) announced that the authoritarian regime is “one step away” from building a nuclear bomb that could “turn New York into ruins and hell.” The video was published by Bisimchi Media, a channel affiliated with military apparatus designated a terrorist organization by America. The video also alluded to a secretive underground facility known as the Emad Project. These direct threats come amidst the White House’s current efforts to salvage the revival of the joint U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement in Vienna.

The same day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken supported a proposal from the European Union designed to recover the prospects for a joint nuclear deal, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organization asserted that the country possessed the technical capability to produce an atomic bomb. Mohammad Eslami mirrored the language used by a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei weeks earlier. The two Iranian officials have essentially confirmed the details described in the recently circulated video. The threats and alleged nuclear capabilities could be fictitious or designed to provide leverage for Iran during the approaching negotiations.

Under the pretense of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran was instructed to drastically cut off its nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief from the U.S. and other world powers. The deal specifically allowed Tehran to enrich uranium to 3.67% under the strict supervision of the global watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, Iran consistently failed to comply with the deal’s guidelines by preventing IAEA access to its facilities, in addition to rapidly expanding its cruise and missile development programs.

Since the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA in 2015 under the Trump administration, the regime has only sped up its efforts on the uranium enrichment, missile development and satellite fronts. The regime has always claimed that Iran does not wish to possess nuclear weapons. In 2006, Khamenei stated in a speech that “We do not need nuclear bombs. We have no intention of using a nuclear bomb, we do not claim to dominate the world, like the Americans, we do not want to dominate the world by force and need a nuclear bomb. Our nuclear bomb and explosive power is our faith.” Despite assertions like this, Tehran’s objective to acquire nuclear capabilities was always widely understood by industry officials and governments.

According to Reuters, Tehran is already enriching uranium “to up to 60% fissile purity, far above a cap of 3.67% set under Tehran’s now tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Uranium enriched to 90% is suitable for a nuclear bomb.” In May, U.S. officials confirmed that Tehran’s proximity to achieving its nuclear breakout time was dangerously approaching. The nuclear breakout period refers to the time needed to produce fissile materials for the bomb This period does not necessarily correlate with an actual bomb, which could take years longer to make. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran is just 7 kilograms short of producing enough weapons-grade nuclear fuel for a weapon in May. The regime could be even closer to this threshold today.

Despite Iran’s progress in the uranium enrichment and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICMB) fronts, the White House has generally been committed to reinstating a JCPOA-like deal with the regime. A few months ago, the negotiations stalled after the Biden administration refused to remove the IRGC from the U.S. terror registry. The IRGC functions to export Iran’s revolutionary principles, using terrorism as a means to do so. The IRGC’s foreign operator, the Quds Force, is responsible for funding, training and assisting the region-wide proxy groups that continue to instill instability and violence in the Middle East. This week, reports indicate the talks could potentially be salvaged by a European Union-sponsored deal. According to the EU’s top diplomat, the new proposal is “the best possible deal that (he), as facilitator of the negotiations, see as feasible.”

Iran’s fear-mongering, like the rhetoric boasting potential acts of terror targeting U.S. cities, should not bring the White House back to the negotiation table. In fact, Tehran is believed to be behind a potential attempted assassination that occurred last week. Iranian-American women’s rights activist and journalist, Masih Alinejad, was the target of an Iranian-backed kidnapping scheme last year. New York prosecutors ultimately arrested four individuals linked to the ploy. Last week, a man was arrested outside of Alinejad’s residence in Brooklyn, sporting an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition in his vehicle.

The targeting of American citizens on U.S. soil should be a red-line for any administration. As the talks in Vienna resume over the next few weeks, Tehran may ramp up its direct and veiled threats in an effort to leverage its negotiating position.

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.

Written By

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, 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.