Iran Is Inching toward Acquiring Nuclear Weapons. What Can Be Done?

June 30, 2020 | John Hannah
About the author: John Hannah is senior counselor at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

According to the most recent assessment from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Islamic Republic is less than four months away from having stockpiled enough enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb. Moreover, the IAEA has raised concerns about two undeclared sites that Iran has barred to inspectors. These could be where Iranian engineers are developing the technology to turn the uranium into an actual weapon and mount it on a warhead. John Hannah assesses the situation:

Iran responded to President Trump’s [policy of] maximum pressure by expanding its nuclear program and significantly reducing its “breakout time.” . . . But there’s no indication whatsoever, at least not yet, that the administration is starting to contemplate actions other than further sanctions to reign in Iran’s nuclear expansion. Given how incremental Iran’s violations have been to date, that’s likely to remain the case at least until the U.S. elections in four months.

It’s worth noting that Israel’s calculation could be different. Waiting until the U.S. elections poses real risks in terms of Israel’s own military option against the Iranian nuclear program. While not unthinkable in the event of a Biden victory and America’s return to the [Obama administration’s nuclear deal], it would be infinitely more difficult in the face of strong opposition from a newly elected president. By contrast, . . . Trump would likely be sympathetic to Israel taking matters into its own hands.

In addition to assured U.S. support, an Israeli strike before the U.S. elections would also occur at a time of especially high Iranian vulnerability. Iran’s economy is already on its knees. It’s been further ravaged by one of the world’s worst outbreaks of COVID-19. Its population is deeply disgruntled and restless. It’s most elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, has yet to regain its footing after the targeted killing of its longtime commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. drone strike. And its most powerful proxy, Hizballah, is still licking its wounds after its costly involvement in Syria’s civil war and preoccupied with the catastrophic implosion of Lebanon’s economy.

While the attendant risks of any military action against the Iranian nuclear program will be formidable under any circumstances, from Israel’s standpoint, they may be far more manageable today in light of the unprecedented stresses that the Iranian regime is experiencing.

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