A U.S. think tank that is a respected authority on Iran released a report yesterday saying that Iran has the capability to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to make a nuclear bomb in two to four months, but the country is much further away from making the other components to actually make a functioning warhead, according to a story by the Associated Press.
The report by the Institute for Science and International Security, which frequently advises Congress and other branches of government on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, is significant because Israel is trying to pressure the West, particularly the U.S., to agree to a unilateral attack on Iran’s uranium-processing plants to ensure that it can never develop an actual warhead. The Obama administration has been resistant to the Israeli pressure, preferring to work through diplomatic means.
The entire tableau is beginning to look a lot like the buildup to the U.S. war in Iraq, when President George W. Bush was intent on convincing Americans, the U.S. Congress and the rest of the world that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction” to justify a U.S. military attack on Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went before the United Nations last month and said he believed Iran would have the capability to make a nuclear weapon by next spring or summer unless the Iranians are ordered to stop their progress before then. He also held up a prop—a drawing of an atomic bomb with a fuse. Netanyahu drew a red line through the level where Iran would have amassed enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, which he said would happen in the spring or summer of 2013.
“The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb,” he said. “It is at what stage can we stop Iran from getting the bomb.”
But in his own speech to the U.N., President Obama refused to issue a “red line” threat to Iran that it couldn’t cross without risking American military intervention. But the president did acknowledge that the space to allow diplomacy to work “was not unlimited.”
“America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe there is still time and space to do so,” Obama said. “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.”
While Iran denies any interest in possessing nuclear arms, the international community fears it may turn its peaceful uranium enrichment program toward weapons making — a concern that is growing as Tehran expands the number of machines it uses to enrich its stockpile of enriched uranium. As those fears grow, so does concern that Israel could carry out its threats to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before that nation reaches the bomb-making threshold.
Israeli journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid has accused Netanyahu of trying to drag the United States into war with Iran.
In his first English interview since announcing his bid for a seat in the Israeli Knesset, Lapid said Netanyahu made mistakes by instigating a conflict with the Obama administration, betting that Republican candidate Mitt Romney would win the election and threatening Iran with military action rather than focusing on intensifying sanctions.
“Netanyahu has created a situation in which it became an Israel-Iran problem and not a world-Iran problem,” Lapid told the Jerusalem Post.
“There is only one way to end the Iranian nuclear threat: The fall of the ayatollahs. An Israeli strike would only delay the Iranian nuclear problem. It would enable the Iranians to say we have been attacked by a nuclear country and now we have no choice but to develop nuclear weapons. The way to make the ayatollahs fall is to strengthen the sanctions.”
Lapid said Netanyahu was wrong to try to force America to set deadlines for Iran.
“It is hubris to give an ultimatum to the U.S.,” he said. “People tend to forget that the plane Netanyahu is sending to bomb Iran is an American plane. He thinks he can drag America to do what it doesn’t want to do. He is leading Israel to war too soon, before it’s necessary. Like Netanyahu, I think that if we came to the point of no return, Israel would have to bomb, but there is still a lot left to do to avoid that.”
The Institute for Science and International Security did not make a judgment on whether Iran plans to turn its enrichment capabilities toward weapons making. But in its report, it drew a clear distinction between Tehran’s ability to make the fissile core of a warhead by producing 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of weapons-grade uranium from its lower enriched stockpiles and the warhead itself.
“Despite work it may have done in the past,” Iran would need “many additional months to manufacture a nuclear device suitable for underground testing and even longer to make a reliable warhead for a ballistic missile,” the report said.
ISIS also said any attempt to “break out” into weapons-grade uranium enrichment would be quickly detected by the United States and the IAEA, which monitors Tehran’s known enrichment sites. With Washington likely to “respond forcefully to any “break-out” attempt, Iran is unlikely to take such a risk “during the next year or so,” said the report.