After a top Iranian official claims Tehran already has the ability to build an atomic bomb, analysts tell JNS that “technologically speaking, they are very, very close.”
By David Isaac, JNS
Iran can produce a nuclear weapon at will, former Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi announced on Sunday. Hours later, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, went further, saying that if Tehran moved to build an atomic bomb, then “no one could stop us … and they know that.”
Analysts told JNS that these Iranian officials should be taken at their word.
“I believe what Kharrazi is saying is accurate,” said Eyal Pinko, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University expert on Israeli national security. “It’s a matter of taking the decision to go for the bomb and a few weeks to carry it out,” he added.
Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, agrees.
“Iran can make the decision. It will take some time [to produce a weapon], but technologically speaking, they are very, very close,” he told JNS. “They’ve managed to enrich uranium to 60 percent, which is extremely close to 90% [weapons-grade]. And they have advanced centrifuges that can do that [enrich from 60 percent to 90 percent]in a very short period of time,” he said.
According to two recent reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran already has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb.
Kuperwasser said that together with its enrichment efforts, Iran is likely working on other “necessary technologies.” He noted that Tehran has made advances with uranium metal—a key component of a nuclear weapon—tested detonators and plans to potentially deliver a nuclear warhead using one of its existing missiles, the “Shahab 3.”
“And those are only the things we know of,” he said.
Bar-Ilan’s Pinko noted that every nuclear program has three major components: “The first is the missile, or warhead carrier. Iran developed this capability already many years ago. The second is the weapon system, what enables and initiates the nuclear process. The  Mossad operation which carried out all those documents and CDs from Iran show they have that. The third component, the highly enriched uranium, the IAEA confirmed in May 2021.”
While Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons, Kuperwasser said the Islamic Republic has already crossed the nuclear threshold.
“This was always the difference between us [Israel] and the Americans. The U.S. said Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. We were saying that Iran should not even have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon, because once you get the ability, you might try to actually build one,” he said.
The only reason Iran remained ambiguous about its nuclear capability until now was that it wants sanctions relief, according to Pinko.
The Europeans go along with “the diplomatic game” because they don’t see Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to them, he said. “They’re also keen to do business with Iran. For them, Iran has huge market potential,” he added.
Kuperwasser stressed that both Europe and the United States want to avoid a confrontation with Iran. “They believe that in a couple of years, maybe the regime will disappear. Of course, it’s all wishful thinking,” he said.
Since U.S. President Joe Biden assumed office, Iran has been progressively pushing the envelope, moving from enriching uranium to 20% to 60%, he said.
“Now they’re talking about the next bar, 90%,” he added.
The Iranians feel emboldened because Western countries have so far failed to adequately respond, he believes.
“At a certain point, somebody has to tell the Iranians, ‘enough is enough, you have to stop here,’” he said.
Israel must “wake up” and make clear to Washington that its refusal to take meaningful steps against Tehran is being interpreted by the Iranians as constituting “a green light to go even further,” said Kuperwasser. “The time to do something about it is now. We’re not going to wait until they have 90% enriched uranium and only then start to act. That would be totally irresponsible,” he added.
He pointed to remarks on Sunday by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who asserted that it was a “moral imperative” for Israel to prepare a military option against Iran.
Pinko warned that Iran going nuclear would mark “a totally new strategic era for the Middle East.” As a nuclear power, “Nobody will tangle with Iran. And nuclear capability will allow them to act even more aggressively,” he said.
“The Sunni bloc will not sit in peace and quiet, that is, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” said Pinko.
“They will have to counter Iran. An arms race will begin.”