Iran test fires a Fajr-3 missile 370 (R).
(photo credit: IRNA / Reuters)
Iran has been making a big public relations splash in recent days, but its threats are more bark than bite – at least so far.
What were the threats and announcements and what did they mean?
The Islamic Republic announced that it has increased its capacity regarding the number of centrifuges it will be able to construct. There have also been hints, though not clear statements, that Iran may try to push the envelope in the area of advanced centrifuges.
Iran's Khamenei says Iran set to boost enrichment capacity if nuclear deal falls apart, June 4, 2018 (Reuters)
Under the nuclear deal, Iran is permitted to experiment with advanced centrifuges that can enrich uranium faster and to a higher quality. This aspect is actually a crucial point that is often missed in the three or four bullet points of issues that critics of the deal generally list off.
There has always been a debate about whether the nuclear deal pushed Iran to being 12 months, 6 months or even less time away from having a nuclear bomb.
This is where advanced centrifuges come into play. Most of the estimates are based on how many IR-1 centrifuges Iran has operating currently or are in storage.
But Iran also has some IR-2M, IR-4, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges that can speed up the process.
With this information, the latest announcements begin to make more sense.
If Iran builds faster, more advanced centrifuges – or even parts for those centrifuges – but don’t take the final step of assembling them, it can try to toe the line of not violating the deal while setting the stage for a much faster breakout to a bomb at any point.
Even if the new centrifuges are only IR-1s and not more advanced, if they have the industrial capacity to build more centrifuges much faster, it will also be able to break out to a bomb faster than expected.
This industrial capacity also does not violate the deal as long as it remains in potential and Iran does not actually assemble and begin operating thousands of new centrifuges.
And that is the catch-22 of the deal with regards to centrifuges. Iran may only be operating around one quarter of the centrifuges it once operated, but the more it increases its potential, the less the deal would delay Iran if it made a breakout decision.
This also leads to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prediction this week during his Europe tour that the nuclear deal is going to fizzle due to US economic pressure, even if the EU3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) and Russia and China want to try to hold it together.
It is still unclear whether Netanyahu is correct. But Iran is clearly worried that he is.
Which is why it is not yet openly violating the deal, why the threat is still more bark than bite. But, at the same time, it is making clear to Europe the potential threat.
There is perhaps no loaded gun on the table yet, but with these threats Iran is at least placing a gun on the table and showing off its large collection of bullets.
The clock is ticking and within two months or less it will start to become clearer whether the pressure campaign will cow Iran or whether the EU3 will cower from Iran. Or Iran will start openly violating the deal and loading its bullets into the most deadly gun around.