Netanyahu: Increased enrichment shows Iran seeks nuclear weapons

"A few minutes ago, the process of producing 20% enriched uranium has started in Fordow enrichment complex," Iran said Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a meeting with Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Janša in Jerusalem, December 8, 2020 (photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a meeting with Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Janša in Jerusalem, December 8, 2020
Iran is continuing to show that it plans to develop nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned after Iran announced it had resumed 20% uranium enrichment at an underground nuclear facility on Monday.
“Iran’s decision to continue violating its commitments, to increase the level of enrichment and advance its abilities to enrich uranium underground cannot be explained in any way other than the continued implementation of its intention to develop a military nuclear program,” he said.
“Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.
The move is the latest Iranian contravention of the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, and it could hinder attempts by the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the deal that outgoing President Donald Trump left.
“A few minutes ago, the process of producing 20% enriched uranium has started in the Fordow enrichment complex,” government spokesman Ali Rabeie told Iranian state media.
The step was one of many mentioned in a law passed by Iran’s parliament last month in response to the killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist, which Tehran has blamed on Israel.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Iran’s announcement.
“Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi has informed IAEA member states that Iran today began feeding uranium already enriched up to 4.1% U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment up to 20%,” the IAEA said in a statement.
“IAEA inspectors were present at the site to detach the Agency’s seal from a cylinder with the feed material,” it said. “The cylinder was then connected to the feeding line to start the production of uranium enriched up to 20%.”
“The six cascades had been reconfigured as three sets of two interconnected cascades, comprising a total of 1044 IR-1 centrifuges. Iran had previously informed the agency of its intention to start producing uranium enriched up to 20%,” the IAEA said.
The nuclear deal’s main aim was to extend the time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to at least a year from roughly two to three months. It also lifted international sanctions against Tehran. US President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed the sanctions after leaving the Iran deal in 2018.
On January 1, the IAEA said Tehran had told the watchdog it planned to resume enrichment up to 20% at Fordow site, which is buried inside a mountain.
“The process of gas injection to centrifuges has started a few hours ago, and the first product of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas will be available in a few hours,” Rabeie said. “The process has started after taking measures like informing the UN nuclear watchdog.”
Iran had earlier breached the deal’s 3.67% limit on the purity to which it can enrich uranium, but it had only gone up to 4.5% so far, well short of the 20% level and of the 90% that is weapons-grade.
Israel, US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear-weapons program that it halted in 2003.
When asked during an interview with Ynet if there is a chance the situation with Iran will “erupt,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he sees a possibility of “events” happening in the Iranian front.
“I don’t know if the situation will erupt,” he said. “An eruption of the situation is a function of what will happen in these events. I must add that the IDF and the rest of the Israeli security forces are on alert and are well aware of what is happening in this front.”
This current period of time is a sensitive one, especially due to the coming changes in the US administration, Gantz said.
His remarks add to the current assessments in the IDF, in which there is a possibility of an Iranian attack through its proxies, especially in the “second circle countries” such as Yemen and Iraq.
On Saturday, an IDF senior officer said the IDF has held discussions at the planning level and has reviewed possible scenarios of different attacks.
Iran’s message indicates that “the terrorist regime in Tehran continues to lie and charge toward nuclear weapons,” Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said. “Only a determined policy by President-elect Biden against Iran and continued sanctions will preserve stability and advance new diplomatic moves.”
Former IDF intelligence head Amos Yadlin tweeted that Iran’s jumping enrichment to 20% was “its most significant and blatant violation to date” of the nuclear deal.
The Islamic Republic is trying to box in the incoming Biden administration by setting new facts on the ground leading into nuclear negotiations, he said.
Tehran had calculated that “the Trump administration will not have sufficient time to respond,” with only two weeks left in office, Yadlin said.
Israel must press Biden to use the sanctions leverage he will inherit from Trump to get Iran to agree to enough add-ons to the 2015 nuclear deal so that its holes will be filled, he said.