Experts: If it gets nukes, Iran could fire using cruise missiles

IAEA should focus on weaponization; stopping ballistic missiles is a lost cause.

PEOPLE GATHER around the water nuclear reactor at Arak, Iran, in December 2019. (photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
PEOPLE GATHER around the water nuclear reactor at Arak, Iran, in December 2019.
If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it could deliver them not only with land-based ballistic missiles, but also by ship-based cruise missiles, a top Iran nuclear expert has told The Jerusalem Post.
In a new book, Iran’s Perilous Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons, obtained exclusively by the Post, Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) president David Albright and researcher Sarah Burkhard say that “the most straightforward way to dramatically reduce Iran’s prospects of building nuclear weapons is to focus on the nuclear explosive production and nuclear weaponization pillars.”
Part of the reason the focus should shift to IAEA inspections of weaponization, notes the book, is because realistically, “the elimination of the [nuclear] delivery system pillar is more difficult to thwart because Iran has so many options for delivering nuclear weapons, ranging from ballistic missiles to cruise missiles to ships.”
A ship-based cruise-missile nuclear-weapon option for Iran has not been discussed much.
Further, Albright writes that: “Negotiations should aim to limit ballistic missiles, but it should be recognized that eliminating this pillar in its entirety is impossible,” given years of Western complacency and Iranian progress on the issue.
Before even getting to some other powerful revelations, Albright’s book in some ways upends the entire way that the nuclear issue is viewed by Iran hawks – of which Albright is one of the more prominent in the camp.
Conventionally, the fight over US policy toward the Islamic Republic divides into those who are for or against returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, including lifting president Trump’s sanctions if Tehran returns to the deal’s nuclear limitations.
While Albright has pointed out holes in the 2015 deal for years, he is also a realist.
Given the Biden administration’s posture, Albright explores how the US and other interested countries could try to head Iran off from getting a nuclear weapon even if some of its “nuclear pillars” are not blocked as much as he might hope.
Put simply, if the Biden team returns to the 2015 deal, how could Iran still be contained?
ONE OF the items on punch lists of Iran critics has been that the 2015 deal did not limit Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Albright would have wanted this program limited years ago.
But given Iran’s progress since 2015 and Washington’s current posture, he is saying that blocking Iran on this front might be a lost cause.
He explains that the Islamic Republic has too many different kinds of ballistic missiles it can use.
Also, Albright says that Tehran could even use ship-based cruise missiles, so putting partial limits on some ballistic missiles would be ineffectual.
Rather, he suggests that a major benefit of the 2018 Mossad raid on Tehran’s secret nuclear archive is that it gives the world powers much more insight into how to supervise and block the Iranian weaponization-efforts side of the nuclear program.
Of course, this would require a much more forceful approach by the IAEA and world powers in terms of resolving where each element of weaponization revealed by the archive is being stored, and then monitoring them all.
In some ways, this would, in and of itself, be a game-changer approach – but Albright suggests that it could be palatable given the new information and the idea that the elements being monitored have no use except for weaponization.
There are at least three items he cites that the IAEA would need to explore and monitor regarding Iran’s efforts.
One would be the Islamic Republic’s “maintaining the capability to use computer codes to simulate a nuclear weapons explosion. Greater use of simulations would make component testing less necessary.”
A second would be “retaining a mastery of the multi-point initiation system, e.g., the shock wave generator, including possibly having conducted a successful ‘cold test’ of a nuclear explosive with a surrogate nuclear core.”
In a May 2019 ISIS report describing some of what was revealed in the Iranian Nuclear Archive, he explained that a shock wave generator “has the purpose of uniformly initiating a spherical shell of high explosives, or the ‘main charge,’ which in turn compresses the nuclear core made from weapon-grade uranium to achieve a supercritical mass for a nuclear explosion.”
The third item would be “having the capability to make the neutron initiator.”
In another ISIS report that month, he said that “Iran planned on using a relatively sophisticated neutron source, or initiator, to trigger a chain reaction in the weapon-grade uranium core of its nuclear weapons.”
All three of these elements, if not policed by the IAEA, could help Tehran move much more swiftly to being able to explode the uranium it enriches for a nuclear bomb.
IN CONTRAST, if the IAEA gains new inspection powers over these elements exposed by the Mossad, Iran could be prevented from developing a nuclear weapon despite other major holes in the 2015 nuclear deal.
In terms of how much time Iran would need to enrich uranium to weaponizable levels, Albright explores scenarios where the currently discussed three to four months could drop to two months or even just over one month by the end of 2020.
The idea is that as the Islamic Republic enriches more uranium up from the 5% level to the 20% level and some even to the 60% level, the distance it has to cross to get to the 90% level is significantly reduced.
Despite this warning, Albright told the Post that the volume of uranium which Iran has enriched to the 60% level is quite small, and the bigger problems in reducing its time to a nuclear weapon relate to the volume of 20% enriched uranium and to advanced centrifuges like the IR-4 or IR-6.
Advanced centrifuges can enrich uranium at a much faster rate than the country’s standard IR-1, which makes up most of its nuclear program.
Another solution Albright suggests is getting Iran to agree to nuclear limits which would leave it two years from a nuclear weapon instead of one year.
This would require Tehran to roll back both its advanced centrifuge program and possibly to cut in half the number of older IR-1 centrifuges it was allowed to operate under the 2015 deal.
Though the book notes that the assassination of Iran military nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020 was a significant setback in managing weaponization efforts, it adds that he had prepared a whole new generation of nuclear scientists to take his place.
This accounts for how Iran can continue to present such a nuclear threat despite his loss.
The book also gives an impressive history of Iran’s nuclear program as well as tremendous depth in discussing the findings of the secret nuclear archive.