'Deeply worrying' – Washington experts on Iran’s new enrichment level

This development, emphasized by the monitors, represents the significant risk that the country's unrestrained atomic activity could bring about a global crisis. 

A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, Iran (photo credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI)
A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, Iran
(photo credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI)

WASHINGTON – Experts were alarmed by a Bloomberg news report that revealed International Atomic Energy Agency monitors in Iran last week detected uranium enriched to levels nearly high enough for a nuclear weapon.

This development, emphasized by the monitors, represents the significant risk that the country’s unrestrained atomic activity could bring about a global crisis.

Inspectors need to determine whether Iran intentionally produced the enriched uranium or if the concentration was the result of an unintended buildup within the network of pipes connecting the hundreds of fast-spinning centrifuges used to separate isotopes, according to Bloomberg.

What do the experts say?

“The report should be deeply worrying,” said Dennis Ross, a distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Enrichment to 84% “is essentially going to weapons grade, [with] the difference from 90% being so small,” he said, adding that it was hard to believe it was an accident or a loading issue.

Dennis Ross at JPost Annual Conference (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Dennis Ross at JPost Annual Conference (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“I suspect it is again part of an Iranian play to see what the reaction is,” Ross said. “If it is tough rhetorically, but little more, the Iranians will know the world will adjust to a new reality, just as it did when they went to 60%. If this is the case, the Iranians are putting themselves in a position where they can decide later to go to a bomb, but they will believe they have the option.”

“If it is tough rhetorically, but little more, the Iranians will know, the world will adjust to a new reality, just as it did when they went to 60%.  If this is the case, the Iranians are putting themselves in a position where they can decide later to go to a bomb, but they will believe they have the option.”

Dennis Ross

Getting the Europeans to go along with snapback is certainly one step, but even that is unlikely to have much of an impact, he said, adding that the Iranians would threaten to pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty if that is done.

“There needs to be a set of quiet messages to Iran that if this is not reversed and the ongoing nuclear program halted, they will be putting their entire nuclear infrastructure at risk,” Ross said. “Conducting exercises in the region that simulate or rehearse air-to-ground attacks against hardened targets should be organized soon.”

Andrea Stricker, deputy director of the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Iranians were likely experimenting with producing near-weapons-grade uranium “in a way that Tehran believes the IAEA would not detect – when the material is in intermediate stages of enrichment rather than a final product.”

“That Iran would even take this step underscores the failure of the West’s diplomacy-first approach,” she said. “Washington and Europe have presided over two years of Iranian atomic advances met with virtually zero penalties. Thus, it is no surprise that Tehran continues to push the envelope.”

“Washington must resurrect a comprehensive strategy to penalize, roll back and deter further Iranian nuclear advances and reinstitute economic pressure to destabilize the regime while it is weak at home,” she added.

The multilateral cooperation between the US, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Israel “will be key to maintaining regional preparedness to confront the full range of Iran’s threats,” Stricker said. “It is a natural progression based on cognizance of this mutual menace to peace and security.”

 Focus on Iran, the Iranian flag in crosshairs (Illustrative). (credit: Akbar Nemati/Unsplash, DAVID YAPHE) Focus on Iran, the Iranian flag in crosshairs (Illustrative). (credit: Akbar Nemati/Unsplash, DAVID YAPHE)

Iran can go to 4 bombs within a month if they want to

According to John Hannah, a Randi and Charles Wax senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America and a former national security advisor to vice president Dick Cheney, Iran was almost certainly practicing its capability to breakout or sneak out to a bomb very quickly.

“This is only the latest step in that process,” he said. “Earlier violations included deploying cascades of advanced centrifuges, enriching to 60% and enriching directly from 5% to 60%. Already, Iran has accumulated enough highly enriched uranium to go for four bombs within a month of a decision to break out and enough for a fifth bomb shortly thereafter.”

“Earlier violations included deploying cascades of advanced centrifuges, enriching to 60%, and enriching directly from 5% to 60%. Already Iran has accumulated enough highly enriched uranium to go for four bombs within a month of a decision to break out and enough for a fifth bomb shortly thereafter.”

John Hannah

“Politically, Iran is also continuing its salami tactics to test the resolve of the United States, Israel and Europe,” Hannah said. “A decade ago, Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu drew a redline on a cartoon bomb at the UN and threatened that if Iran accumulated enough 20% uranium for one bomb, Israel would destroy its nuclear program.

“Today, the 20% redline is a long-distant memory. The redline turned into a green light. Now they have enough high-enriched uranium for at least five bombs, and much of it not only in the form of 20% but 60% uranium. And what were the consequences imposed on Iran? Virtually nothing.”

“The Europeans should immediately respond to this provocation by triggering a snapback of all UN sanctions,” he said. “They should also withdraw their ambassadors from Tehran. President [Joe] Biden should publicly declare the JCPOA dead. The US should expedite the delivery of critical capabilities that Israel needs to enhance its own ability to destroy Iran’s key nuclear infrastructure, especially KC-46A refueling tankers and refilling the war reserve stockpile in Israel with thousands of long-range precision munitions capable of penetrating underground bunkers. Unfortunately, I have little to no hope that any of these steps will be taken,” Hannah said.