Iran won't have nuke in 2020 despite US official's claim - analysis

To be clear, Iran in the long-term absolutely is a nuclear threat and it is critical that the US and Israel not take their eye off the ball.

A handout satellite image shows a general view of the Natanz nuclear facility after a fire, in Natanz, Iran July 8, 2020 (photo credit: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A handout satellite image shows a general view of the Natanz nuclear facility after a fire, in Natanz, Iran July 8, 2020
Iran could have a nuclear weapon by the end of 2020, an anonymous US official warned in a Reuters article over the weekend.
For good measure, the anonymous US official tossed in the words “North Korea” without offering any evidence.
To be clear, Iran in the long term absolutely is a nuclear threat, and it is critical that the US and Israel not take their eyes off the ball.
However, every Israeli intelligence agency, including the Mossad and the IDF, has made it clear to The Jerusalem Post that there is no expectation of an Iranian nuclear weapon in 2020 – and likely not in the immediate future after that.
Earlier in 2020, there was a real worry that the Islamic Republic might break out to a nuclear bomb sometime this year. But that concern in the near term has passed.
It might have been possible if Iran had not halted its nuclear violations in May.
It might have been possible if Iran had pushed to enrich uranium at 20% or 60% as it had threatened and not carefully kept its uranium enrichment at around 5%, far away from weaponization.
This might be the most crucial statistic because Tehran already had enough uranium to make one nuclear weapon since March, as the Post has reported multiple times. But it simply has not elevated the purity level of the uranium one iota in a way that would reduce its four- to six-month countdown to a bomb.
In fact, the ayatollahs currently have enough low-enriched uranium to have made several nuclear weapons if they had decided to move in that direction. But they clearly have not.
Theoretically, it is possible that North Korea has secretly pushed Iran’s abilities forward in being able to deliver a nuclear warhead on one of its wide range of ballistic missiles. Until recent years, there was a long history of North Korean-Iranian nuclear cooperation.
But as both American and Israeli intelligence officials and outside nuclear experts have said, cooperation stopped in any significant way once Iran chose a different technical path and opted to develop its own native-built technology.
The countries still cooperate, but the scenario of North Korea helping Iran to leapfrog at this point is not taken seriously by these officials – mostly because Tehran wants to master the entire weapons cycle itself.
In December 2019, IDF Intelligence believed Iran would not master placing a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile any earlier than the end of 2021.
THE BIGGEST worry until summer 2020 was that Iran had some major, clandestine site where it was secretly breaking out to a nuclear weapon while distracting the IAEA with known nuclear sites.
But summer 2020 saw around a dozen explosions at Iranian facilities, several of them likely nuclear-related. A July 2 explosion set back the Islamic Republic’s advanced centrifuge program by a year or more, as confirmed by both official and nongovernmental sources.
Those advanced centrifuges could have been another tool to shorten the time to break out to a nuclear weapon, which again was taken off the table.
Already in September 2019, sources close to Mossad Director Yossi Cohen had told the Post the key to the January 2018 Mossad raid on the Iranian nuclear archive was that it produced a map of all the unknown sites.
The power of this “map” became all too clear watching the explosions this summer.
Last month, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told the Post: “We know what is happening everywhere” in Iran.
Once again, after this summer, while the chances of Iran successfully sneaking a major breakthrough past Israel are not nonexistent, they are small.
No doubt, the ayatollahs are mapping out new sites, and more of them are underground. But this takes time, usually years.
So while Iran is very much a nuclear threat and has surprised even the best intelligence agencies before, the surprises it has been dealt this summer – along with its hesitancy to move closer than the four- to six-month timeline with uranium enrichment – mean that the anonymous source on Iran this weekend was playing politics.
The US is trying to rally support for its arms embargo as President Donald Trump looks toward the November election.
There are plenty of reasons one could support the arms-embargo push relating to the Islamic Republic causing chaos in the Middle East. But an immediate rush to a nuclear weapon is not one of them.