Iran may be up to two years away from making a nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so, according to an assessment by Israel’s IDF Military Intelligence Directorate that was released on Tuesday.
The report delves into the scenarios that Tehran may adopt with the new Biden administration, and outlines how Iran can be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The details from the IDF are in line with previous security and intelligence assessments. Iran has stockpiled uranium, and has been enriching it beyond the guidelines of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was brokered during the Obama administration and abrogated under the Trump administration.
This enrichment brings it closer to various “breakout” estimates about how quickly it could enrich uranium to 90%, and also begin to build better missiles and a weapons system that might lead to a nuclear weapon.
Let there be no mistake: Iran has a sophisticated and extensive nuclear program.
Iran’s game is to try to seek regional hegemony, while also threatening Israel through weapons trafficking to Hezbollah and sending missiles to Iraq and Syria; increasing its naval assets to harass the US and partners in the Gulf; and arming the Houthis in Yemen who use drones against Saudi Arabia. Indeed, there were three incidents within a week involving Iranian-backed Houthis attacking Saudi Arabia, as well as the murder of Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim in Lebanon.
The specter of Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb is only one aspect of the threat from Tehran. It is important to keep that in mind as the Biden administration formulates its policy in the Mideast in general, and on the Iran threat specifically.
The heart of the discussion between the West and Iran has always been about preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons, and keeping its enrichment and stockpiles relatively low.
Israel’s assessment is that a nuclear agreement that prevents Iran from enriching uranium to 90% is ideally suited to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons. President Joe Biden said this week that the US would not consider lifting sanctions on Iran unless it first stops enriching uranium beyond the limits outlined in the JCPOA.
The other side of the coin is that should Iran stop that enrichment program, it could influence the US to begin a process of lifting sanctions imposed on it by president Donald Trump.
This initial US approach seems to be a potentially effective tactic and a workable trade-off in that it is in line with Israel’s assessments, and may be the best way to contain Iran at the moment.
Other signatories of the nuclear deal have tried begging Iran to stop violating the deal via their enrichment of more uranium than allowed. Germany, France, the UK, China and Russia all have differing approaches, but none want the deal to go away.
On the other side, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has correctly cautioned against the US rejoining the deal in its current iteration. If Biden rejoins without moving back Iran within the guidelines, then it has handed Tehran a direct path to a nuclear weapon.
Iran needs to make concessions as well, but has indicated it will not do so until all sanctions are first lifted – because it claims that the US broke the deal to begin with. This sets up a complex game of brinkmanship.
What is important for Israel is that the brinkmanship continue, and that Iran’s violations and Israel’s concerns continue to be recognized. For that to happen, it is also important for close US-Israel cooperation and discussion in order to prevent nuclear proliferation by the Tehran regime.
As OC IDF Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heiman said in a briefing on the IDF assessment, Iran is at an unprecedented low point and is “battered, but on its feet,” following actions carried out by Israel and the US. Tehran is banking on the Biden administration for some breathing room. It is incumbent on the US – and Israel – to make sure that is not allowed to happen for nothing.