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Source: The Telegraph

Oct 30, 2023

As tensions soar, Iran is months away from developing nuclear weapons

Tehran may well soon have the bomb – but it would be suicidal for the Mullahs to use it


The world’s attention is focused on Gaza, but it would be a grievous mistake to overlook the risks posed by Tehran’s nuclear programme. There are three critical components to the ability to deploy nuclear weaponry; it is nearing sufficient capability in all three.

The first, and most crucial of these is a sufficient stockpile of weapons-grade uranium (90 per cent enriched or higher). The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency shows that Iran has a stockpile of 3,441 kilograms of enriched uranium, of which 122kg has reached a level of 60 per cent.

Within four weeks, this could be initially enriched to 90 per cent, and then converted to uranium metal – sufficient to build two nuclear weapons. Given its existing stockpile, Iran could easily obtain more material should it decide to do so.

The second is the ability to design weapons. Iran had a structured nuclear weapons programme in place until 2003, and carried on with related work until 2009. Moreover, it has close military and economic ties with North Korea, which has successfully carried out six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017.

It is not improbable that Iran would be able to construct a nuclear weapon within a few weeks of obtaining sufficient enriched uranium metal – without the need for testing. 

The greatest barrier is the third; the ability to deliver a weapon to its targets. Ballistic missiles, air and sea launched cruise missiles, and indeed gravity bombs are all possible options. But aircraft are relatively easily intercepted, and while Iran has an advanced missiles programme it does not yet appear to have systems capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

This could change rapidly. Until October 18, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 on the design, development and acquisition of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons was still in force. That has now expired, and Russia has already announced its intention to collaborate with Tehran on missile-related activities. With North Korean warheads and Russian missiles, the timeline for a viable Iranian nuclear weapon could be short. 

Indeed, it is probably sensible to view Iran as already being a nuclear-capable state. The question is whether developing and deploying these weapons would be in its interests. The answer, in short, is that using them would be suicidal. 

Israel and the US military bases in the Persian Gulf would be Tehran’s primary targets in the event of a military confrontation. What would happen if it tried to use nuclear weapons against them? Regardless of whether or not it succeeded, the regime would very shortly cease to exist. Israeli and American conventional forces alone would be sufficient to topple it if fully unleashed. 

Instead, Iran will likely avoid direct conflict and hide behind its sophisticated networks of proxy forces, preserving its newly found wealth and power. The nuclear programme will sit ready to be activated in case of disaster – a new and destabilising threat hovering over a region on the brink of war.

Dr Bahram Ghiassee is a nuclear analyst, and an Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society

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