“This summer, Iran will turn into a de-facto threshold nuclear state,” former Prime Minister Ehud Barak maintained in a long article run by TIME on July 26. That is, Iran will have enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear device and the technology to make it a weapon.
In 2018 they were some 17 months away from that threshold; today they are probably just 17 days away, said Barak, ignoring the solemn US and Israeli vows to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Although Tehran insists that it is bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT0 – to evade heavier sanctions – after more than 20 years of trying, Iran is about to cross the point of no return in becoming a member of the “nuclear club. This has been the mullahs’ ambition all along.
All they need for “breakout” is to shift the enrichment of uranium 238 isotope from 60pc to 90 pc, i.e., weapons grade, Barak said. This takes less time and effort that the earlier enrichment processes, requiring smaller spaces, likely very deep tunnels beyond the reach of any weapon. Tehran would then claim that any attack conducted against those sites justified its contention that its nuclear capability was necessary for self-defense.
The former Israeli prime minister (whose past roles included IDF chief of staff and defense minister) points out that, unlike the surgical operations that were considered 12 years ago, or could have been considered 4 years ago – operations which could have substantially delayed the Iranian program (while risking a war with Iran) – this option today would carry all the risks of war, with only scant prospects of delaying Iran’s nuclear program.
All the same, he argues, [a nuclear-armed Iran] becomes a potential existential threat to Israel only in the longer term, since building a preliminary nuclear arsenal can take a decade or more.
Turning to solutions, the former Israeli leader argues that the only effective deterrent remaining would be a diplomatic ultimatum from the US to stop the program, backed by a credible threat of a wide scale war and arming Israel with the military capability to go forward on its own. Few experts see this happening. He also urges Washington to establish a small club of relevant states, Israel among them, and make sure that high investments in intelligence minimizes the risk of missing any crucial developments. A lot should be done with operational and diplomatic cooperation, from covert ops to public policy.
Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates must be convinced of America’s resolve to protect them in order to deter them from going after their own nuclear bombs. Once Iran abandons the NPT, every third-rate dictator in the region and beyond would go for a nuclear bomb option, deepening the chaos in troubled regions. If a new agreement with Iran, even a dubious one, helps preserve the NPT, that would still serve a useful purpose, Barak holds.
Another voice sharing Barak’s view is the American nuclear expert Rober Joseph who wrote this week: “Iran is already a nuclear weapons state with enough uranium to build ‘one, if not two’ bombs.”
Regarding the stalled nuclear negotiations with Iran, the European co-signers of the 2015 accord, far from giving up, have come up with a new draft for its revival. On Tuesday, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned, however, that time was running out and there was no room for further major concessions. US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was reviewing the “draft understanding” Borrell had shared with Iran and other parties to the 2015 deal and would respond directly to the EU.