Iran has produced roughly enough nuclear material to make a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources add the Islamic Republic has also made great strides toward developing a nuclear-capable solid propellant missile.
In the last few weeks, Iran has stepped up two- or even threefold the tempo of uranium enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna leaked this finding Wednesday, Nov. 19, from the report to be submitted to the agency’s board Nov. 27-28.
IAEA sources report that in October, Iran was known to have accumulated 480 kilos of low grade (5 percent) enriched uranium, a short step from “break-out” to weapons-grade (90 percent) material.
By mid-November, this had been topped up to 630 kilos with an extra 150 kilos, produced in six weeks.
At this rate, by the end of 2009, Iran will have enough enriched uranium for 2-3 nuclear bombs.
Tehran has thus jumped three months ahead of the February 2009 timeline for enough fissile material to build a bomb which was estimated by US and Israeli intelligence. The experts are now asking how long until Iran has the know-how for further purifying the fuel and perfecting the design for an atomic warhead.
In one of the intelligence briefings US president-elect Barack Obama receives on a regular basis now, CIA director Adm. Mike McConnell offered an answer.
He said Tehran is pushing ahead with its military nuclear program without pause. Even if the Iranians are not quite able to build a bomb or warhead by 2009, they will certainly be able to make a nuclear device for underground testing, in his view.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources add that this device is in fact already in production.
Missile test “a major step up”
All this activity has been hidden by the total breakdown of communications between the IAEA and Iran since September as a result of Tehran’s complete stonewalling on its military activities.
Also on the quiet, Iran has forged ahead with developing nuclear-capable missiles.
On Nov. 12, Iran test-fired a brand-new two-stage, 2,000 km range missile called Sejil (a Koranic term for a substance that causes an enemy to flee and disintegrate). Defense minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said it could reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf. He described it as a next-generation missile fueled by solid-fuel propellants.
The outgoing head of the US Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering of the Air Force, said that the test represented “a major step up” for Iranian capabilities – if what Tehran said about the launch was true.
Some American and European sources hastened to dismiss the Sejil as a remake of an old weapon closely resembling the Shehab-3. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence experts query this evaluation as an attempt to play down Iran’s rapid technological advance in missile development.
Some years ago, Iran claimed that its engineers were working on outfitting the Shehab-3 with a solid-propellant engine. Later, Tehran disclosed that a solid-fuel missile called Ashura had been tested a year ago, without details. Western sources claimed the test had failed.
The two-stage Sejil appears to be solid-propellant
The test-firing of the Sejil seems to have been a success, which explains the cocksure official unveiling of the new missile with photos – but not much information.
However, missile experts who examined the visuals discovered six new features:
1. The missile’s takeoff was vertical (like the Shehab, but unlike the Zelzal rocket), apparently from flat terrain, possibly desert. The slipstream was typical of a solid-propellant missile, unlike the Shehab.
2. The launcher was hidden from the cameras, so that it could not be determined if it was mobile.
3. The Sejil was surprisingly like the Shehab-3 in shape and dimensions.
4. The bottle-shaped cone was designed as a penetration head like the Shehab-M, whose range is also claimed to be 2,000 km by Tehran.
5. Hatches for navigation were discerned in the body of the missile fore and aft, indicating that each of the two stages has an autonomous system.
6. The two stages are of equal diameter, unlike most other missiles in world use except for the Israeli Shavit ballistic missile, which serves to launch satellites.
Despite the paucity of official information about the new missile, our experts stress that Iran’s technological ability to produce solid-propellant missiles attests to important advances in the field. Tehran will no doubt start converting its arsenal of surface missiles from liquid to solid fuel and go on to develop a capability for launching space satellites both for military use and civilian research.