ANALYSIS: The Iranian regime’s unstoppable path to nuclear weapons
By Tony Duheaume Thursday, 4 May 2017
It matters not where any national leader stands as far as the Iran deal is concerned, the greatest concern to the international community should be why Iran has been seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons for more than two decades.
During the early 1990s, the Israeli secret service reportedly obtained Iranian government documents, stating that Iran had acquired several nuclear warheads from the former Soviet Union. The documents were authenticated by experts in the US, all of which were said to be correspondence between officials in the Iranian government and leading commanders of the IRGC, verifying that the missiles had been successfully acquired. Although these weapons were no longer operational due to age, they were still useful to nuclear scientists as a blueprint for a future weapon.
It is now believed that during the 1980s, when Iranian boffins were struggling to master nuclear technology, Iran obtained the know-how to overcome its problems in the more difficult aspects of nuclear technology, and from then on, the two countries shared future technological advances.
Since the founding of the Islamic Republic, Iran has been working all out to become the Middle East’s most powerful military nation, so with it its constant confrontational policies concerning the export of terrorism, and its meddling in the politics of neighboring countries, it has led to it having to face many foes throughout the region.
So adding that to the fact that a number of its near neighbors are armed with nuclear weapons, including its arch enemy Israel, it made perfect sense to the regime’s hawks to arm Iran in a similar manner.
It was in 1985, Iran began its gas-enrichment program, and when this was discovered many years later, the regime went on the defensive, claiming that its nuclear program was solely for it wanting to become self-sufficient in its energy needs, and for the purpose of medical isotopes.
When questioned as to why it had kept its nuclear program a secret, the leadership claimed it was under no obligation to declare it under the terms of the IAEA safeguards agreement. The agreement stated that it only had to inform the IAEA of the existence of its facilities, six months before any nuclear material was actually being produced and so as far as the Iranian administration was concerned any infringements were minor.
During the time of its secret nuclear sites being discovered, when questioned about its refusal to answer many crucial questions on its program, the regime claimed it hadn’t spoken out due to it being an intrusion of its rights. This was in addition to the fact that it didn’t want commercial secrets being leaked to its opponents, and also the fact that it wanted to safeguard the security of the sites in question.
Then when it came to the need for such a program, the regime’s claims for it to be solely for self-sufficiency in its energy needs, and medical purposes just didn’t hold up under scrutiny. Even with the Bushehr reactor up and running, which it wasn’t at the time, it would only result in the production of 3 percent of Iran’s electricity needs, and that the rest of the facilities that were in action or in the pipeline, was not feasible for civilian use.
So much about Iran’s nuclear program just didn’t add up even with the fact that there was no evidence at the time that it was operating a reprocessing program meant little. The regime had been known to be seeking to acquire hot-cell heavy manipulators and lead glass shielding windows from a foreign state, which would be required should it be wanting to embark on such a program.
Suspicions arose as to why the regime would want to acquire such components, which it claimed was for the use of producing medical isotopes. However, after studying specifications for the project, which the IAEA had acquired from a foreign state, it showed that the hot cells being fitted out had walls of 1.4 metres in thickness, which were more suited to the handling of spent fuel, rather than for the purpose of radioisotope production, and pointed towards a military use rather than a medical one.
Then in the summer of 2002, the Iranian dissident group the MEK revealed the existence of a series of nuclear sites in Iran, and within a year it was discovered that Iran was in the process of conducting uranium enrichment at Natanz.
An unidentified IAEA inspector cuts the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, some 322 kilometers south of Tehran on Jan. 20, 2014. (AP)
With suspicions beginning to be raised even further that Iran was at work developing nuclear weapons, this further heightened when it was discovered that the regime was mining uranium at Saghand as well as operating a yellow cake production plant in the vicinity of Ardakan, and with a pilot uranium enrichment plant up and running in Natanz, it was also operating a commercial scale enrichment facility close by.
To produce nuclear weapons, enriched uranium is essential, and it takes a full-blown nuclear program to produce it. Uranium ore is a natural element much like iron, often taken from the ground in open cast mining; but it needs to be processed to extract pure uranium from the base material.
Centrifuges are essential in processing of uranium. They are cylindrical tubes that whirl at great speed, separating out or purifying the desired uranium isotopes. Iran’s Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant was designed to hold around 3,000 centrifuges, producing in the region of 19.75 percent enriched uranium, which Iran claimed is part of the process to produce medical isotopes.
Where nuclear weapons are concerned, their design requires the use of weapons grade uranium to make them functional, and it takes 90 percent enrichment of uranium to take it to weapons grade, which would take only a matter of weeks to produce in Iran’s new and advanced centrifuges.
Doubling down on centrifuges
Back in August 2012, Iran was known to have doubled the number of centrifuges at its Fordow plant in just three months, increasing the number to 2,000. Until the time of the Iran Deal, the number had increased to 2,800, with Fordow running at full capacity.
During that period of time, Iran had increased its supply of a more purified form of enriched uranium, which was much easier to convert into weapon’s grade fissile material. But at this present time, with the regime now mass producing much more efficient centrifuges, with more than 10,000 installed at the Natanz facility alone, they had enough low-enriched uranium to produce at least six nuclear weapons.
Before the Iran Deal, with Iran having built at least five secret facilities, where work was believed to have been carried out on the development of nuclear weapons, it can only be said that the Iran deal has put this work on hold, as most of Iran’s nuclear program is still continuing in a limited capacity. Should the deal eventually collapse, it would only take Iran a matter of months to reinstate its nuclear activity, and the road to a bomb would be fast coming.
So with these nuclear sites carved into the side of mountains, with the regime protecting them with state of the art air defences throughout the country, it leaves them virtually immune to airstrikes. This made it difficult to completely halt Iran’s nuclear program through a bombing campaign would be near impossible, due to the regime’s instalment of the Russian S-300 long-range air defence system.
So adding this to the fact that Iran has already developed its own long-range air defense system, named the Bavar-373 (Bavar meaning “Belief) – and has claimed it is far superior to the Russian S-300, it also gives it the ability to operate both on and off roads. And with the system using Sayyed-3 missiles, which have been successfully tested, it utilizes target acquisition radar, target engagement radar, and phased array radar to direct the primary functions of the system. The system can strike mid-altitude targets with great accuracy, is able to down bombers as well as various other combat aircraft including drones and cruise missiles.
But as far as the Iran deal is concerned, the Iranian regime is in a win-win situation, because as far as an armed confrontation is concerned, it is fast heading toward becoming untouchable. So the only way to bring an end to its nuclear program, other than through a one-sided deal that only benefits its clerical leadership, would be through sanctions or hostilities.
But whatever option is chosen, a regime change would be needed at the end of it, in order to deter Iran from the nuclear path in the future, and at the moment, this seems to be a long way off.
Last Update: Thursday, 4 May 2017 KSA 08:28 – GMT 05:28