Iran exploiting world’s focus on Gaza to advance nuclear weaponization

IAEA director Rafael Grossi told German media last month that Iran was ‘weeks, rather than months,’ away from having a nuclear bomb.

By Israel Kassnett, JNS

As the world’s attention is diverted to Gaza where Israel is waging a war against Hamas, Iran is working assiduously to develop its nuclear capability.

In an apparent attempt to deflect suspicions that it is working on a bomb, Kamal Kharrazi, an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened Iran will change its nuclear doctrine and build a nuclear weapon if Israel targets its facilities.

“We have no decision to build a nuclear bomb, but should Iran’s existence be threatened, there will be no choice but to change our military doctrine,” Kharrazi said this week, adding that Tehran has already signaled it has the potential to build such weapons.

“In the case of an attack on our nuclear facilities by the Zionist regime (Israel), our deterrence will change,” Kharrazi added.

But this is likely a ruse to throw people off Iran’s nuclear trail.

Peter Hoekstra, former chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, who previously served as the American Ambassador to the Netherlands, told JNS it is “unclear” where Iran’s nuclear program stands.

“Most believe the program is at least one year away from actually testing a device,” he said. “There are also those who believe the program may be only months away, while a smaller sample believes Iran may already have a nuclear device.”

It is “very difficult to identify with any precision,” he added.

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International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Rafael Grossi visited Iran on Monday to try and bolster oversight of Tehran’s nuclear program, based on a March 4, 2023, “Joint Statement” signed between his group and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

Grossi said that the IAEA and Iran have agreed on “tangible and operational steps” to implement the Joint Statement. He dismissed the idea of creating a new agreement.

The IAEA director met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as well as Mohammad Eslami, head of the Islamic Republic’s Atomic Energy Organization.

Grossi’s visit comes on the background of heightened regional tensions in the wake of Iran’s April 14 direct attack on Israel and with the IAEA criticizing Tehran for its lack of cooperation on inspections and other outstanding nuclear issues.

The shadow war between Iran and Israel erupted into open confrontation in April, after an alleged Israeli strike on Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, which killed several members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals who led the elite Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon.

Iran then attacked Israel by launching about 300 missiles and drones against Israel.

It didn’t take long for Israel to respond. Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev confirmed last week that Israel was behind a strike against Iran on April 19.

Israel reportedly bombed an S-300 air-defense battery near the Natanz nuclear site in the Isfahan province, meant as a message to Iran’s leaders that it could target nuclear sites.

‘Taking advantage of the current situation’

Jonathan Ruhe, director of foreign policy at the Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), said Iran is “squarely on the threshold of nuclear weapons capability, where it could have de facto nuclear deterrence by achieving every element of the bomb without even assembling, testing, or declaring it has nuclear weapons.”

He told JNS Iran “already has nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles.”

According to Hoekstra, Iran clearly is “taking advantage of the current situation.”

He said Tehran “continues to attempt to expand the areas where it has significant influence and the capability to disrupt” and gave Sudan and Bahrain as examples of this. “Distraction creates opportunity for Iran,” he added.

Grossi told German media last month that Iran was “weeks, rather than months,” away from having a nuclear bomb.

Hoekstra noted that Grossi’s warnings are being ignored by Western countries.

“Very little is being done about Iran’s unwillingness to cooperate with inspections,” he said. “This follows the pattern of no accountability towards Iran in regards to multiple violations and aggressive actions.”

Hoekstra said Iran will “continue to attempt to expand its influence” and “move forward” with its nuclear program. “Iran has great latitude to do whatever it wants to do.”

Iran has already enriched uranium to up to 60 percent purity. Experts say it isn’t a huge leap to reach weapons-grade uranium, which is enriched to about 90 percent.

According to Ruhe, “Right now it can produce several bombs’ worth of fissile material too quickly to be reliably detected, and the outside world doesn’t seem to have a solid grasp on when Iran might finish weaponization, how long that might take, or whether they could detect it.”

He said this is concerning given that the U.S. “was surprised when the Soviet Union, China, and even its ally France went nuclear.”

Ruhe said that while it is “natural and easy” to focus on Iran’s uranium stockpiles, “the biggest concern now is that Tehran exploits the world’s focus on Gaza to advance its weaponization work, which relatively speaking is the least-developed element of its nuclear weapons capability.”

Ruhe decried the fact that “absolutely nothing” is being done after Grossi complained of “completely unsatisfactory” cooperation from Iran.

“Grossi’s persistence is admirable, since he’s been warning explicitly for years of Iran’s systemic violations of its transparency obligations, and that the IAEA can’t track the key parts of Iran’s nuclear program anymore,” he said.

“But he needs the U.S. and Europe to back him up by ‘snapping back’ robust U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran’s violations.”

“So far, the U.S. and Europe have only wrung their hands repeatedly, to zero effect, over Iran’s undermining of the global non-proliferation regime,” Ruhe said.