Israel fears Iran may develop nuclear bomb as world focuses on corona

Intelligence circles say that Tehran may take advantage of world’s attention on pandemic.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Intelligence sources are concerned that Iran may try to intensify its efforts to develop a nuclear bomb as the world’s attention has focused on containing the deadly coronavirus, Israel Hayom reported on Thursday.

Unnamed security sources told the daily that the Islamic Republic is facing perhaps its biggest crisis since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iran leads the Middle East by far in coronavirus infections, with some 48,000 officially confirmed cases and just over 3,000 dead.

However, the assumption is that the ayatollahs are hiding the real numbers, both from its own people and from the world. The true statistics may be four or even five times higher than what is reported, they said.

This may lead Tehran to try and bolster its image, both internally and externally, sources say. Going for the bomb may serve to at least partially distract its frustrated and frightened citizens from their leaders’ ineptitude in handling the health crisis. And getting very close or even crossing the nuclear threshold may be seen as a way of regaining international respect.

Majid Rafizadeh of The Gatestone Institute said in a recent op-ed that the “Iranian regime now has enough enriched uranium to refine and build a nuclear bomb if it desires to do so.”

Since last May, Iran has been slowly enriching uranium past the minimum level allowed by the nuclear deal President Trump walked away from in 2018.

In the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, dated March 3, it states that Iran has not diverted “declared nuclear material” to other facilities. It does say that “Iran had conducted mechanical testing” of eight advanced centrifuges.

It also admits that it has yet to make progress with Tehran regarding nuclear particles that it had detected in an “undeclared location.”

The unnamed location is Turquzabad, where Israel told it to look last September after purloining vast secret records of Tehran’s nuclear program from the Iranian capital in 2018 in a daring Mossad operation.

The open, but slow, defiance of the nuclear accord is not as dangerous as what Iran may be doing secretly, but at least the IAEA has kept a nominal eye on the country’s declared nuclear facilities. Now, due to the spread of the coronavirus in the country, the IAEA is mulling pulling its personnel out for their own safety, the report says.

The sources said that even if the world is ignoring this potential future danger due to the immediate danger posed by the coronavirus, Israel has intensified its intelligence activities to ensure that it can sound the alarm bell if Iran decides to make a sprint for the bomb.