Israeli Military Intel: Iran Is Two Years Away From Nukes, but Hasn't Decided on Breakout

The Iranian nuclear program is advancing, intelligence assessment says, but Tehran is still missing some key components needed for a bomb

Yaniv Kubovich
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An Iranian ballistic missile launch in January 2021
An Iranian ballistic missile launch in January 2021Credit: AP
Yaniv Kubovich

Iran is advancing with its nuclear program and could produce a bomb within two years, but its leadership hasn't decided yet as to whether to break out to weapons-grade enrichment, according to an Israeli Military Intelligence assessment released on Monday.

Should Tehran decide to enrich at least 40 kilograms (nearly 90 lbs) of uranium to 90 percent, it would allow it to develop a nuclear bomb within two years, according to the Israeli assessment.

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Military Intelligence officials believe that Iran is struggling in developing some critical components needed for a bomb, like explosive mechanisms and missiles.

The officials also posit that the most significant reason for the delay in Iran’s nuclear program is the November assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which foreign media attributed to Israel. Fakhrizadeh was coordinating all the relevant components that go into making a nuclear bomb and Iran is having difficulty replacing him, the appraisal claims.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian state television reported that Iran’s intelligence minister warned his country could push for a nuclear weapon if international sanctions on Tehran remain in place.

The remarks by Mahmoud Alavi mark a rare occasion that a government official says Iran could reverse its course on the nuclear program.

Tehran has long insisted that the program is for peaceful purposes only, though Alavi added that Iran has no plans to move toward a nuclear weapon under “current circumstances.”

Despite the early indications that the Biden administration will pursue a diplomatic strategy with Iran, the president said the United States will not lift its economic sanctions on Iran in order to get Tehran back to the negotiating table to discuss how to revive the Iran nuclear deal, according to a video released by CBS News on Sunday.

Regional tensions 

Military Intelligence argues that Iran is continuing to violate the agreements it signed with the great powers in 2015. In a closed briefing this week, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman said, “Iran is at a nadir following actions we carried out in recent years – and not just because of the coronavirus – but hasn’t neglected its nuclear program and even increased its efforts in this realm.” He said Iran sees the nuclear agreement as the only route out of the sanctions and the country’s financial crisis, and is thus seeking to return to the deal. 

Intelligence officials also contend that Iran hasn’t given up on military entrenchment in Syria, although it is reevaluating the scope and method for doing so. This altered course was attributed to attacks by Israel and from other countries that are working against Iran's attempts to secure a military foothold in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

The most serious blow in this regard was the American assassination of Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in early 2020. The Israeli military asserts that Soleimani’s death changed the reality in the Middle East by seriously undermined Iran’s ambitions to create a broad Shi’ite axis in the region.

Soleimani, who was considered among those closest to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, was the man who executed Iran’s expansion beyond its borders, and Iran is yet to find a worthy replacement, the assessment finds.

In regards to Hezbollah, the group is being deterred from war with Israel, and that this situation is expected to prevail in the coming year. However, the probability of limited confrontations on the northern border is thought to be higher, because Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is determined to respond to blows the organization suffered, including the death of an operative in July, in an explosion attributed to Israel.

In recent years the group has established a policy whereby Hezbollah responds to every killing of one of its own by harming an Israeli soldier. Two Hezbollah efforts to avenge the killing of the operative were thwarted thus far, so Hezbollah still feels it has a score to settle.

On the Palestinian front, Hamas attempts to damage the underground barrier in Gaza, shooting from the Strip by rogue organizations and operations against Israel in Gaza and the Golan Heights constitute the main challenges for the Israeli military in the upcoming year. 2021 is likely to be a year of waiting in the Middle East, as the new U.S. administration looks set to implement strategic changes.

Iran is hoping for the removal of sanctions, Hezbollah is waiting for the removal sanctions that will allow banks to make loans to Lebanon, and the Palestinians are hoping for the support of U.S. President Joe Biden and the resumption of talks with the White House regarding their needs.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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