Israeli Officials Fear Iran Could Have Enough Uranium for Nuclear Bomb Within Weeks

Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium is rapidly approaching weapons-grade levels, concerned Israeli officials say

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor in Iran, 2019.
Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor in Iran, 2019.Credit: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israeli officials believe Iran could be weeks away from enriching uranium to a level sufficient for building a nuclear weapon.

The amount of uranium Iran has already enriched to 20-percent purity is critical, because when it reaches a certain threshold – known as the significant quantity – that stockpile can rapidly be enriched to the 90-percent purity needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran possessing a stockpile of 220 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium would mean it had reached the significant quantity.

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According to intelligence shared by a number of countries, including Israel, the amount of uranium Iran has already enriched to 20-percent and 60-percent purity bring Tehran just a number of weeks away from having enough enriched uranium - which it can further purify to 90 percent should it chose to.

Even if Iran breaks out with uranium enrichment, assembling the nuclear warhead itself will take much longer - months, perhaps even years.

Israeli officials are concerned by the numbers, and have asked that an end to further enrichment be among the demands made to Iran during renewed talks over its nuclear program.

The 2015 nuclear deal sharply limited Iran's uranium stockpile and limited the enrichment to 3.7 percent purity, a sufficient level for nuclear power plant fuel. However, a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, Iran pushed production to 20 percent, and then to 60 percent after.

On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on world powers not to “give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail."

In a video statement that was delivered to representatives of nations opening negotiations with Iran, Bennett said that Tehran seeks “to end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing” and keep its nuclear program intact while receiving hundreds of billions of dollars once sanctions are lifted.

There has been pessimism in Israel in recent days over the resumption of the Vienna talks. According to assessments, the round of talks will not lead to real progress in the immediate term between the two sides. Officials had the sense that Iran is not interested in a return to the nuclear agreement and instead would drag out the talks, enabling it to advance its nuclear program under the radar.

Israeli sources expect Iran to make uncompromising demands in Vienna while the Americans, who at Iran’s insistence will not have their representatives in the room, will demand that Tehran return to full compliance with the nuclear agreement signed in 2015. The expectation is that the diplomatic drama between Iran and the United States will only begin after this round of talks.

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