Iran’s attack on Israel highlights concerns about Tehran’s advancing nuclear weapons program

JERUSALEM — With attention focused on a brewing high-intensity war between Israel and Iran, Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program has come under examination. Iran’s drone and missile attacks on Israel have raised pressing new questions about Iran’s capability to fire a nuclear weapon at Israel. For Israel, as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, Iran with an atomic weapon would mean a “nuclear Holocaust” for Israel. On Sunday, after rejecting claims that the Biden administration was too soft on Iran, the White House National Security Communication spokesperson, Shannon Bream said “Iran is much closer to a potential nuclear weapon capability than before Mr. Trump was elected.” David Albright, a physicist who is the founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C., told Digital that “Iran would need a year or more to build a semi-reliable warhead for a ballistic missile and about two years to reconstitute so as to be able to serially produce reliable warheads for ballistic missiles, i.e., have a fully developed nuclear weapons production complex.” Iran’s regime pursued an atomic weapons program code named the Amad Plan from the late 1990s to early 2003. In February, the IAEA reported that Iran had enriched uranium well beyond the need for commercial nuclear use. The IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters that while the pace of uranium enrichment had slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran was still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7 kg of uranium per month to 60%. Commenting on the presidential blame game, Albright said, “Neither Trump nor Biden did well dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Biden has done worse due to his policy of avoidance and his fear of taking any steps that could create a crisis. This risk-averse strategy has utterly failed to stop Iran’s progress on its nuclear program and left the West far weaker to fashion a policy to stop Iran’s progress either diplomatically or militarily.” Albright warned that “Iran can make a crude nuclear explosive in about six months, able to be tested underground or delivered by truck, ship or cargo plane. This accomplishment would be enough to establish Iran as a nuclear weapons power.” Digital revealed last year that Iran continued to work on the construction of a nuclear weapon. When asked about Iran’s regime firing a nuclear missile at Israel, Albright said, “The recent attack would not be a good way to cover an attack with a nuclear weapon. But it shows that to have confidence in getting one nuclear weapon to target, Iran would need to fire several, if not many, nuclear-tipped missiles.” He cautioned that “A sneak attack with a nuclear weapon, more like a terrorist attack, using highly trusted proxies and transport to Israel via land or sea, may have more chance of success in the next few years.” With President Biden urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show restraint, Israel is facing one of the most existential security questions since the rebirth of the nation in 1948. Israeli war planners believe they need to reestablish deterrence against the Iranian regime. Albright said, “It is critical to stop Iran from deciding to build nuclear weapons. The best short-term strategy is to make sure Iran understands that any movement to build nuclear weapons will be met with a rapid, large-scale military strike by Israel, backed by the United States, followed by additional strikes against its infrastructure if Iran moves to rebuild its nuclear weapons capabilities.” The White House has ruled out participation in military strikes against what the State Department recently told Digital is the world’s worst international state-sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s regime. Benny Begin, a veteran former Israeli lawmaker with expertise in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, told Digital that “Iran has already reached a status of a nuclear threshold state – if left unhindered, it will produce a bomb within a year or two after the order is given. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Rafael Grossi has recently announced that Iran has amassed enough highly enriched uranium that would suffice for the production of several nuclear bombs. It should be noted that Iran’s professional discourse is very open about it.” Begin, who held cabinet member status in a previous Netanyahu administration, said the “world powers have failed” to stop Iran’s drive to build a nuclear weapon device. The United States and other world powers reached an atomic accord with Iran called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. The agreement merely imposed temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and the uranium enrichment process that is a pre-condition for building an atomic bomb. Devastating U.S., EU and U.N. energy and missile sanctions were imposed on Iran to compel the regime to agree to concessions. In 2018, former President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA because, he argued, it did not stop Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and global terrorism. Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions on Iran would be termed his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. Begin said “the ‘maximum pressure’ policy was a good idea, and was actually implemented before 2015, with this or another degree of success. The problem was that the parties to the agreement did not react to Iran’s reaction to the renewed sanctions. Apart from IAEA reports and hollow warnings, Iran took the opportunity, broke the agreement and enriched uranium in an unprecedented quantity and pace.” When questioned about Iran’s swarming drone and missile attacks on Israel, Begin said that “when a regime decides to launch a nuclear warhead (most probably on a ballistic missile warhead) against its enemy, it must be certain that it will reach its target. Reports since yesterday speak about a high percentage of failed launches of those missile types that Iran was trying to launch against Israel. So, in a peculiar way, this is an important (though negative) lesson they can draw from the attack. Another lesson would be the ability of Israel and its allies to thwart such attacks away from Israel.” Jason Brodsky, the policy director of the U.S.-based United Against a Nuclear Iran, told Digital, “After the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, Iran only took an incremental and modest expansion of its nuclear program. But after the Biden administration took office, it grew dramatically, especially enriching to 60%. Iran’s risk tolerance increased under the Biden administration because of its perceived desperation for diplomacy. That has resulted in failed negotiations and an adrift Iran policy.” He said the “U.S. should support the E3 [Britain, France and Germany] triggering the snapback sanctions mechanism at the U.N. Security Council and participate in a joint military action with Israel against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran. This would build deterrence against Tehran which has been dangerously eroded over years.” The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a Digital press query. Reuters contributed to this report.