Recently, there have been many news reports from international media outlets expressing concerns about Iran’s capability to create viable nuclear weapons, according to AP News. The international community and the U.S. are aware that we are at a crucial point in regard to the possibility of Iran’s nuclear weapons. NATO and the White House will soon need to make important decisions that will affect the stability of the Middle East and other regions as well as fuel prices for decades to come.
Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Capabilities: Uranium Enrichment in Iran
In order to build nuclear weapons, the uranium used in the manufacturing of those weapons needs to be enriched to 90%. In the past, Iran promised to limit its enrichment of uranium, according to the White House.
But since Iran’s relationship with the West have deteriorated in the past few years due to the Iran nuclear deal, nuclear scientists have accelerated the enrichment level in Iran’s uranium. In February, Reuters noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned that Iran has now begun to produce uranium enriched to a level of about 84%, nearly at the level for weapons-grade material.
This news has alarmed many government officials, and Iran was quick to deny the possibility that it was producing weapons-grade nuclear material. France 24 reported that Iranian officials were quick to deny that there were enrichment efforts beyond 60%: “Iranian state television on Friday offered an extended defense against an accusation attributed to international inspectors that it enriched uranium to 84% purity, with an official calling it part of a ‘conspiracy’ against Tehran amid tensions over its nuclear program.”
Iran is clearly continuing to develop weapons-grade uranium. That was made clear in February when intelligence officials briefed Washington lawmakers, saying that Iran was 12 days from producing nuclear fissile material.
According to CNN, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, “Back in 2018, when the previous administration decided to leave the JCPOA, it would have taken Iran about 12 months to produce one fissile, one bomb’s worth of fissile material…Now it would take about 12 days.”
[Related article: Iran Is Growing Closer to Becoming a Nuclear Power]
Can the West Still Negotiate with Iran?
When President Biden took office, the White House was attempting to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration and abandoned during the Trump era.
The nuclear agreement talks in Vienna between Iran and the U.S. – mediated by the E.U. – could have resolved the situation in 2022. Iran would have obtained relief from the economic sanctions that burden its failing economy, which suffers from decades of corruption and international sanctions.
But the hardliner clerics in Tehran decided to stall the negotiations. After months of civil unrest in Iran and mass demonstrations that called for the end of the regime, it became very difficult to justify making an agreement with Iran’s ruling clerics who used brutal force to quash the demonstrations. These demonstrations caused the deaths of many people, and there were mass arrests of activists who were tortured, raped, and executed for their participation.
Iran has made it impossible for the West to negotiate. Iran has become an important ally to Russia, supporting its efforts in Ukraine by supplying drones. The Russian army has utilized these drones to attack both Ukrainian military targets and large cities. So in light of all that has transpired in the past year, it seems that negotiations between Iran and the West are unlikely.
Will Military Action Be Necessary?
If Iran develops a nuclear bomb, that will put the Arabian peninsula into turmoil. The stability of oil production will be endangered, which will in turn affect the global economy. Russia’s position would also be strengthened, since it would be able to push its oil production capabilities despite the ongoing war with Ukraine.
In developing nuclear weapons, Iran not only has a national agenda but also a religious one. The Shia regime in Tehran sees the ruling tribe of Saudi Arabia, the Al-Saud, as a rival on a theological-political level.
Shia doctrine criticizes the founders of Sunni Islam, namely Abu-Bakr, Omar Ibn-El’Hattab and Uthman. These men are seen as usurpers who took the position of Caliph from the true heirs of Muhammad.
But with the Al-Saud tribe, there are also more recent issues. It was this tribe that became essential in the popularization of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith. Wahhabism is also a branch of Sunni Islam intensely critiques both modernity and Shia Islam.
In Yemen’s civil war, Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels, who are believers in Shia Islam. Iran hopes to create an Iranian outpost in Saudi Arabia’s backyard, merely a touch away from major oil production facilities.
Iran has also meddled in the internal affairs of Bahrain, which has a large Shia constituency and is ruled by a Sunni monarch. Bahrain is not only a major oil production center but also hosts a U.S. military base: Naval Support Activity Bahrain. This U.S. base is essential to the operation of the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, where Iran has tried to limit international oil shipments.
An Iranian nuclear bomb would not only destabilize Persian Gulf countries, but it would also contribute to Russian aggression. Potentially, Russia may take an even more radical stance, not only with Ukraine but with other Eastern European states, many of whom are NATO members.
There may be one final attempt to come to a nuclear agreement with Iran, or other countries may use military force to attack the many facilities where Iran is producing enriched uranium. It would not surprise anyone if the option to reach an agreement has already passed. The U.S. and the E.U. have attempted to negotiate in good faith with Iran over the years, but that has had no lasting results. A military option needs to be on the table, because an Iran with nuclear weapons could change the world’s power structure forever.
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