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It would be better for Israel if Iran enriched to 90% now

An Iranian push to weapons grade uranium is preferable if it means billions of dollars not flowing to the regime and bursting the illusion that "freezing" enrichment at 60% is meaningful.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, shows then-President Hassan Rouhani models of nuclear centrifuges, April 9, 2019. Credit: Iranian President’s Office.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, shows then-President Hassan Rouhani models of nuclear centrifuges, April 9, 2019. Credit: Iranian President’s Office.
Jacob Nagel
Jacob Nagel
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Mark Dubowitz
Mark Dubowitz is the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' chief executive and an expert on Iran's nuclear program and sanctions. In 2019, he was sanctioned by Iran.

With Israel consumed by an intense domestic judicial reform debate, Iran is expanding its nuclear weapons program. The Biden administration continues to promote unofficial understandings with Tehran based on keeping Iranian enrichment at 60% in exchange for the release of billions of dollars. The goal: Kick the Iranian nuclear issue down the road until after the 2024 elections.

The proper name for such understandings, which in many ways are far worse than the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, should be “false quiet for money,” and not “freeze for freeze.”

The idea behind these understandings is to freeze Iran’s uranium enrichment to 60%, which is very close to what is required technically for Tehran to reach 93%, or weapons-grade. This gives the mullahs, for the first time, a win-win situation: a de facto green light for enrichment up to 60%, together with massive sanctions relief. Presenting it as understandings rather than an agreement is an attempt by the Biden administration to avoid review by Congress, where it will face fierce opposition.

Israel is better off with an Iranian push to 90% without billions of dollars flowing to the regime and without the illusion that holding Tehran at 60% enrichment is meaningful. No real technical difference exists between 90% and 60% enrichment; the difference in breakout time to a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium is a matter of days or weeks.

The most dangerous technical threshold has already occurred, when the Biden administration did not respond to Iran’s enrichment to 20%, which is about 70% of the effort necessary to reach weapons-grade uranium.

For 10 months after the United States killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, in January 2020, the regime stopped its nuclear expansion. Then, after Biden’s election and the end of President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, it went all out. When the regime feels American steel, it backs down. When it feels American mush, it pushes forward.

It is still not clear where the Biden administration has set any red lines for action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Since Biden won the election in November 2020 on a promise to abandon the maximum pressure campaign of his predecessor, Tehran has massively expanded its nuclear program. Iranian nuclear scientists have used advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20%, 60% and briefly to almost 84%; produced uranium metal for use in developing nuclear weapons; and repeatedly stonewalled United Nations weapons inspectors.

After almost three years of a failed “maximum concessions” Iran policy, perhaps the Biden administration has finally communicated to Tehran that they will act forcefully at 90%. But “forcefully” must mean more than the “snap back” of U.N. sanctions and the enforcement of U.S. sanctions, both of which should have already occurred. It must involve the credible threat that President Biden will use American military power to stop the development of Iranian nuclear weapons.

Even if Iran doesn’t believe that the Americans will use force, Tehran is not likely to make the mistake of rushing to 90%. Instead, if past is prologue, Tehran will follow its decades-long strategy of forcing the West to accept increasing levels of nuclear weapons expansion. It will remain at the 60% line while building out its nuclear infrastructure and extracting maximum financial concessions.

Most alarming is the work being done at Natanz, where Tehran is building a hardened enrichment site that will reportedly reach more than 100 meters (328 feet) underground and will be ready in about two or three years, protected from outside attack.

According to the understandings with the United States, Tehran will continue the development and production of advanced centrifuges, ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and crucial capabilities related to nuclear weapons systems.

We are sleepwalking into the Iranian trap. With Iran remaining below the 90% line, and the Biden administration pursuing a false quiet at a high price, Tehran is left to pursue nuclear weapons on all fronts. Israel needs to fight this Iranian strategy, while Congress must immediately review every step the Biden administration takes.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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