analysisIsrael at War

Under cover of its proxy war against Israel, Iran’s nuclear program is rushing ahead

Both Biden and Trump are "committed to Israel" but will hesitate to go to war to stop it from attaining nuclear weapons, expert tells JNS.

Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility, March 30, 2005. Photo by Getty Images.
Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility, March 30, 2005. Photo by Getty Images.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

Iran appears to be exploiting the ongoing war of attrition between its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, and Israel to make rapid progress on its nuclear program. 

“There is no doubt that Iran is taking advantage of the Israeli, the American, and the entire international community’s focus on the war in Gaza and on the northern border to advance its nuclear program as much as possible,” professor Eyal Zisser, vice rector of Tel Aviv University, told JNS.

Tehran’s goal, he said, is “reaching a threshold state without actually crossing the line and conducting a nuclear test.”

Asked whether a dual-front confrontation involving a simultaneous strike on Iran’s nuclear sites and Hezbollah’s strategic missile stockpiles could be an option for Israel, Zisser said Jerusalem might not have a choice.

“The government’s policy for now is to focus on Gaza and keep the northern border on a low flame,” he said. “This [the dual front conflict] requires the mobilization of society and the military, and international support—these things are not present now,” he added.

However, he said, “The option of a military move should be on the table—and in any case, it is likely that if Israel attacks Iran, Hezbollah will join as well.” 

Asked if Israel was relying too much on the international community to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Zisser disagreed.

“I don’t think anyone relied on the international community to do anything,” he said. “There were expectations from the United States—but Trump left and Biden came, and it seemed clear from the beginning that Biden would not go all the way against Iran. The question is whether Trump would if he is elected,” he added.

U.S. support would be critical in any confrontation with Iran, he said, adding that on this matter, both Biden and Trump “are committed to Israel but will hesitate on the question of whether to go to a forceful maneuver with Iran because of Israel. So it is not clear that the elections will change anything.”

Ephraim Asculai, a former senior official at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), recently provided a detailed analysis of Iran’s advancements in uranium enrichment. 

Speaking to journalists on a call organized on July 3 by the Jerusalem Press Club, he explained, “I can say very briefly that the capacity of Iran to enrich uranium to weapons grade, which is 90% enrichment, is multiplied by many, many times.” 

Asculai added that Iran now possesses, according to data provided by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, the capability to enrich uranium to weapons-grade level within a few weeks, in quantities that would be enough for “several nuclear warheads.”

He noted that while enrichment is the most difficult aspect of producing nuclear weapons, it isn’t the only one.

“There are two additional parts to the development of nuclear weapons. The second is the design and production of the nuclear explosive mechanism, and the third is the delivery system. And each has its own problems,” he said.

However, most of these two stages can be completed in parallel with the enrichment process, he added. Based on intelligence gathered by the Mossad in 2018 on the Iranian nuclear program up to 2003, Iran had already at that time advanced “quite nicely” with respect to the nuclear explosive mechanism.

“I think that it is assumed that the Iranians received the design of the nuclear explosive device from Pakistan from the late unlamented doctor Abdul Qadir Khan, and thereby they know what to do,” he said.

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