Iran has ‘all the ingredients necessary’ to make a nuclear weapon.
The country has enriched more than seven tons of uranium to a low grade of five per cent, pure enough for a nuclear reactor, which with further enrichment could create five atom bombs, the Institute for National Security Studies, a think-tank with close government ties, said.
“They have all the ingredients necessary to make a nuclear bomb,” said Major General (ret) Amos Yadlin, the institute’s director, who recently retired as head of military intelligence for the Israeli Defence Force.
“The main challenge for 2013 will be for Israel to decide when is the time to do something.”
However, he added that Iran was not currently prepared to risk taking the process further. “It would take four or six months for Iran to enrich enough military-grade uranium, and in their eyes this is too long,” he said. “They don’t think they can get away with it.
“They are waiting for some international crisis, a distraction big enough to draw the eyes of the world away from their nuclear activity.”
The institute’s analysis suggests that Iran has set a “hold” on its nuclear programme at a spot on the edge of Israel’s so-called “red line”, the point at which it will take military action.
Israel set its “zone of immunity”, beyond which it would be impossible to prevent Iranian nuclear development, at a threshold of 3,000 centrifuges, the instruments that carry out the enrichment. At least 2,700 are in place.
Its red line is reaching “breakout capacity” – where it has enough enriched uranium and weaponiseing capacity to rush to build a bomb before anyone could stop it.
Iran has enriched to 20 per cent, and could easily enrich to the 90 per cent purity needed for weapons capability. But it recently diverted some of that stock to a research reactor.
The institute’s assessment suggests that Iran reacted positively to new offers of talks – both with its customary negotiating partners, the five permanent members of the security council plus Germany, and one-on-one with the United States – because of a belief that it was in a position of strength.
It also believes that President Barack Obama will be more amenable to making concessions that would tie Israel’s hands after his re-election.
“I am optimistic,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister, said on a visit to Berlin yesterday. “I feel this new administration is really this time seeking to at least divert from its previous traditional approach vis-à-vis my country.”
Mr Obama has previously indicated that his “red line” is the actual production of a bomb, rather than the so-called “breakout capacity” to make one.
The institute, for its annual report, also studied the implications of an Israeli attack. Gen Yadlin said it would be “doable” for Israel to tackle the Iranian threat alone, but that he had advised the government it should act only backed by the understanding of the international community – at the very least the United States – that all other options have been exhausted.
He said the response would not be as catastrophic as many feared. “We are of the more moderate school of thought,” he said. “We do not predict World War III with Iran destroying everything. There will be a reaction – they won’t be surprised like Saddam Hussein – but it will be calculated and efficient, because they know there will be a reaction to their reaction.”
On Sunday, Mr Salehi indicated the next round of “P5+1” talks with Iran would be in Kazakhstan on February 25.