JERUSALEM — Iran has come perilously close to enriching uranium for a nuclear bomb, but the regime has yet to cross the critical threshold of declaring it has built an atomic weapon.
Fox News Digital reached out to experts in Iran’s more than two-decade effort to join the small group of countries that possess atomic weapons for explanations of what is preventing Tehran from crossing the nuclear threshold.
“If there is reason to believe that there are a number of retarders that have stopped the development of their weapons, they would relate to targeted attacks by the US and Israel, who are clearly very concerned about deterring the mullahs,” he said. said Lisa Daftari, an Iran expert and editor-in-chief of the Foreign Desk.
Daftari added: “Israel has conducted at least two dozen operations targeting Iran’s regime over the last 15 years, including drone strikes, cyberattacks, if you remember Stuxnet, and assassinations of key players in Iran’s nuclear program.”
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“We cannot underestimate the power of international pressure on the regime in Iran,” Daftari told Fox News Digital.
“That pressure has been eased under this current administration, which, while backing away from the nuclear deal, still hopes to revive some form of normalization agreement with Tehran. If not, when there is consistent and targeted pressure on Iran’s regime in the form of sanctions imposed and economic and political isolation, we see a weakened regime and an emboldened Iranian people who are brave enough to take to the streets,” she said.
Kamal Kharrazi, a senior adviser to Iran’s regime’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, boasted last year that “Iran is on the nuclear threshold, and this is not a secret thing,” according to a 2022 report. in the state-controlled Tehran Times. .
Just this year, the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that Iran’s regime enriched uranium to 84% purity, 6% short of the 90% enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s regime is testing the resolve of the United States and other world powers who have repeatedly declared they will not allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon. Israel views Tehran’s atomic weapons program as an existential threat because Tehran has often declared that it seeks to eliminate it.
“It is an open question whether Khamenei wants to die as the father of the Shia atomic bomb or as the one who kept the Islamic Republic on the nuclear path without provoking a war or pulling the trigger,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow and Iran expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, he told Fox News Digital.
“Currently, however, Khamenei’s realization of successful diplomatic and security policy abroad and ascendancy at all costs at home may be enough to push him over the edge as he continues to age,” added Taleblu, who recently wrote a comprehensive assessment of Iran’s ballistic missile. capabilities and intentions.
Fox News Digital reported this week that Iran is digging tunnels near a peak in the Zagros Mountains in central Iran to protect a nuclear facility from attacks with conventional weapons.
In addition to technological impediments to building a modern nuclear weapon, Iran’s regime has faced deterrence from both Israel and the United States over the years, including the Stuxnet computer worm’s sabotage of the regime’s nuclear fuel production system. .
“I think Iran’s leadership so far has calculated that the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits at this point – particularly a destructive strike that targets its entire nuclear infrastructure,” Jason Brodsky, director of policy at United Against a Nuclear Iran, based in the US ( UANI), he told Fox News Digital.
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“But my concern is that the calculus is in danger of changing as the US and European non-response to Iran’s nuclear escalation over the past two years – for example, 60% enrichment and production of metallic uranium – has emboldened leadership. from Tehran to continue testing international red lines”.
Brodsky added that “if this perception is not changed, it is likely that Iran will enrich uranium to weapons-quality levels at 90%. Tehran’s risk aversion so far shows that it can be deterred. But that could change quickly if the Islamic Republic is not resisted as it advances its nuclear program.”
Earlier this month, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that the Biden administration “made it clear to Iran that it can never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. Like the president Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed, he will take the necessary steps to uphold this declaration, including recognizing Israel’s freedom of action.”
“We restore unity of purpose between the United States and Europe and much of the world against Iranian provocations and nuclear activities,” he said, also noting that the US was putting pressure on “Iran through sanctions.”
“Iran has not crossed the threshold of building a nuclear weapon because the supreme leader has not decided to weaponize the program,” Joel Rubin, a former assistant deputy secretary of state who served in the Obama administration, told Fox News Digital.
“This position has been confirmed by several assessments by the US intelligence community over the past several years.” He continued that “While only the supreme leader can truly say why he took this position, the continued diplomatic isolation from the international community that followed the expansion of its nuclear program is known to be causing the Iranian regime pain.”
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Rubin said it was clear that Tehran was “still open to going down a diplomatic path, as it knows that if it crosses over to nuclear arsenals for weapons, which it is capable of doing, the nation will become even more isolated internationally – even by its allies. This would trigger a regional nuclear arms race, and Tehran would never escape the sanctions pressure it is currently facing,” he said.
“What has been clear in recent years is that a firm and verifiable diplomatic agreement with Iran on its nuclear program is the best way to ensure that it never obtains a nuclear weapon. Military threats alone will not get us there,” concluded Rubin.
Low-intensity military deterrence against Iran’s regime has been going on for several years, according to Israeli media.
“We have the capability to hit Iran,” Israel’s defense chief warned this week.
The US military and Israel Defense Forces launched a joint exercise, the Juniper Falcon, in February. The IDF website stated, “The exercise tested collective US-Israeli readiness and strengthened interoperability between the two militaries”, the IDF stated on its website after the exercise.
However, there are growing concerns that the Biden administration is not putting enough pressure on Iran’s regime to change its ways. More than 100 former world leaders urged Biden this week to get tough on Iran.
Earlier this week, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said during a visit to Hatzor Air Base that Israel is preparing for a “complex, difficult and more significant objective”.
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Military deterrence has been the biggest factor in slowing down Iran’s illicit nuclear program. The rattling of US sabers influenced a change in the behavior of the Islamic Republic.
In 2007, a declassified US national intelligence estimate determined with “high confidence” that Iran’s regime stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Iranian experts believe that the Islamic Republic temporarily ended its illegal atomic program due to the US invasion of the Iraq and fears the US would launch a military incursion into Iran.
The mere survival of the Iranian regime forced then-Supreme Leader Khomeini to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq in 1988 after eight years of war. At the time, he likened the truce to drinking from “a goblet of poison”.
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American pressure led Khomeini to release American hostages in 1981 during the diplomatic crisis. All of these examples suggest that Iran’s regime is extremely vulnerable to military pressure and other forms of influence that threaten its legitimacy and existence.
“Iran’s regime is quite calculating,” Daftari said. “As dishonest as they have been in capturing oil tankers at sea, continuing to support regional terror and, of course, the brutal mass executions of innocent protesters, they continue to weigh the consequences of a heated military confrontation with Israel or the United States. United.”