On December 17, 2022, Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said, “Currently, the enrichment capacity of the country has reached more than twice the entire history of this industry.”
International Atomic Energy Agency said in November that according to its assessment, as of October 22, Iran has an estimated 62.3 kilograms (137.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to up to 60% fissile purity.
That amounts to an increase of 6.7 kilograms since the IAEA’s last report in September. That enrichment to 60% purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Nonproliferation experts have warned recently that Iran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
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Containing Nuclear Proliferation A Lost Opportunity?
Seeds of Iran going nuclear were sown by the infamous JCPOA agreement signed between Iran and P 5 +1 in 2015. This deal was orchestrated by the Obama administration, hoping that Iran would reverse its decision to go nuclear.
Trump administration pulled out of the agreement in 2018, stating that Iran continued to develop launch capability and set up a vast network of centrifuges at its NATANZ nuclear project, allowing the country to enrich uranium to weapons-grade.
During the past four years series of negotiations and meetings have been held with the following aims:
- Firstly, to revive the dead JCPOA agreement by bringing the USA to rejoin.
- Secondly and more importantly, to contain Iran’s Uranium enrichment capability.
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While the world has moved on but few extremely significant events have taken place/are taking place, especially in the domain of nations opting to go nuclear. The Russia-Ukraine war has acted as a catalyst for the fence-sitting countries to acquire nuclear capability.
It is evident beyond an iota of doubt that had Ukraine not surrendered its nuclear weapons in a moment of self-aggrandizement, it would not have faced the destruction and near-total demolition of a large part of Ukraine.
The above situation viewed in the context of North Korea highlights the stark reality in ample measure. With capable launch vehicles to reach mainland USA, North Korea will likely carry out the seventh nuclear test soon.
With all WMDs at their command, the USA, France, Germany, and the UK combined are dumbfounded to find ways to contain North Korea’s offensive posturing.
The mirror image situation is also seen in Taiwan. President Xi has been categorical in stating that while peaceful assimilation of Taiwan with mainland China was desirable, China does not rule out a military option or words to that effect.
Conventionally, Taiwan will not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Chinese military in the long term. But if Taiwan were to have a nuclear weapon, China would think twice before attacking Taiwan.
However, Taiwan has a fairly potent weapon, which even USA does not have. The super microchip manufacturing capability places Taiwan in a numero uno position on the list of microchip manufacturers. Microchips are the lifeline of everything we use today, from smartphones to deadly ICBMs.
Destruction of the manufacturing facility will take the world into the dark ages. Samsung in South Korea is the only facility that can match Taiwan in microchip production. China’s protégé, North Korea, may threaten even this facility.
Containing nuclear proliferation, therefore, is a lost opportunity. The Ukraine model will encourage smaller nations with the technical and financial muscle to go nuclear so that no nuclear-capable country can blackmail them.
The Looming Israeli Threat
Dealing specifically with the Iranian nuclear conundrum, Israel has just held its fifth general election in four years. Benjamin Netanyahu is back. Israel has already made its intent clear. It will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and will strike Iranian nuclear facilities.
However, Israel is unlikely to have a free run as it had while attacking and destroying Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities. Iran has considered this and constructed/developed nuclear facilities in multiple places deeply embedded into hills.
Currently, Israel cannot penetrate Iranian facilities embedded into mountains unless the USA comes to aid and provides the most powerful bomb capable of penetrating deep.
Also, Iranian targets are outside the limits of existing Israeli fighters/bombers. That can be overcome with mid-air refueling, preferably during outbound leg over friendly or not-so-hostile territory.
Current IAEA findings of traces of uranium at three unspecified yet undisclosed locations would possibly trigger Israel to exercise its option to strike. With the world focused on the Ukraine-Russia war, an Israeli strike appears highly probable. I would place the probability quotient on a nine-point probability scale at seven.
Should/do the Iran-Israel conflict worry India? Should/do Chinese offensive posturing worry India? Should/do North Korea-Pakistan bonhomie worry India?
Surely foreign service mandarins and strategic experts must be scratching their brains. Will there be a positive/decisive outcome, or shall we, as always, remain confined to the sphere of indecision?
It may be of interest to everyone that Carnegie Establishment in the USA has been categorical in suggesting that India should exercise its option to carry out a thermonuclear test.
It is another issue that pseudo-Indian strategists, both military and civilian, do not have the guts to recommend shedding our ideological response/policy of ‘No first use of nukes’ to ‘Need-based first use.’
Incidentally, former Indian defense minister, Late Manohar Parrikar, had explicitly stated that all weapons, including nukes, are meant to be used. Changing from NFU to NBFU will impose severe restrictions on China and Pakistan.
It may even define the threshold of our tolerance to their offensive actions, which both nations have resorted to from time to time.
According to IAEA reports and numerous other sources, it is evident that Iran is highly close to enriching uranium to weapon grade. If modified/altered, JCPOA comes into force. It may have already become irrelevant.
And finally, the famous words of the most brilliant strategist of modern times, Chanakya; ‘It is the intent and not a capability that acts as a deterrent.’