It is five minutes past midnight in Armageddon and the Biden Administration continues to dither in how to decisively respond to Iran’s hastening pursuit of nuclear weapons. For nearly a year and a half, we cautioned this moment was fast approaching in time.
Now it is here. Washington finds itself in overtime and losing. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in a position to achieve a nuclear breakout as soon as New Year’s Day.
On Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed our worst suspicions concerning the pace of Iran’s nuclear weaponization program. “Iran,” it concluded, “has increased the rate at which it is producing near weapons grade uranium in recent weeks, reversing a previous slowdown that started in the middle of this year.”
According to the IAEA, Iranian enrichment of Uranium-235 to near weapons-grade level had increased to an estimated 9 kilograms per month by the end of November. It takes just five times that amount of uranium, enriched to 90 percent, to sustain a nuclear chain reaction for one nuclear bomb.
Presently, it is believed that Iran has enriched at least 128.3 kilograms of Uranium-235 to 60 percent, and 567.1 kilograms to 20 percent. Do the math based on Iran Watch’s estimates of its current centrifuge capacity, and Iran is now capable of enriching sufficient mass to 90 percent for three nuclear bombs in less than one week. Tehran could have a fourth bomb in one to two weeks more, and a fifth within roughly one month’s time.
For now, Iran’s ability to deliver the bombs remains questionable. But given Khamenei’s growing military partnership with Russia in Ukraine, and its continued alliance with North Korea, Iran now has sufficient access to the technical and manufacturing assistance needed to fit nuclear warheads to ICBMs for land, air or even potentially sea-based launches using Iran’s submarines. (Tehran is known to be working on sub-based ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.)
Predictably, Iran on Wednesday rejected the IAEA’s damning report on its enrichment acceleration. Mohammad Eslami claimed, “We did nothing new and are doing the same activities according to the rules.” Almost equally predictably, a White House national security official responded to the IAEA report saying the U.S. was “greatly concerned.”
Unfortunately, concern is not going to address this existential threat. Nor will United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’s tired call for a return to the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal. Whatever merits that deal may have had in kicking the can down the road, those are now effectively moot.
We are in a very different world now than when that deal was first made. Moscow and Beijing are actively engaged in the equivalent of an ideological World War III against the U.S. that is increasingly turning kinetic. Iran has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to undermine U.S. diplomacy and national security interests throughout the Middle East.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind the funding and planning of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. Tehran’s plunging of Gaza into war undermined U.S. efforts to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and Iran-sponsored militias including Hezbollah and the Houthis are actively attacking U.S. military and naval forces in Iraq, Syria, Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden.
As his country nears a nuclear breakout, Khamenei is only becoming bolder. On Dec. 23, the Pentagon reported that the Chem Pluto, a chemical tanker sailing from Saudi Arabia to India, was struck in the Indian Ocean “by a drone launched from Iran.” Iranian threats against the West and Europe are also starting to come fast and furious. On Christmas Eve, Tehran threatened to close the Straits of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea.
Iran will become bolder still if allowed to achieve nuclear status. We are on borrowed time now, rapidly approaching the point wherein a kinetic response will be the only option remaining.
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Jack Keane was right in early December when addressing Iran-backed attacks on U.S, forces. It is past time for the Biden administration to escalate against Iran in order to “shut them down.”
The same must now be said regarding Khamenei’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The U.S. must escalate to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power — as President Joe Biden has repeatedly pledged will not happen on his watch — or risk forcing Israel into a situation where Jerusalem concludes it must go it alone militarily against Tehran.
Biden and his national security team are at a nuclear inflection point with Iran. If the Biden administration is hesitant to address Iran now, imagine its hesitation to address Iran as a new nuclear power.
On the Doomsday Clock, it is already five minutes and counting past midnight in Armageddon. Unless the White House acts now, Iran’s status as a nuclear power will be a fait accompli.
Mark Toth, an economist and entrepreneur, is a former board member of the World Trade Center, St. Louis. Col. Jonathan Sweet (Ret.) served 30 years as a military intelligence officer and led the U.S. European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012 to 2014.
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