Israeli officials believe that Iran could soon begin enriching uranium to 84-percent purity — just a breath away from the 90-percent purity with which an atomic weapon can be created. Moreover, the Islamic Republic appears to be building a new nuclear site dug even deeper into a mountain than its underground Fordow uranium enrichment plant.
United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were shocked this past February to discover that Iran had apparently already enriched uranium to 83.7-percent purity.
Officials in Tehran later claimed the particles that were discovered by IAEA inspectors were not intentionally enriched, but were instead the byproducts of lower uranium enrichment processes. Tehran had previously told the agency that its centrifuges were configured to enrich uranium to a 60-percent purity, also a concern since it would be a simple matter to increase the purity level to 90-percent.
Israeli Officials Discuss Iran’s Uranium Enrichment, Underground Facility
But top Israeli political and defense officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and other high-ranking military officials aren’t convinced it was a “one-off,” according to a report by the Israel Hayom daily.
They met this week several times to discuss the discovery of the highly-enriched uranium particles, and the likelihood that Iran will soon ramp up its uranium enrichment to at least 84-percent purity.
Israel has also made it clear the IDF will act if the circumstances warrant.
Speaking to the 2023 Herzliya Conference earlier this week, Halevi said Israel is closely monitoring Iran’s nuclear program. The IDF chief of staff reiterated that Israel’s military is prepared to take action.
“There are possible negative developments on the horizon and that can bring about action,” he warned. “We have capabilities. Others have capabilities, and this is a very significant and important matter.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized — as has US President Joe Biden — that he will not allow Iran to achieve creation of a nuclear weapon. Iran has said many times that it intends to wipe Israel “off the international map.”
Iran Building New ‘Unreachable’ Nuclear Plant
This week, new satellite images from Planet Labs PBC showed the construction of a new Iranian nuclear development facility near the peak of the Zagros Mountains in central Iran, close to the existing Natanz uranium enrichment complex.
The new facility appears to be situated at least 328 feet (100 meters) below the surface, the Associated Press reported.
US officials have expressed concern the plant may so deep, it could be “totally impenetrable” by US weapons systems, including America’s massive, last-ditch bunker-buster bombs that are designed to reach such targets.
Completion of the new plant “would be a nightmare scenario that risks igniting a new escalatory spiral,” Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, told the Associated Press.
“Given how close Iran is to a bomb, it has very little room to ratchet up its program without tripping US and Israeli red lines. So at this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict.”
‘Israel: No Place is Unreachable’
Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told attendees at the 2023 Herzliya Conference this week that no place is unreachable, regardless of the challenges involved.
Israel was not surprised by the reports that Iran is building a new underground Iranian nuclear facility that might be impervious to US bunker-buster bombs, Hanegbi said.
But he added that although such a move could “limit the ability to attack,” ultimately,
“What is possible to say about this matter is that there is no place that can’t be reached.”
Hanegbi declined to say whether Israel had the ability to carry out such an attack alone.
“We hope we won’t get to a situation where the solution to the story of a nuclear weapon in Iran is a kinetic solution, a solution involving an attack,” he said.
Hanegbi added that Israel still prefers to see the international standoff with Iran resolved through diplomatic means.
Iran Denies Report on New Underground Nuclear Facility
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization director Mohammad Eslami denied the US and Israeli reports on the construction of the new facility, however, calling them “claims and fabrications.”
“whenever the conditions of the Zionists in the region and in their own environment become difficult, they intensify these psychological operations and claims more and more,” he said, according to a report by the Iranian “Young Journalist Club” news site.
“These claims and fabrications have no validity. Iran works according to the standards and safeguards of the agency and any activity it wants to carry out is coordinated with the agency,” Eslami added.