Later this month, representatives of the world powers and Iran will meet in Vienna to discuss reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Cooperation – the Iran nuclear deal. In the runup to the talks, the United States and Israel have reiterated their determination to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Both have stated their preference for a diplomatic means of achieving that goal. But there the symmetry ends. While the United States can live with an Iran that has the ability to make a bomb but doesn’t do so, Israel simply cannot.
The disparity was clear at a recent press conference with Secretary State Anthony Blinken and Israeli and Emirati counterparts. Blinken reiterated his administration’s longstanding insistence that “Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.” By contrast, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned that “Iran is becoming a nuclear threshold country,” and that Israelis “have no intention of letting this happen.”
What is the difference between an Iran that could quickly make a bomb and an Iran that already has one? Why would America implicitly accept a threshold-capable Iran while Israel regards it as a strategic – and potentially existential – threat?
“Threshold” describes a nuclear program that has all the components necessary for swiftly making a bomb. Enriching uranium to the 90% level necessary for weaponization takes as much as two years. But by enriching uranium to 60%, as it does now, Iran has completed the longest stretch of the process and is now installing centrifuges capable of spinning four or even six times faster than the current rate. Once it decides to break out and create a nuclear arsenal, Iran can do so in a matter of weeks or even days – well before the international community could react.
And Iran will inevitably break out. Several countries have what is sometimes called “Japan-like capabilities,” a reference to Japan’s own threshold nuclear program. But Japan is not Iran, a country ruled by the world’s largest state-sponsors of terror, which works to overthrow pro-Western governments, and vows to wipe Israel off the map. Having the ability to make a bomb, no matter how quickly, will not suffice for Iranian rulers. They saw what happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, both of whom forfeited their nuclear ambitions and died, and what didn’t happen to Kim Jung-un, who kept his and become almost untouchable. Yet, beyond regime survival, the bomb is vital for Iranian prestige. A weapon possessed by Sunni Pakistan, Hindu India, and, presumably, by the Jewish State cannot be denied to the Shiite Islamic Republic. READ MORE
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