Iran’s new nuclear threat
    Weaponizing threshold status

    WORLD  25 June 2024 - 22:03

    In a recent analysis published by Foreign Affairs, the evolving nuclear strategy of Iran has come under scrutiny, highlighting Tehran's adept use of its threshold status to wield influence in regional and global geopolitics.

    In April, tensions in the Middle East escalated dramatically when Tehran launched over 300 missiles and drones at Israel in retaliation for an Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria. This marked Iran's first direct attack on Israel, with international inspectors avoiding Iran's nuclear sites due to fears of retaliation. Iran's military commander warned that any Israeli attack on these sites could lead Tehran to reconsider its nuclear doctrine, hinting at the possibility of building nuclear weapons.

    Iran has long used the threat of nuclear expansion to mitigate international pressure. The military commander’s recent statements, however, reflect a more dangerous strategy: leveraging Iran’s enhanced nuclear capabilities as a deterrent. Although evidence suggests Iran is not actively developing nuclear weapons, it has acquired the capabilities necessary to produce a bomb quickly, making it a threshold state. Iran can now produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb within days. By emphasizing its potential to make nuclear weapons, Iran aims to deter international sanctions and prevent attacks on its nuclear program.

    However, this approach carries significant risks. Tehran remains aware of the security costs associated with developing nuclear weapons. While stopping Iran from producing a bomb is challenging, reducing its nuclear capabilities is even more difficult. The United States must prioritize this issue, using diplomatic and economic measures to prevent Iran from becoming a permanent threshold state or acquiring nuclear weapons.

    In 2023, when France, Germany, and the United Kingdom threatened to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran if it enriched uranium to weapons grade or transferred missiles to Russia, Tehran threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would eliminate the primary legal barrier to Iran developing nuclear weapons and likely end international monitoring of its nuclear program. Although these threats have so far prevented Iran from enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels, the crisis remains unresolved.

    During the recent conflict in Gaza, Iran has attacked Israel, U.S. forces, and international shipping through its proxy groups, using its nuclear program as leverage. Iran's leaders have highlighted their threshold capability, seeing it as an asset. For instance, Iran reconfigured its advanced centrifuges to produce material close to weapons-grade uranium, signalling its potential to escalate its nuclear program.

    Iranian officials have increasingly discussed the country’s ability to build nuclear weapons and the conditions under which they might do so. In January, the head of Iran’s nuclear program emphasized the deterrent value of Iran’s nuclear latency. His predecessor, Ali Akbar Salehi, confirmed that Iran has crossed all scientific and technical thresholds necessary to build a bomb. This rhetoric suggests Iran’s leadership sees value in maintaining its nuclear threshold status.

    The U.S. and its allies must manage these threats and prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Iran’s redlines appear to be the reimposition of UN sanctions or a military strike on its nuclear program. Tehran must be persuaded to allow greater access to its nuclear sites to provide reassurance. The U.S. should also counter Iran’s bomb-making rhetoric diplomatically, with France, Germany, and the UK condemning Iran’s threats.

    If Iran continues to move closer to a bomb, the U.S. and its allies must detect and respond to these actions swiftly. This requires enhanced intelligence and coordinated response plans. Publicly exposing any undisclosed Iranian nuclear activities could build international pressure on Iran and reduce its confidence in covertly developing nuclear weapons.

    Securing a deal to roll back Iran’s nuclear program is crucial, but challenging. The deadline is October 2025, after which international sanctions might expire, and Iran's nuclear program could be removed from the UN Security Council’s agenda. The U.S. should work with allies to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran without provoking nuclear escalation, aiming for a diplomatic solution before this critical deadline. This strategy, although risky, is preferable to the alternatives of a nuclear-armed Iran or a permanent nuclear threshold state.

    Caliber.Az

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