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Iran edging closer to nuclear bomb, Israeli defense officials assess – report

Officials said to tell Gantz Tehran hasn’t increased uranium enrichment during pandemic, but is still just 2 years away from bomb

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Israeli defense officials believe Iran hasn’t increased the pace of its nuclear enrichment in recent months, but nevertheless could be just two years from producing an atomic weapon, a report said Sunday.

The Walla news site quoted the unnamed senior officials as saying Jerusalem estimates the Islamic Republic continues to enrich uranium at a four percent level, the same as when the coronavirus crisis hit earlier this year.

However, the report said Defense Minister Benny Gantz has been presented with an assessment that Tehran is just six months away from producing all the components of an atomic bomb, and two years away from assembling such a bomb.

The sources were quoted as saying that if Iran decides to hasten its enrichment, Israel would have to “reconsider” its reaction to the development and to the crumbling of the 2015 nuclear deal, with “all options” put on the table.

They said that full attention was not being currently paid to the subject by US President Donald Trump’s administration, which is preoccupied with his reelection campaign.

US President Donald Trump delivers the commencement address at the 2020 US Military Academy Graduation Ceremony at West Point, New York, on June 13, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

Still, the officials added that Trump’s term was very positive toward Israel and included security cooperation at levels not seen for decades. Some officials were said to fear that a change of power in Washington would set back Israel in its struggle against Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report earlier this month that Iran was breaching the landmark pact and has for months blocked inspections at two sites where nuclear activity may have occurred in the past.

The Vienna-based agency noted “with serious concern that, for over four months, Iran has denied access to the agency… to two locations.”

Iran insisted Thursday that it was ready to resolve any issues with the UN nuclear watchdog, expressing “disappointment” over the IAEA’s report.

The Bushehr nuclear power plant outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour)

Iran argues that the requests for access are based on “fabricated information,” accusing the United States and Israel of trying to “exert pressure on the agency.”

Israel has claimed that its intelligence services have new information on Iran’s alleged previous nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA has said that its access requests were based on “concrete information” that had been validated. The report is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the agency’s board of governors starting Monday.

In a separate report, also to be discussed during the board meeting, the IAEA warned that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is now almost eight times the limit set in the nuclear deal the country signed with world powers in 2015.

Iran has been progressively breaking restrictions laid down in the 2015 deal in retaliation for US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and its subsequent re-imposition of sanctions.

AFP contributed to this report.

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