Israeli Officials Warn of Rapid Uranium Enrichment by Iran

New technology could allow Iran to secretly bypass Israeli red line


JERUSALEM—The red line drawn by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Iran’s nuclear program has been rendered obsolete by technology, according to Israeli officials who are pushing for a concerted new effort to block Iran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu warned in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last year that if Iran enriches 250 kilograms of uranium to a level of 20 percent it would be in position to make a secret dash for nuclear weapon production before the international community could stop it. Netanyahu then hinted at Israeli military action if Iran tried it.

Although Iran indeed slowed its enrichment program following his talk—it has today 170 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent—Israeli officials have told Ha’aretz that in recent months the Iranians have found a way to circumvent Netanyahu’s red line.

The International  Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported last month that Iran has installed 1,000 new generation centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear installation. The devices have greater enrichment efficiency, the Israeli officials say, and could produce enriched uranium four or five times faster than older centrifuges.

This would permit them to skip the 20 percent stage and enrich uranium rapidly from 3.5 percent to 90 percent, which is weapons-grade level. Thus Tehran’s hints about being flexible about its 20 percent stockpile are meaningless, they say, because it could reach nuclear capability without going through that intermediate stage.

Ephraim Asculai and Emily Landau, in a paper published by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, warned about Iran's potential for a nuclear breakout.

Iran's potential "to produce a nuclear weapon so quickly that the world will find out about it only after it becomes a fait accompli" must be on the table during the next round of negotiations conducted with Iran by the IAEA, they said.

IAEA-Iran talks will be held Friday in Vienna.

Although Iranian leaders have said they have no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, Asculai and Landau said that Tehran has not yet displayed the transparency needed to assure the world.

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