Israel Briefing Book
Fact Sheet: The Threat From Iran
Iran is one of the foremost, self-proclaimed enemies of the West and one of the
most serious threats to stability in the Middle East.
The Iranian government’s extreme interpretation of Islamic
law, and its anti-Western philosophy, inspire the rise of Islamic extremists across the world. Iran is also one of the principal state
sponsors of terror, proudly delivering weapons to Hezbollah members in Lebanon and terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian
Authority. Additionally, the regime in Iran continues to provide safe haven for terrorists, including some of al-Qaeda's senior leaders such as Yasin al-Suri, Saif al-Adel and Abu Muhammad al-Masri who have been hunted by the United States for over a decade. Moreover, Iranian agents have been implicated in many anti-Western
and anti-Israel terrorist attacks, including bombings that have killed U.S. servicemen in Iraq and the foiled attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. in October 2011.
But above all these concerns, the most menacing threat that Iran poses to international security and stability emanates from the fact it is harnessing nuclear energy for the purpose of developing a nuclear bomb. In 2005, Iran made its first advance in the production
of enriched uranium and subsequently established a secret nuclear research center to train
scientists in all aspects of atomic technology. Intelligence released in 2012 shows that Iran has now amassed some 10,000 functioning centrifuges and has streamlined the uranium enrichment process enough that when they convert their five tons of low-grade fissile material into high-grade material, it would be enough to make about five to six bombs.
Analysts believe that it will take Iran nine months,
from the moment an order is given, to assemble their first explosive
device and another six months to be able to reduce it to the dimensions
of a missile payload. With an updated weapons arsenal that includes
missiles such as the Sagil and Shahab-3, both with ranges capable of
reaching not only Israel, but also vast stretches of Eastern and Southern
Europe, and the entire Arabian peninsula and Egypt, the Iranian nuclear
program is no longer being taken lightly.
Through both unilateral and multilateral efforts, the international community has joined together to preempt the Iranian nuclear progress. The United States, European Union, Federation of Gulf States, Israel and the United Nations are working together in order to deter what could become the greatest threat to world peace and stability since World War II.
In the United States,
the Defense Department, CIA and other military services believe Iran
is working to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb. In April 2009, Admiral
Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he thinks
“the Iranians are on a path to building nuclear weapons.”
His suspicions were confirmed in January 2012 when Defense Secretary
Leon Panetta said the United States believes Iran is one year away from
developing a nuclear weapon. "The United States ... does not want
Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us," Panetta
said. "If they proceed ... with developing a nuclear weapon then
we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it." U.S. Director
of National Intelligence James Clapper has even warned that Iran has
"changed their calculus" with regards to targets and may be
more likely to attack the American homeland. In response to the growing
sense of urgency, President
Obama has imposed
sanctions against companies doing business with Iran, the Treasury
Department has worked to freeze
Iranian financial assets and new measures have been passed by Congress
to halt transactions with Iran's Central Bank.
In Europe, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the
Moscow-based Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, is convinced that
if the Iranians are "able to develop intercontinental ballistic
missiles in the near future ... they will most likely be able to threaten
the whole of Europe." This fear has led countries such as France, Germany and Great
Britain to spearhead a European Union effort to convince Iran to
abandon its nuclear ambitions.
In January 2012, their efforts reached a new level
when the European Union foreign ministers agreed to adopt an "unprecedented"
oil embargo against Iran in addition to freezing the assets of Iran's
central bank. "We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran
has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already
exporting and threatening violence around its region," British Prime
Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German
Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.
The International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran is creating nuclear
weapons and reiterated the need to address this situation as soon as
possible. Director General Yukiya Amano has confirmed that he believes
Iran is creating nuclear weapons and that they must be stopped. In November
2011, Amano and his board of governors released the IAEA's fourth
report of the year reconfirming that Iran is working to build a
nuclear weapon and raising the alarm that the world must take steps
to prevent Iran from achieving their goal. "What we know suggests the
development of nuclear weapons," Amano said. "I
have absolutely no reason to soften my report," he added. "It
is my responsibility to alert the world, from the indicators I had,
I draw the conclusion that it is time to call the world's attention
to this risk."
Across the Arab Middle East, the Iranian nuclear program
is raising grave concerns with regards to Iran's intentions for regional
dominance. In 2009, then-Egyptian President Mubarak said, "A nuclear armed Iran with hegemonic ambitions is the greatest
threat to Arab nations today.” In 2011, Saudi
Arabian government officials noted, “We cannot live in a situation
where Iran has nuclear weapons ... If Iran develops a nuclear weapon,
that will be unacceptable to us.” Former U.S. Defense Secretary
William Cohen even said that "there is greater fear of Iran [in
the Gulf] than there is animus toward Israel.” Saudi Prince Turki
al-Faisal has implicitly noted that if Iran achieved nuclear power it
would "lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences"
including an arms race across the Middle East. Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia,
the UAE and Saudi
Arabia have now all expressed explicit interest in building nuclear
weapons. If Iran developed a nuclear weapon it would also give unparalleled
impunity to the actions of its terrorist proxies in the region - Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. As Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud
Barak puts it, if Iran had nuclear capability, then retaliating
against an attack from Hamas or Hezbollah "would be tantamount
to an attack on Iran," and would thus restrict an aggressive range
A nuclear Iran would also limit Israel's ability to
protect itself from Iranian sponsored terrorists in the region, in particular
Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. As Israeli Minister of Defense
Ehud Barak puts it, if Iran had nuclear capability, then retaliating
against an attack from Hamas or Hezbollah "would be tantamount
to an attack on Iran," and would thus restrict an aggressive range
Israel has repeatedly stated that it cannot tolerate
a nuclear armed Iran. Consequently, Israel has been vocal in advocating
an international sanctions regime that is sufficiently punitive to convince
the Iranians to abandon their project. In the absence of sufficiently
restrictive sanctions, the fear is that a military response will be
necessary. Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon noted that
there is little daylight between Israeli and American intelligence estimates
on how close Iran is to pass a point of no return where it will be difficult,
if not impossible, to stop them from building a weapon. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained, Iran
is closing in on its its "immunity zone" - the point when
its accumulated know-how, raw materials, experience and equipment (as
well as the distribution of materials among its underground facilities)
would mean any military strike would fail in derailing the nuclear project.
are major developments in the ongoing saga of the Iranian nuclear program:
- In January 2012, Israel Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Israel believes "Iran's nuclear development is clearly intended for military purposes." This came in the wake of an Iranian request from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to begin enriching their uranium to a 90% grade. 90% is generally viewed as an indication of weapons-grade material. (Israel Hayom, January 31, 2012)
- In Janaury 2012, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the United States believes Iran is one year away from developing a nuclear weapon and possibly two years shy of being able to mount it on a deliverable weapons system. "The United States ... does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us. And it's a red line obviously for the Israelis so we share a common goal here," Panetta said. "If they proceed and we get intelligence that they're proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it," he added. (Haaretz, January 30, 2012)
- In January 2012, the European Union adopted an "unprecedented" resolution calling for an embargo on Iranian oil and petroleum imports to European nations. Europe has been one of the leading importers of Iranian oil and an embargo of this nature is meant to show Iran the West's resolve in working towards an end to development in its nuclear weapons program. The EU foreign ministers also passed a resolution freezing all assets of the Iranian central bank in Europe. (BBC, January 23, 2012)
- In January 2012, Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, made clear that he believes the Iranians are developing nuclear energy in order to create atomic or nuclear bombs and that he feels the Iranians have been less than open about their true intentions. "What we know suggests the development of nuclear weapons," Amano said in his interview with the Financial Times of Germany. "I have absolutely no reason to soften my report," he added. "It is my responsibility to alert the world, from the indicators I had, I draw the conclusion that it is time to call the world's attention to this risk." Iranian representatives to the IAEA responded to the comments by saying their country was open to discussing any issues about their nuclear energy program in a series of talks scheduled in Tehran for the end of January. (Reuters, January 19, 2012)
- In the Winter 2011/2012, a string of suspicious explosions
hit various sites in Iran and killed a number of Iranian nuclear scientists.
- On November 12, an explosion at a Revolutionary Guard Corps weapons
depot near Tehran (in Karaj) killed 17 soldiers, including an IRGC
rocket expert and long-range missile research specialist. (Washington
Post, November 12, 2011)
- On November 28, a large explosion
rocked the Iranian city of Isfahan (where a military complex is located)
as the government issued conflicting reports thought to deny any notions
of damage by way of sabotage on its nuclear sites. (Telegraph,
November 28, 2011)
- On November 30, there was a blast
on a military facility in the Iranian city of Khorramabad near the
- On December 14, there was an attack against a plant that
manufactures a particular type of steel that is used for nose cones
and other parts of missiles. (Foundation
for the Defense of Democracies, December 14, 2011)
- On January 11, 2012, nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated when a bomb detonated in his car. Iranian Lawmaker Kazem Jalali immediately blamed both the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services for the strike, though both categorically denied any involvement. (CNN, Jan 11, 2012).
- In December 2011, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal noted that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, “[it] would compel Saudi Arabia…to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences”. One of his officials clarified the vague statement by saying, “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.” (New York Times, December 6, 2011)
- In November 2011, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to comply, fully and without delay, to its obligations under resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council and to intensify their dialogue with in order to resolve questions regarding their nuclear development. The resolution expressed support for a diplomatic, negotiated solution to the growing problem in order to restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. This resolution came on the heels of yet another IAEA report - the fourth released in 2011 alone - that confirmed fears that Iran seems to be working towards the development of a nuclear weapon.
- In November 2011, the US government took two distinct, yet tangible steps to halt funding to Iran in an effort to curb its nuclear programs. These steps by the Obama
Administration sent an unequivocal message to the Government
of Iran that it will continue to face increasing international
pressure until it addresses the international community's legitimate
concerns regarding the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.
- On November 19, President Obama signed Executive Order 13590 that imposed sanctions on anyone doing business with Iran's energy or chemical programs. If a person is found to have provided a good, service, technology, or support to Iran described in E.O. 13590, the Secretary of State, in consultation with other agencies, has the authority to impose sanctions on these people or businesses, including prohibitions on foreign or banking transactions and property transactions in the United States.
- Additionally, the US Department of the Treasury identified
Iran as a jurisdiction
of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA
PATRIOT Act based on Iran's support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons
of mass destruction and the illicit and deceptive financial activities
that Iranian financial institutions - including the Central Bank of
Iran - and other state-controlled entities engage in to facilitate Iran's
illicit conduct and evade sanctions
- On September 3, 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on the Iranian nuclear program that expressed grave concern on Tehran's experimental work to develop nuclear weapons, saying that it is becoming "increasingly concerned" at the advancements. The IAEA said Iran has begun deploying so-called second-generation centrifuges at its largest uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which could allow the country to produce nuclear fuel at three times its current rate. (Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2011).
- In September 2011, Iran moved its most critical nuclear
fuel production to a highly guarded underground military facility outside
the city of Qum, where - according to intelligence officials - it is
less vulnerable to an air or cyberattack such as the 2010 Stuxnet computer
worm that reportedly set back Iran's nuclear program by a year or two.
York Times, September 2, 2011).
- In June 2011, a UN panel of experts,
which was convened after the UN Security Council imposed stiffer sanctions
against in Iran in 2010, released a report which compiled information
provided by Security Council member nations, monitors sent to various
countries where unauthorized Iranian activity has been uncovered and
input from outside experts on Iran's development of medium- and long-range
missiles, nuclear program and weapons-smuggling operations. The report
warned: "Iran's circumvention of sanctions across all areas, in particular
the use of front companies, concealment methods in shipping, financial
transactions and the transfer of conventional arms and related materiel,
is willful and continuing. Iran maintains its uranium enrichment and
heavy water-related activities, as noted in reporting by the International
Atomic Energy Agency, and in the area of ballistic missiles, continues
to test missiles and engage in prohibited procurement." According
to the report, in a period of less than six months, the Iranians launched
Sejil and Shahab 3 missiles on three occasions, and conducted an additional
trial of the Fateh-110 missile. (Haaretz,
June 10, 2011).
- In April 2011, scientists from
Iran's atomic energy program announced that they had successfully
tested advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium and were less than
a month away from starting Iran's first commercial nuclear reactor.
Though the advances were not yet fully implemented, the announcements
countered international perceptions that Iran's nuclear program had
suffered significant setbacks during a series of cyber attacks on
the country’s main uranium enrichment facilities in 2009 and
2010 and prompted some experts to redraw their forecasts for how quickly
the country could build an atomic arsenal (Washington
Post, April 14, 2011).
- A January 2011 summit of six world powers meeting with Iran to discuss freezing its uranium enrichment program, failed after two days of negotiations in which Iran demanded an end to UN sanctions and an agreement that it could continue to enrich. Tehran rejected proposals for improved UN monitoring of Iran's nuclear activities and the revival of a subset of international talks focusing on Iran shipping out a limited amount of its enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for its research reactor (Jerusalem Post, January 22, 2011).
- In January 2011, the top-secret Manhattan Project published a study warning against Western complacency over Iran's nuclear drive as they found that Tehran had boosted its capacity to build an atomic bomb during 2010. According to the Federation of American Scientists, after examining data provided by the IAEA, the enrichment capacity of gas centrifuges at Iran's main enrichment plan in Natanz was more efficient in 2010 than in previous years (AFP, January 21, 2011).
- In August 2010, Iran announced that it had selected the locations inside protected mountain strongholds where it would build 10 new uranium enrichment sites. In an additional move seen as retaliation against the international community for its sanctions against Iran, President Ahmadinejad also announced the implementation of a new law banning the Iranian government from anything beyond the minimum level of cooperation with the IAEA (AP, August 16, 2010).
- The May 2010 IAEA report said that Iran had produced
a stockpile of nuclear fuel that, with further enrichment, would be
sufficient to build two nuclear weapons. In addition, the report said
Iran expanded work at Natanz and that inspectors were denied access
to facilities and their questions had gone unanswered (New
York Times, May 31, 2010).
- In January 2010, President Obama's top advisers said
they did not believe the government's earlier National Intelligence
Estimate's conclusion that Iranian scientists ended all work on designing
a nuclear warhead in late 2003 (New
York Times, January 2, 2010). The following month, President
Obama announced new unilateral sanctions by the United States, freezing
“the assets in U.S. jurisdictions of a Revolutionary Guard general
and four subsidiaries of a construction firm he runs for their alleged
involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.”
A day later, Iran announced it had begun enriching uranium to a higher
level of purity, 20 percent, which is a step closer to producing weapons-grade
Post, February 11, 2010).
- On September 25, 2009, it was disclosed that Iran had
a second fuel enrichment plant. The United States had apparently been
aware of the facility, but it was hidden from IAEA weapons inspectors
Post, September 25, 2009). Meanwhile, Iran's exiled political
opposition movement reported the day before that it had learned of two
previously unknown sites in and near Tehran that it said were being
used to build nuclear warheads (Agence
France-Presse, September 25, 2009).
- In August 2009, an IAEA report said the number of Iran's
centrifuges had grown to 8,300 (Haaretz,
August 31, 2009). Director-General ElBaradei told the IAEA's 35-nation board that Iran
had not stopped enriching uranium or answered lingering questions about
its nuclear program (New
York Times, September 7, 2009).
- In May 2009, Iran tested a new missile, the Sejil,
with a range of 1,200 miles, that can reach Israel, U.S. regional bases
and southeastern Europe (The
Peninsula, May 21, 2009). The Sejil is similar to the Shahab-3
(“Shahab” means shooting star in Farsi), which was unveiled
in September 2007. That missile’s range had been improved from
810 to 1,125 miles (JTA,
September 23, 2007). The Shahab-3 missile is capable of carrying a non-conventional
warhead, could be stationed anywhere in Iran and can reach Israel as
well as parts of Europe.
- In March 2009, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based
Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, said that the most worrisome aspect
of the potential danger of an Iranian bomb is not the possibility of
a nuclear strike against other countries, but the ability to assume
a more bold approach in dealing with the international community after
becoming a nuclear power. “The real threat is that Iran, which
is already ignoring all resolutions and sanctions issued by the UN Security
Council, will be practically ‘untouchable’ after acquiring
nuclear-power status, and will be able to expand its support of terrorist
organizations, including Hamas and Hizballah” said Dvorkin, “I
won't say the Iranians will be able to develop intercontinental ballistic
missiles in the near future, but they will most likely be able to threaten
the whole of Europe.” (RIA
Novosti, March 12, 2009)
- In June 2008, the United States, Russia, China, France,
Britain and Germany offered Iran technical and commercial incentives
to suspend uranium enrichment. A few weeks later, the powers held talks
in Geneva, attended for the first time by a senior U.S. official, aimed
at reaching an agreement with Iran and forestalling further sanctions.
A senior Iranian official, however, ruled out any freeze in uranium
July 20, 2008). After the talks, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency,
Iranian Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, announced Iran would no
longer cooperate with IAEA experts investigating the country’s
clandestine nuclear weapons program (Washington
Post, July 24, 2008). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
then announced that Iran had 6,000 centrifuges operating at its uranium
enrichment facility at the underground Natanz facility, double the number
operating less than a year earlier, a worrisome development showing
the progress Iran had made toward developing a nuclear weapon (Washington
Post, July 26, 2008). In December 2008, Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general
of the IAEA, admitted that sanctions had been “a failure”
(Los Angeles Times, December
- On December 23, 2006, In response to Iran's continued
defiance, the Security
Council unanimously passed resolution
1737 to block “the import or export of sensitive nuclear material”
to Iran. On February 22, 2007, the IAEA found Iran in violation of the
Security Council ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment. Iran continued
to insist that its nuclear program could not be stopped by external
actors. In March 2007, the IAEA announced the suspension of nuclear
technical aid programs to Iran. Russia also announced it would withhold
a nuclear fuel delivery to the county but then reversed its position.
December 18, 2007 )
On July 31, 2006, the UN
Security Council approved Resolution
1696, giving Iran until August 31 of that year to suspend its uranium
enrichment and to implement full transparency measures requested by
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran insisted that it
would continue its uranium enrichment program despite the resolution.