TechIran's nuclear ambition. A history of Western involvement and Israeli concerns

Iran's nuclear ambition. A history of Western involvement and Israeli concerns

Israeli F-35I Adir. Such machines can participate in an attack on Iranian nuclear installations.
Israeli F-35I Adir. Such machines can participate in an attack on Iranian nuclear installations.
Images source: © IAF | Amit Agronov

12:34 PM EDT, April 21, 2024

Iran is not officially recognized as a nuclear-armed nation. Yet, despite facing constant scrutiny and opposition from hostile countries, it is actively working on its nuclear program. What insights do we have into Iran's nuclear endeavors?
Following an Israeli strike on Iran, local media quickly relayed that the nuclear facilities in the Isfahan province were unscathed. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) echoed this sentiment, stating that nuclear sites should never be targeted in conflicts.
This stance from the IAEA was understandable. Until Russia's assault on Ukraine and the subsequent attacks on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Israel was the sole nation known to have intentionally targeted nuclear infrastructure—conducting such operations twice.
The first Israeli attack in 1981, known as Operation Opera, demolished the Iraqi Tammuz 1 (Osirak) reactor, effectively derailing Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions. A second assault in 2007, dubbed Operation Orchard, targeted a Syrian reactor in the Deir ez-Zor area.
Hence, the escalating tensions between Iran and Israel raised concerns that Israeli forces might strike Iranian nuclear sites. However, military facilities in the Isfahan region were attacked instead.

The West's Role in Developing Iranian Nuclear Facilities

For years, Iran's nuclear program has haunted Western leaders. It's noteworthy that the West itself laid its foundation, as seen in Iraq or Syria.

Launched in the 1950s, the American "Atoms for Peace" initiative aimed to promote widespread access to nuclear energy for civilian purposes. It proposed using nuclear technology for agricultural and mining applications, including efforts under Operation Plowshare to create reservoirs or mines via nuclear explosions.

One of the test explosions carried out as part of Operation Plowshare
One of the test explosions carried out as part of Operation Plowshare© Public domain

As a result of this initiative, the U.S. supplied Iran with its first reactor in the 1960s, which utilized highly enriched uranium. This also led to establishing the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) and a nuclear research center in Tehran.

Subsequently, German firms began constructing additional reactors in Iran, and France was designated to provide uranium. Iran's adoption of nuclear energy was anticipated to reduce its dependence on oil, freeing up more oil for the global market.

Shift Toward Russia

After the Islamic Revolution, pressure from Washington led American and European companies to retract their commitments. This pushed Iran toward collaborations with South Africa (which had developed but then renounced nuclear arms) and Pakistan.

A pivotal moment for Iran was its partnership with Russia in the 1990s. Russia supplied nuclear experts and missile technology, significantly expediting Iran's progress in both fields.

The early 2000s unveiled Iranian research facilities in Arak and Natanz, focusing on heavy water production and uranium enrichment. These findings marked a long-standing period of tension as the West sought to dissuade Iran from nuclear advancements diplomatically.

One of the targets of Stuxnet was supposed to be Iranian nuclear facilities in Natanz.
One of the targets of Stuxnet was supposed to be Iranian nuclear facilities in Natanz.© Public domain

When diplomacy faltered, sabotage efforts, such as the Stuxnet virus, emerged. This virus damaged Iranian centrifuges and caused widespread computer disruptions, affecting entities like the Indian space program and Chinese industrial operations.

Speculation about Iran's proximity to achieving nuclear weapon capabilities is rife, alongside discussions on Israel's tolerance and potential preemptive actions. Two years ago, Iran announced it had started enriching uranium to 60 percent U-235 isotopic content, well above the 20 percent threshold set by the IAEA for civilian use.

Israel's Preemptive Measures

It's, therefore, unsurprising that Israel has been openly preparing. In 2022, its air force conducted "Chariots of Fire" drills, simulating strikes on Iranian nuclear sites.

Further exercises employed airborne tankers, preparing air personnel for extended flights over 930 miles. The F-35I Adir planes, uniquely modified for Israel with advanced avionics and weapons, have already demonstrated superiority in operations, including undetected flights over Damascus.
Should Israeli authorities opt to target Iranian nuclear facilities, these aircraft are likely to play a crucial role in the attack or its defense.

Remaining Threats

Recent missile and drone strikes by Iran, despite being largely countered by Israel and international forces, signal a lingering threat. While these defensive measures boast a "99-percent effectiveness," even a minor breach with conventional warheads poses a significant risk. The stakes would be unimaginably higher if a nuclear payload were involved, transforming what is seen as an Israeli defensive success into a catastrophic failure.
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