Iran has been nursing a passion for a dirty bomb for decades. The fervor of giving a devastating response to a political foe came to light with the world’s strongest democratic country resorting to the use of the device against Japan in WWII.
The same passion dogged the three nuclear powers of Europe in the post-WWII era. Two Asian powers, namely India and Pakistan, also got sucked into the same vortex in the last decade of the 20th century.
Now, it seems to be the turn of Iran, the arch-rival of Israel, and the Saudi kingdom to a lesser degree. The history of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capability is a bizarre story of secret planning and execution, denial of involvement, the ambiguity of response, and maneuverings to mislead the concerned international watchdog agencies.
Tehran has braved numerous reprisals at the hands of the US for her nuclear aspiration — an aspiration that her detractor sadistically enjoyed way back in August 1945.
In a dispatch of February 1, 2024, the Associated Press, quoting IRNA news agency, reported that Iran had begun constructing four more nuclear power plants in the country’s south, with an expected total capacity of 5,000 megawatts.
At present, the country has one active nuclear power plant, a 1,000-megawatt plant that went online with help from Russia in 2011. Iran is also building a 300-megawatt plant in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, south of Iran, near the western border with Iraq.
After the anti-hijab episode in Iran, in which the clerical regime unleashed brutality and suppressed the rights of Iranian women, the entire free world severely castigated the clerical regime, and some European countries even contemplated harsher steps to isolate Iran.
The renewed Vienna talks aiming at repairing the damaged Iranian nuclear deal (JCPOA) of July 2015 were withdrawn by the European member states out of their frustration over Iran’s blatant violation of the human rights of its citizens.
Owing to this and no relaxation in economic sanctions, Tehran hardened its stand and went about declaring that now nothing would stop her from inching toward her ultimate goal of adding a nuclear device to her arsenal.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog said last year that Iran has increased the rate at which it is producing near weapons-grade uranium. Associated Press reported that Director General Rafael Mariano said in the report that Iran “in recent weeks had increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023.”
Iran had previously slowed the rate at which it was enriching uranium to 60% purity, which is just a short technical step away from the weapon-grade level of 90%.”
Nasser Shariflou, the project head, told IRNA that four new plants are being built in the port city of Sirik on Iran’s east coast, about 1,150 kilometers (715) miles south of the capital, Tehran. The cost of the project is estimated at USD 20 billion and will create 4,000 jobs. Each plant is expected to use 35 tons of nuclear fuel per year.
Days after announcing the construction of a nuclear power plant complex in the south, Tehran, on February 5, announced that it had started building a new nuclear research reactor in Isfahan.
Mohammad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the state media IRNA, “Today, the process of pouring concrete for the foundation of the reactor started at the Isfahan site.”
It is to be noted that the Isfahan Nuclear Research Centre in central Iran is already home to three reactors. The new 10-megawatt research reactor is being constructed to create a powerful neutron source. Sources disclosed that it will have a variety of applications, including fuel and nuclear material tests and the production of industrial radiopharmaceuticals.
In January, the Director General of the UN’s IAEA nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grosse, lamented that Iran was “restricting” cooperation with the agency and called the Iran nuclear situation “frustrating:
Iran aspires to reach the production capacity of 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power in the country by the year 2041. Only five countries — the US, France, China, Russia, and South Korea —currently have more than 20,000 mg of nuclear capacity installed.
Re-negotiating Iran’s nuclear deal has almost collapsed, and its revival is beyond anticipation. There seems to be nothing to pin Iran to restrain and stop nuclear pursuit.
Tehran’s infrastructure leading to the production of the device seems to be in place and in a good functional situation. This is a cause of concern for the US, Israel, and the regional and global powers.
Iran has China and Russia on its side. The day is not far away when Teheran will make the surprising announcement for which its adversaries in the West, including the US, should be prepared. She has graduated to a position of criticality in the axis.
Iran’s belligerent mood is upbeat because there is globally a strong wave supporting the Palestinian cause as it has been. Both China and Russia have deep economic and political concerns in the perpetuation of the Iranian State.
In all probability, the US will relegate war against Iran to the last priority at its disposal. But neither China nor Russia will be on the side of the Houthis in threatening and disrupting the safe navigation of commercial and military ships across the Red Sea. Iran cannot make sure that its proxy will have its way in the volatile region.
China has the largest trade and commerce involvement in the European continent. Similarly, Russia, which also influences Tehran, is likely to sincerely advise Iran to desist from military confrontation in the Middle East.
In the case of deniability, which trick Iran is capable of playing deftly, will no more work. Iran’s proxies have voluntarily exposed their antics. As such, the deniability chapter stands discarded.
At the moment, when the US Secretary of State has wound up his fifth tour to the troubled Middle East, the expectation is that somehow a formula may surface that will help displaced Gazans to re-settle and, most importantly, release people taken hostage on either side.
However, the proposal of creating two independent and sovereign states is an intricate and time-consuming endeavor. It may happen and should happen, but when is the question?
- KN Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former Director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views expressed here are of the author’s.
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