Nuclear Iran: A Delay of the Inevitable | Jespionne

Nuclear Iran: A Delay of the Inevitable

Nuclear Iran:
A Delay of the Inevitable

Written for JESPIONNE

Meena Jehan

In and out of the news since 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between the Permanent 5 (P5) members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States, in addition to Germany, and Iran, represented a new era of nuclear politics.

Holding the hopes of developing Iran on its shoulders, the JCPOA agreement is Iran’s chance to develop clean nuclear energy and spring forward into the future. Hotly contested in the US, the agreement had only partisan support when it was ratified and maintains only partisan support today.

"T HE CHALLENGE OF AFRICA IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT; IT IS MUCH DEEPER. IT IS CIVILIZATIONAL TODAY. FAILING STATES, COMPLEX DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS, THE DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITION."

- French President Emmanuel Macron.

March 2021

The Controversy of the Iran Nuclear Deal
Under the Iran Nuclear deal, Iran is limited to 5,000 IR-1 enrichment machines, down from their original 20,000; the excess machines were to be dismantled and placed under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) observance. For 15 years, the only enrichment facility allowed is at Natanz. Iran is only allowed to keep 300 kilograms of 3.67% enriched Uranium total in all forms.
All excess enriched Uranium was required to be sold, shipped abroad, or diluted to natural uranium levels. A whole host of other regulatory changes, restrictions, and plans for developing Iran’s nuclear capabilities are also included and can be seen in the table below.

The importance of the Iran nuclear deal is not left out of contemporary US politics; remaining outside of the JCPOA is an important platform in former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, whereas his opponent President Joe Biden has affirmed the US’ reentry into the treaty upon his election.
The US’ reentry into the JCPOA means one thing: Iranian nuclear material refinement will continue. While Remaining outside of the JCPOA the United States can apply sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sectors to hopefully reduce cashflow available for Iran’s infrastructure development. In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani stated in 2019 that Iran would resume high level enrichment of uranium if the rest of the P5 plus Germany could not protect them from US sanctions.

Russian and Chinese Support
Russian and Chinese influence over the JCPOA deal has allowed Iran to continue their nuclear program. A nuclear deal with Iran without Russia and China would not have been possible, as the two countries have supported Iran for years. China has invested heavily in the country as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and Russian arm sales and petroleum/natural gas buyouts have secured a stable income for Iranian energy. Supporting the Iranian economy allows continued enrichment and nuclear study.
Back in the news cycle once again, Iran was rocked by explosion after explosion in the month of July, one of these targeting the famous Natanz nuclear facility. Other explosions occurred at an ammunition dump, a power station in Isfahan, Tondgooyan petrochemical plant, and a gas storage tank complex near Mashad. Of uncertain origin, reports regarding the Natanz explosion from the Iranian government indicate sabotage.
Iran has blamed both Israel and the US, while an independent and unverifiable hacking group calling itself the Homeland Cheetahs has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Is There Historical Precedent?
The Homeland Cheetahs claim to be an Iranian dissident group, and their name is similar to groups linked with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s cyber force – Persian Cat and Charming Kitten.
It seems highly unrealistic the Natanz explosion was caused by such a hacking group, as it is unlikely physical damage could be caused through cyber means. In 2010, more than 15 nuclear facilities in Iran were targeted by a virus known as Stuxnet, a continuous replicating virus that targeted the Windows-based Siemens Step7 software utilized by the facilities. In total, more than 984 total uranium enriching centrifuges were destroyed, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. The virus allowed the hackers to control what ever piece of machinery or system it had infected, and the centrifuges targeted were shaken apart.
Overall, the attack is estimated to have reduced efficiency by 30%. This is a direct example of physical damage resulting from a virus, but the damage was machine related. It is reported the Natanz attack was not machine related, and therefore is likely not the result of a virus or cyber-attack.

More likely, and reported by the Iranian government, is physical sabotage. The Hamshahri newspaper of Tehran wrote on 7 July “"the site is being constantly protected by machine guns and more powerful air defense systems such as the S-300 are stationed at sensitive places and near the borders, so an air strike on the site in Natanz is almost impossible." The Iranian government has so far corroborated the Hamshahri assessment, stating the attack occurred from within, as no exterior shrapnel from any rocket or bomb was recovered at the scene. Iran has so far refused to offer any more comment, preferring to wait for the investigation to be completed.
The New York Times reported the blast to have delayed Iran’s nuclear program for up to another two years, a considerable setback for the nation. The JCPOA comes to term fully in 2030, but several restrictions are reduced in 2025 to the point where Iran can easily recover from this incident. Iran could possibly develop a nuclear weapon within months of the JCPOA ending, and continued support from Russia and China can only work to further Iran improvements.

Is There Historical Precedent?
The Homeland Cheetahs claim to be an Iranian dissident group, and their name is similar to groups linked with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s cyber force – Persian Cat and Charming Kitten.
It seems highly unrealistic the Natanz explosion was caused by such a hacking group, as it is unlikely physical damage could be caused through cyber means. In 2010, more than 15 nuclear facilities in Iran were targeted by a virus known as Stuxnet, a continuous replicating virus that targeted the Windows-based Siemens Step7 software utilized by the facilities. In total, more than 984 total uranium enriching centrifuges were destroyed, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. The virus allowed the hackers to control what ever piece of machinery or system it had infected, and the centrifuges targeted were shaken apart.
Overall, the attack is estimated to have reduced efficiency by 30%. This is a direct example of physical damage resulting from a virus, but the damage was machine related. It is reported the Natanz attack was not machine related, and therefore is likely not the result of a virus or cyber-attack.

CALL TO ACTION

news_taskforce_calltoaction_-3
g5sahel
news_taskforce_calltoaction_-2

CFR Newsletter

REFERENCE SOURCES

REFERENCE

reference-aljazeera
brookings-reference
reference-pakistintoday

PODCAST

iran-uncovered-podcast
3-things-podcast
Print

SOCIAL MEDIA

TASK FORCE REPORTS

Photos

ACA / DEBKA / Fleming/Digital Trends / RFE/RL's Radio Farda / Reuters / USNI News / Xinhua/ZUMA


TAGS

Iran/ Iran Nuclear Deal/ JCPOA/ United States/ United Kingdom/ Russia/ China/ France/ Germany/ European Union/ Nuclear Weapons/ Nonproliferation/ Rouhani/ Khamenei/ Natanz/ IAEA/ Grossi/ Uranium/ Isfahan/ Homeland Cheetahs

March 2021

Start typing and press Enter to search