Washington Should Take Iran’s Nuclear Threat More Seriously

April 6, 2024 Topic: Iran Region: Middle East Tags: IranNuclear WeaponsAli KhameneiIRGCWMD

Washington Should Take Iran’s Nuclear Threat More Seriously

Despite the tumult in the Middle East, the Biden administration has neither a plan to deter Iranian aggression nor stop its nuclear program. 

The October 7 Hamas terror attacks on Israel, subsequent Hezbollah bombings, and Houthi missile strikes in the Red Sea were all backed by one power: Iran. The nation has led an informal military alliance dubbed the “Axis of Resistance,” harnessing the military forces of Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Syrian government to build a widespread geographic influence and physical defense access across the Middle East for Tehran. 

Through this network, the Iranian government can pressure and attack Israeli and U.S. interests indirectly. Non-state warfare by Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis has targeted not only Israel—the primary target of Islamic terrorist groups and Islamist nations alike—but also, in the Houthis case, the navies of Western allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

American policy must first evaluate Iran with deliberate concern to disentangle these conflicts. Policymakers should address Tehran’s aiding and abetting of terrorism with a comprehensive consideration of its grander ambitions. Beyond its enabling of unconventional allies to wreak havoc lies the threat of Iran’s nuclear advancement and military endeavors. The darker fear of a nuclear-capable Iranian regime underpins the need for counterterrorism measures and coordinated defense strategy.

Independent reports and publicly available military data indicate a high probability of a nuclear-armed Iran in the near future. Iran’s energy development and defense infrastructure demonstrate an alarming near-term capacity for ownership of nuclear weapons and successful deployment of said weapons. 

High-ranking Iranian officials have publicly articulated the necessity and feasibility of nuclear weapons for Iran. In 2021, then-intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi suggested nuclear weapons as the solution to regional security concerns on Iranian state television. During a broadcast interview this February, former foreign minister Akbar Salehi claimed Iran already possesses all the technology and nuclear science needed to create nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, Iran’s Forward Defense Strategy prioritizes an advanced nuclear program and ballistic missiles as two of its three main pillars (the third being proxy forces). This combination of statements by influential politicians and public military posturing signals an apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons despite Tehran’s denial. 

Reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicate Iran’s accelerated enriched uranium production creates a two-month window to achieve nuclear weapons-grade uranium. As the Iranian Armed Forces already possess delivery systems, including nuclear-capable missiles, with the ability to carry nuclear weapons, the nation’s ability to develop nuclear-grade enriched uranium becomes the center of intelligence considerations.

Unfortunately for American lawmakers, and even those in Britain or France, Iran’s uranium program operates under a curtain of secrecy. Iranian officials have repeatedly delayed or limited access to information for the IAEA’s monitoring of uranium conversion, transportation, and use, as well as the production and inventory of centrifuges.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Iran has expanded its arsenal of conventional and unconventional weapons, including ballistic missiles, drones, and cyberweapons. The Institute of Science and National Security’s analysis concluded Iran needs roughly one week to produce the weapon-grade uranium required to construct a nuclear weapon. Already with the capacity to carry such weapons on existing missiles and other devices, Iran is a wink of the eye away from power that will shake the international balance of power.

While the speed at which Iran could build a nuclear weapon remains in question, legislators and bureaucrats in Washington must act. In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Since then, the Biden administration has articulated little strategy for future Iranian nonproliferation outside vague promises to restore the failed JCPOA.

Instead, the White House opted to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue in exchange for the return of five American hostages from Iran in September. In turn, congressional Republicans have criticized the Biden administration and proposed renewed sanctions on Iranian oil. The White House is currently reviewing the $6 billion deal in light of the October 7 attacks and claims that Tehran has no access to the funds. Yet, it has made no clear-cut strategy to counter Iran’s continued financial support of terrorist groups.

With the White House at a standstill, Congress must take action. In 2019, legislators flexed their muscle on foreign policy by seeking to invoke the War Powers Act and withdraw from Yemen. Today, legislators must prioritize national security and seek a preventative defense strategy. Senators and representatives, particularly those on foreign affairs and energy committees, should invest considerable time and resources toward addressing the Iranian nuclear threat. 

Congressmen Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Jim Banks (R-IN) submitted a bipartisan letter to the secretary of state highlighting the need for Iranian nuclear accountability and IAEA intelligence support. Further discussions must put all cards on the table, looking beyond the Biden administration’s hopeless optimism of a renewed JCPOA. Policymakers, diplomats, and military officials should consider their options: drawing a diplomatic “red line,” economic sanctions, defense posturing, use of preemptive strikes, and even covert action. 

Ultimately, deterring the Iranian nuclear program depends on a strong defense of Israel. Due to the imminent threat posed by a nuclear Iran to our allies in Jerusalem, an effective approach depends on our firm support of the Israeli government’s defensive actions. Congress should start by passing the current aid package to Israel and then pivot to Tehran.

Sam Raus is a Young Voices Contributor studying public relations and political science at the University of Miami. His commentary has appeared in RealClearDefense, The Daily Caller, Free The People, the Standard-Examiner, and the South Jersey Times. Follow him on Twitter: @SamRaus1.

Image: Shutterstock.com.