JERUSALEM—The most chilling piece of information that I learned as I met with senior officials in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel is just how close Tehran is to being able to build nuclear weapons.
Each of these countries – along with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other nations in the region – has long been deeply concerned about the threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Especially since Iranian leaders are actively fomenting terrorist attacks against their neighbors and have openly talked about destroying the U.S. and “wiping Israel off the map.”
But those fears are being compounded in one capital after another by the growing realization within the intelligence community of how advanced Iran’s capabilities have become.
“Iran is now just five days away from having enough fuel to build The Bomb,” a senior official in the region told me.
“If the Iranian regime was to make the decision today, in five days they would have enough highly enriched uranium to start building nuclear weapons,” he explained.
“That’s how serious the situation has become.”
Uranium used for peaceful civilian nuclear power plants is typically enriched to 3.5%.
Military grade uranium capable of being used to create nuclear warheads must be enriched to between 90% and 95%.
The official stated it would likely take Tehran another year or so to actually perfect a fully operational nuclear warhead, and noted that –to the best of his knowledge – the Iranian regime has not perfected its ability to attach nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles.
Still, the regime has crossed all of Israel’s previous red lines.
In remarks at Reichman University on Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Iran is completing the production and installation of 1,000 advanced centrifuges at an underground site near Natanz.
“Iran continues to accumulate irreversible knowledge and experience in the development, research, production and operation of advanced centrifuges. It stands just a few weeks away from accumulating fissile material that will be sufficient for a first bomb, holds 60 kilograms of enriched material at 60%, produces metallic uranium at the enrichment level of 20% and prevents the IAEA from accessing its facilities,” Gantz said.
The questions now are sobering:
• How soon might Iran make the decision to “break out” and finish its uranium enrichment process?
• Will we know when they’ve made that fateful move?
• Is there any way to still stop Iran from building a nuclear weapons arsenal, short of war?
• Does any state in the region have the stomach to use force if absolutely necessary to try to neutralize Iran’s nuclear program?
• And would a series of air strikes on Iran’s known nuclear facilities even be enough at this point to neutralize the threat?
Bottom line: Does the world have the will – and a way – to stop Iran before it’s too late?
We seem to be running out of time and out of options.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.