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Is Iran unstoppable?

In late February headlines appeared in most of the major news feeds that said Iran needed to wait only about twelve days before it would be capable of making a nuclear bomb. Since that time has passed, the world must assume that Iran now has enough uranium to build an atomic bomb. Yet, many do not seem alarmed by this news, despite the repeated declarations by Iran’s leaders that they intend to wipe Israel off the map.

US officials have repeatedly tried to estimate Iran’s breakout time, which is the process of determining how long it would take to acquire the fissile material for one bomb. In early 2022 a number of reports suggested one year. This was changed to two months when Iran said it had enriched uranium to 80% and is now likely to have enriched uranium of 90% or better. Tehran continues to stockpile uranium enriched to up to 60% and to install more advanced centrifuges, which enrich it more efficiently. The stockpiles of uranium at 60% are particularly significant in assessing proliferation risk because when it's enriched to this level it can be increased to weapons grade much more quickly. But while US officials say Iran has grown closer to producing fissile material they do not believe it has the technology to actually build a bomb. This is a foolish statement because making a bomb for a uranium device is reportedly very simple, particularly when the Iranians share a close relationship with established nuclear powers such as Russia and China.

When five nations came up with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal in 2015 it was decided that ten more years would pass before Iran would become a nuclear power. However, because Iran has repeatedly cheated on its nuclear production, doomsday has arrived two years early. President Trump pulled out of the JCPOA when it became clear that Iran was just playing cat-and-mouse games with the nuclear inspectors. He placed the country under painful sanctions to slow its nuclear progress, but with so many benefits in being in the nuclear club no sanction was going to convince Iran to freeze its nuclear program, particularly when it became evident that many nations were covertly assisting Iran in avoiding the sting of many of the sanctions.

Some years prior, the Israelis had attempted cyber warfare in order to derail, or at least delay, the Iranian aim to develop nuclear weapons. Though never openly admitted, it is widely held that this was a joint US-Israeli cyberwar program, development of which began in 2005. The Bush and Obama administrations believed that if Iran were on the verge of developing atomic weapons, Israel would launch airstrikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities in a move that could have set off a regional war. So, they looked for another option which would not involve kinetic warfare. Although the operation was given the name “Operation Olympic Games”, the malware came to be known as “Stuxnet”. To the average person, development of malware might seem straightforward. However, due to the complexity and scale of the Stuxnet worm, it is believed that it took a team of 10 computer coders two to three years to develop.

To create fissile material, you need centrifuges and they need to spin at a consistent rate. Most uranium that occurs in nature is the isotope U-238. However, the fissile material used in a nuclear power plant or weapon needs to be made from the slightly lighter U-235. A centrifuge is used to spin uranium fast enough to separate the different isotopes by weight via the use of centrifugal force. These centrifuges are extremely delicate and it is not uncommon for them to become damaged in the course of normal operation. At a facility the size of Natanz (which was the nuclear facility targeted by the malware) you could expect approximately 800 centrifuges per year to be taken out of commission. However, in 2010, IAEA inspectors started noticing an unusually high number of damaged centrifuges, with one inspector estimating almost 2,000 were rendered inoperable.

Stuxnet was ingenious because it was designed to destroy the centrifuges by causing them to spin at an irregular rate, all the while giving the impression to the computer monitoring the centrifuges that everything was fine. The malware worked incredibly well between 2007 and 2010 and the Iranians were becoming increasingly frustrated that their nuclear ambitions were being thwarted. At that stage, it is highly unlikely they suspected the involvement of the Israelis. Nobody really understood what was happening due to the fact that their monitoring stations were wrongly telling them that operation was normal. For all of the early success and the work that went into the program, it is estimated that the Iranian nuclear program was only set back by two years. This was no doubt disappointing to those who invested years in its development and deployment.

A nuclear Iran is a very big concern for Israel and rightly so. Iran holds regular rallies that call for Israel’s destruction, and now has missiles that can reach all parts of the Jewish state, particularly those they have placed in the hands of proxy forces that are stationed very close to Israeli territory. Since Israel is tiny it would take only a small number of atomic bombs to eliminate it from the face of the earth. Over the years several Israeli prime ministers have promised that Iran will never be a nuclear power, even though it would be very difficult to take out centrifuges that are hundreds of feet underground in a number of locations through the use of bombs (which appears the only remaining option). We must therefore pray for the protection of God’s people against an enemy that's so determined to seek its demise.

Troubling times are going to multiply for the nation of Israel and soon, they will be faced with the overwhelming aggression of the nations listed in Ezekiel 38.For those unfamiliar with the passage, we read that Persia (which became known as Iran in 1935) joins the wicked alliance against Israel. Yet, Israel will not be destroyed. God has promised that and we praise Him for it. Instead, we stand in awe at the power of God because as the Ezekiel passage testifies, God Himself intervenes, rescues Israel and decimates the invaders.

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