I am now (9/6/19) certain that Iran currently possesses several nuclear bombs. And I think they will announce this soon.
1. Extensive new above-ground facilities at Fordow
The uranium enrichment plant at Fordow was built secretly and under hundreds of feet of solid rock. Though we now know of its existence, it would be difficult for the West to attack with aerial bombardment. Yet recently (2016-2019) Iran added an extensive set of above-ground support facilities to Fordow. These buildings and their many personnel are highly-susceptible to a bombing raid. The facilities “are critical to the gas centrifuge program, and tied to its future and expected increase in capacity.” Institute for Science and International Security [ISIS]
Why would Iran build these important facilities above-ground, making them susceptible to air attacks? This makes sense, if Iran expects to be able to prevent air attacks in the first place by the threat of a nuclear counterattack. As of 2016, Iran must have possessed at least a couple of nuclear bombs, one to use and another to hold back as an additional threat. (You can never use your last nuke because then your nation would be susceptible to a massive attack.)
2. Acceptance of the JCPOA
Adopted on 18 October 2015, and implemented on 16 January 2016 [Wikipedia], the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action was accepted by Iran, even though it prevented the two KNOWN uranium enrichment plants (Fordow, Natanz) from purifying uranium to a level a couple of steps from weapon-grade. Iran seemed to get very little from the agreement as the recent years have shown. Their economy is still in a terrible state. Why would they agree so readily to this Plan?
They may well have built a third secret uranium enrichment plants, which has still not been discovered by the West. Natanz was originally secret, until it was discovered by ISIS (the Washington DC think-tank, not the terrorist group). Fordow was built deep underground in a remote location and was secret until U.S. and Israeli intelligence disclosed its existence. Iran has the money and resources to build a third secret plant, and they certainly want one. Their recent limited ramp up of their nuclear programs shows they still have this desire. So why wouldn’t they build one?
The Sept. 3, 2019 Report of ISIS (Institute for Science and International Security) considers the possibility that Iran has a third uranium enrichment facility: “Clandestine gas centrifuge plants can also be considered.” [“Breakout Assumptions”, New Estimates of Iran’s Breakout Capabilities at Declared Sites Using a New, Simple-to-Use Breakout Calculator by David Albright with Sarah Burkhard. The Report uses only “declared sites” in its breakout calculation (the time needed to make enough WGU for one or more nukes). But ISIS has long considered that a clandestine facility may exist, in addition to Natanz and Fordow.
In December 2008, ISIS warned that Iran may have a clandestine facility in addition to Natanz, and the next year the existence of Fordow (originally secret) was disclosed to the world. [Report 2008] In response, in “November 2009, the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution that criticized Iran for defying a UN Security Council ban on uranium enrichment, censured Iran for secretly building a uranium enrichment facility and demanded that it immediately suspend further construction.” [Wikipedia – Nuclear Program of Iran] They did not suspend construction, by the way.
And we know that Natanz itself was originally secret, until it was discovered by ISIS. So they are well aware that a third secret facility is a strong possibility. If Iran has a third secret facility, they would then be willing to agree to the JCPOA, while at the same time continuing to purify uranium at the secret facility. Then, once they have several nukes, they can announce this to the world, ramp up production at all three facilities, and make many more nuclear weapons, with the threat of nuclear retaliation preventing a military response from the West.
Notice that the timing of the JCPOA is 2016, about the same time that above-ground facilities were built at Fordow. Iran may have already had one or two nukes at that point in time. This would explain why they so readily made an agreement that halts their multi-year multi-billion dollar nuclear program in exchange for so little.
3. Casting Off the JCPOA
On May 7th, 2019, Iran threatened to withdraw from certain portions of the JCPOA, and subsequently did violate portions of that Plan. The reason they signed the JCPOA was likely to give them cover to continue their nuclear program in secret. And at this point, they are casting it off because they have enough nuclear weapons to threaten nuclear retaliation against any military assault. They no longer need the agreement.
Why not withdraw completely from the Plan? They likely need a little more time to ready these weapons for actual use, and to place them secretly in various secure facilities, so that they are not vulnerable to destruction by a special operations mission or a bombing raid.
4. Newly aggressive behavior
A criminal walk around the corner of a building, and suddenly faces two police officers. What will his behavior be like? If, unknown to the officers, he has ten of his friends out of view around the corner, he will be more aggressive than if he is alone.
Iran with nuclear bombs will behave more aggressively than Iran without them. The recent aggressive behavior has ramped up over the summer of 2019:
* Development of new Centrifuges contrary to sanctions September 4, 2019
* Warehouse used to store atomic materials found The Turquz Abad warehouse was emptied between July and September of 2018. News story of Sept. 5, 2019
* Iran Will No Longer Honor Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Research Sept. 5, 2019 (posted Sept. 6, 9am)
* David Albright of @ThegoodISIS: “If Iranians aren’t cooperating, it tells you that potentially they are hiding more,” adding that the Turquz Abad findings are “a big deal.”
* Iranian-backed Houthis rebels just attacked Saudi Arabia’s oil fields with drones. Saudi Arabia reportedly shuts down half its oil production after drone attack. Sept. 14, 2019 — This is a very aggressive and provocative move! They obviously obtained the weaponized drones from Iran, as the rebels do not have that capability. Another strong indication that Iran has working nukes ready to go.
* Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while [President Hassan] Rouhani and [Foreign Minister Mohammad] Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo tweeted, referring to the nation’s president and foreign affairs minister. ” … There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” Foxnews report here Sept. 14, 2019
* Iran has now said it will “adopt a policy of maximum crude production if the United States lifts sanctions on the country’s oil industry”. This just after Saudi oil output dropped drastically due to drone attacks (which Iran denies being behind). September 15, 2019
* Iran says U.S. bases and aircraft carriers within range of its missiles: Tasnim September 15, 2019
*** Iran’s aggression is increasing as time passes!!!
5. Iran’s proclamation to be the strongest regional power
What would make Iran the top power in the Middle East? Israel has long possessed nuclear missiles. Perhaps they ignore Israel out of hatred. But Saudi Arabia and Jordon have weapons sold to them by the West. So it would not seem to be a true statement.
The assertion could be dismissed as empty bravado, except for one factor: Iran says it has “become” the top power. If the claim were merely based on the state of its military, there would be no compelling reason to state that Iran has apparently newly become the top power. The claim by Iran suggests a new reason that would make Iran the most powerful nation of that region (perhaps excluding Israel).
And the only military factor that fits this claim is nuclear weapons. That is why Iran has “become” the region’s “top power”.
6. Iranian General claims secret weapon August 28
An Iranian general claimed that Iran has “secret defense facilities and capabilities” that could be used to “punish” enemies and that these weapons can be used to strike a particularly tough blow at the furthest distances. This description fits nuclear bombs closely. The facility for making and storing them would be secret. The effects are devastating. It can be used at any distance by using a plane or ship to transport it.
Announcement (added 9/6/19)
When will Iran admit to the world they have several nuclear bombs?
First, they must have several, or the West will try to take one or two bombs from them. Also, if you only have two or three, and you have to use one to make good on a nuclear threat, you are vulnerable to an attempt to take or destroy the remaining bomb(s). If you have four, and you use one, you then can’t really use a second one, or you again face the problem of having the remaining bombs taken or destroyed. Once they have several, they can threaten nuclear retaliation, and even use one or two, while keeping at least three or four in reserve for further threats and use. So I would say they need 5 or 6 bombs, at least, in order to announce.
Second, they need to assemble these bombs and place them in several locations that are secure from a special operations raid or bombing attack. This decreases the likelihood of any attempt to deprive them of the bombs, and increases the gravity of any threat to use them.
Third, Hassan Rouhani needs to eliminate any internal political or religious obstacles to the announcement, threat, and use of the nukes. This is one of the probable reasons for the increase in aggressive behavior. Conflict with the West will tend to cause forces inside Iran to side with Rouhani, as anything else could be portrayed as a betrayal of one’s own nation and religion.
Fourth, I think we may see a violent purge of forces inside Iran who oppose Rouhani before the announcement, as he needs complete control of his own government and military to go to the extremes of announcing then have nukes, threatening to use them, and then ramping up production of more nukes openly. Once the purge happens, the announcement will be imminent.
I estimate the announcement will happen in November because that is 6 months after the start of Iran’s newly aggressive behavior on May 7th. You don’t provoke nations which are willing and able to bring a military strike against you, if you are a year or two away from having the capability to threaten or retaliate with nukes. It’s a dangerous game of brinkmanship, but much less dangerous if Iran can announce they have nukes whenever a military strike appears imminent.
I conclude that Iran has possessed at least one or two completed working nuclear bombs since 2015 or 2016. This is indicated by the construction of vulnerable above ground facilities at Fordow in that time frame, along with the agreement to the JCPOA.
I also conclude that Iran currently (August 2019) has at least several nuclear bombs. The recent increase in aggressive behavior, beginning in May and ramping up over the summer, indicates this development.
I expect Iran to announce to the world that they possess nuclear weapons soon. The a
Note (added 9/7/2019)
The Institute for Science and International Security (@ThegoodISIS) has revised its estimate for the time needed to make a working nuclear weapon, once Iran has sufficient weapon-grade uranium (WGU) for a nuke (25 kg).
“based on the new information contained in the Iranian Nuclear Archive, a portion of which was seized by Israel in early 2018 and analyzed in detail by the Institute, if Iran were to attempt to make a missile-deliverable nuclear weapon, it would face engineering challenges, but would likely be able to fashion a weapon within several months, unlike the one year or more estimated pre-archive.” [Albright and Burkhard, New Estimates of Iran’s Breakout Capabilities Sept. 3, 2019]
Perhaps they have enough WGU for several weapons, and they are now in the run to fashioning the weapons themselves. Several months would be 6 months or less. But I think it much more likely that they actually have the weapons already. Their behavior is too aggressive for merely being months away from getting the weapons.
According to the above quoted document [Albright, Sept. 3], with 150 kg of 20% enriched Uranium per bomb, Iran could make WGU in only two months [Figure 2]. In six months, they could make enough WGU for three weapons. And that calculation uses only the IR-1 and IR-2m centrifuges. The latest news reports say that Iran has started using its advanced centrifuges:
“Today, Iran has begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and another 20 of IR-4 centrifuges, Kamalvandi said. An IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as an IR-1, Iranian officials say, while an IR-4 produces five times as fast.” [Washington Post]
I’ve concluded that Iran already has completed nuclear weapons. But even if they do not, they are able to make several nukes in less than a year, perhaps less than 6 months — and they have had that capability for longer than we knew.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.