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Iran Could Have Fuel for Nuke by September: Where is Israel's Red Line?

by Ryan Mauro

Earlier this year, the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project concluded that Iran could have the fuel for a single nuclear bomb by September. That is a frighteningly short time away but luckily, Iran would still have to construct the bomb and fit it onto a missile. The question is: Where is Israel’s red-line?

The think-tank determined that Iran could make enough 20% enriched uranium for a bomb by June. From there, it would take only “two and one half months” to make the fuel for a 15-kiloton weapon, roughly the power of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

This assessment is realistic. Top nuclear expert David Albright says that it would only take about 6 months to turn 20% enriched uranium into bomb-grade fuel if 500 to 1,000 centrifuges are used. In November, the IAEA reported that 412 centrifuges were installed at Fordow. It is presumed that Iran is adding more centrifuges as you read this. This supports the AEI study.

There are many more centrifuges at the Natanz site, but the Fordow site is of special concern. The site is clearly designed for nuclear weapons production, not a domestic energy program, and is buried deep in the mountains. There is a significant worry that Israeli munitions can’t destroy it. The IAEA recently reported that Iran has increased its stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium by nearly half, with over one-third of this increase coming from the Fordow site.

So, does Israel absolutely have to strike by September? Not necessarily, though Israel might reasonably decide it’s too dangerous to wait any longer.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies says that there is still time to stop Iran after it produces the bomb-grade fuel. He says it’ll still take Iran over a year to put together the bomb. The Israeli military-intelligence chief says it’ll take another 1-2 years after that for a nuclear warhead to be placed onto a missile.

The Israeli military-intelligence chief says Iran has enough uranium for four bombs and that it’ll take Iran about one year to make a bomb once it begins enriching above 20%. Once that starts happening, it’s clear that Iran has decided to build a bomb. That means Iran will have to either kick out the U.N. inspectors from Fordow or enrich it with them watching it and reporting every step of progress. That gives Israel and the international community time to react.

That is a bit more comforting but these projections rest on three notions: That Iran isn’t enriching uranium above 20% at a site we don’t know about, that our intelligence is accurate about how long it’ll take Iran to assemble a bomb and that our intelligence is accurate about how long it’ll take Iran to make a nuclear-armed missile.

For Israel, it is too risky to gamble that our intelligence knows all about Iran’s secret activities and capabilities, and we can wait until the very last moment until when, we think, Iran will be nuclear-armed.

Ryan Mauro is a National Security Analyst with the Clarion Fund, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent guest expert on Fox News TV on the topic of national security.