The Islamic Republic of Iran reportedly began enriching uranium up to 20% at an underground facility on Monday and seized a foreign oil tanker.
Iran’s latest actions represent a significant escalation in tensions with the United States and U.S. allies in the region. Earlier in the week, top Iranian officials suggested that they may attempt to assassinate President Donald Trump as retaliation for the U.S. Military terminating Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, last year.
“Iranian state television quoted spokesman Ali Rabiei as saying that President Hassan Rouhani had given the order for the move at the Fordo facility,” The Associated Press reported. “Iran’s decision to begin enriching to 20% a decade ago nearly brought an Israeli strike targeting its nuclear facilities, tensions that only abated with the 2015 atomic deal. A resumption of 20% enrichment could see that brinksmanship return as that level of purity is only a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.”
The announcement came at approximately the same time that reports surfaced that Iran seized MT Hankuk Chemi. “Iran later acknowledged the seizure, alleging ‘oil pollution’ sparked the move,” the AP added. “However, hours earlier, Tehran had said a South Korean diplomat was due to travel there to negotiate over billions of dollars in its assets now frozen in Seoul.”
Trump reportedly asked senior advisers in early November about possible options that he could take against Natanz, Iran’s primary nuclear site, which came a day after a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that Iran was stocking up on nuclear materials.
“Any strike — whether by missile or cyber — would almost certainly be focused on Natanz, where the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Wednesday that Iran’s uranium stockpile was now 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear accord that Mr. Trump abandoned in 2018,” The New York Times reported. “The agency also noted that Iran had not allowed it access to another suspected site where there was evidence of past nuclear activity.”
The New York Times added:
The episode underscored how Mr. Trump still faces an array of global threats in his final weeks in office. A strike on Iran may not play well to his base, which is largely opposed to a deeper American conflict in the Middle East, but it could poison relations with Tehran so that it would be much harder for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, as he has promised to do. …
The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Iran now had a stockpile of more than 2,442 kilograms, or over 5,385 pounds, of low-enriched uranium. That is enough to produce about two nuclear weapons, according to an analysis of the report by the Institute for Science and International Security. But it would require several months of additional processing to enrich the uranium to bomb-grade material, meaning that Iran would not be close to a bomb until late spring at the earliest — well after Mr. Trump would have left office. …
Mr. Trump has argued since the 2016 campaign that Iran was hiding some of its actions and cheating on its commitments; the inspectors’ report last week gave him the first partial evidence to support that view. The report criticized Iran for not answering a series of questions about a warehouse in Tehran where inspectors found uranium particles, leading to suspicion that it had once been some kind of nuclear-processing facility. The report said Iran’s answers were “not technically credible.”
The Jerusalem Post noted the presidential administration of former President George W. Bush also reportedly considered launching attacks against Iran during the final days of its administration.
“In 2008, after the election that brought former US president Barack Obama to power, there were some officials in Israel who were confident that the previous president, George W. Bush, would not leave office with Iran’s nuclear facilities still standing. They were wrong. Iran’s nuclear facilities are not only still standing; they have grown in quality and quantity,” The Jerusalem Post reported. “This is important to keep in mind amid speculation – once again during a presidential lame duck period – that in his last few weeks in office, Donald Trump will either order U.S. military action against Iran or give Israel a green light, as well as some assistance, to do so on its own.”