Friday, September 28, 2012

Israel & Iran: 260 kilograms and Boom! War starts

Some more clarity on the numbers behind Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Red Line in the sand.
260 kilograms?

The trigger for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites seems to depend on any one of 3 things happening: Iran stockpiling 260 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity (they have about 200 kilograms right now); Iran expelling the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency’s observers (this would stop them monitoring the enrichment process); or any other step taken by Iran that clearly indicates progress towards building a nuclear bomb (such as clear evidence that a nuclear trigger is being assembled).

It is important to understand that the Israeli PM did not rule out other events triggering an attack.

He simply focused the world’s attention on one clear trigger (the Red Line) that is currently verifiable due to the unhindered ability of the IAEA’s observers to monitor the uranium enrichment process:

To fully understand Netanyahu's "red line" we must keep a number of facts in mind:
Netanyahu stressed uranium enrichment as the sole criterion for measuring the advancement of Iran's nuclear program because nuclear weapons grade uranium has to be enriched to 93% and because Iran's uranium enrichment is being monitored by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, leaving the Iranians with very little room for deception or secrecy.

However, the development and production of a nuclear warhead can be concealed in small factories.

Therefore, it is not at all certain that Western intelligence agencies would be able to detect the production of such a warhead for a missile or even the production of a primitive nuclear device that can be sent in a container to explode in some port.

This is why Netanyahu drew the "red line" just below a label reading "final stage" to a bomb, in which the Iranians will be 90% along the path of having sufficient weapons-grade material and it would be too late to stop them.

For Netanyahu, the term "too late" refers to a situation whereby Iran will have sufficient weapons-grade material (or uranium enriched to 93% purity level) to produce one atomic bomb.

Currently the Iranians do not have even one ounce of weapons-grade material, but they have already amassed about 200 kilograms (about 440 pounds) of 20% material.  
As soon as Iran will have stockpiled some 260 kilograms (573 pounds) of uranium refined to 20% purity level they will be able to immediately move on to the final stage (enriching the same amount to 93%).

With 260 kilos of 20% material it would take Iran a few weeks to two months to produce 26-28 kilos (57-62 pounds) of uranium enriched to 93%, which can be used to build one nuclear warhead.

 Netanyahu justifiably claims that the moment Iran obtains the capability to produce enough weapons-grade material for one atomic bomb no one will be able to stop its nuclear program.

 Therefore, as soon as Iran amasses enough 20% enriched uranium to build one bomb it will be on the brink of becoming a nuclear power. Netanyahu told the UN that Iran must not be allowed to reach this point.

 The Americans have a "red line" of their own. Obama is refraining from addressing it publicly, but sources in Washington know full well where it crosses. This line is more complex, and it will be crossed once Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei will give the order to begin producing a nuclear weapon.

 But Washington does not believe Iran will begin producing nuclear weapons before they have enough weapons-grade material for three or four bombs at least. The Americans also estimate that even if their intelligence agencies will not be aware of such an order from Khamenei, the IAEA or other intelligence agencies will pick up on it.

Given the Iranian government’s past behavior, it’s a pretty sure bet that the abilities of the IAEA’s observers to monitor the enrichment process will soon be subjected to all kinds of interference. And this could accelerate the trigger for war.

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