JERUSALEM - Israeli officials said Monday that they will not allow Iran to produce a nuclear weapon. Israel was responding to Iran’s announcement that its scientists have resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent purity. The exchange is increasing tensions just two weeks before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office.
Iran’s state-run news agency quoted a government spokesman as saying that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had given the order to resume enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at the underground Fordo facility.
The move is seen as a significant step toward achieving weapons grade levels of uranium. In the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed not to go above four percent.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iranian decision shows that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons despite its denials and that Israel would not allow this to happen.
Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, said the move is a significant step forward for Iran in its quest to become a nuclear power.
“As far as we know today, the beginning of 2021, they do not have a nuclear bomb although they have actually all the access and all the potential to have it, if they make a decision to try to get it in a period of less than six months or less than a year,” said Eiland.
But Eiland said he saw the Iranian announcement more as a way to put pressure on the incoming Biden administration to return to the Iran nuclear deal from which the Trump administration withdrew.
“Today they accelerate very carefully this process in order to create some pressure on the United States in order to be in a better position when the dialogue begins as they believe it will in a matter of a few months,” he said.
The Iranian announcement comes one year after the United States’ targeted killing of senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qasem Soleimani, a move Iran has vowed to avenge.
It also comes just two months after senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsin Fakrisade was gunned down in Tehran, allegedly by Israel.
Analysts like Reza Shayed, a journalist with France 24 based in Tehran, point to a possible link between the Iranian announcement and the killing of Soleimani.
“There’s been a lot of talk in Washington in recent days that Iran plans to launch an attack on American interests to memorialize that assassination. There’s no evidence that’s going to happen but this could be, Iran’s move today, of delivering a blow to the Trump administration saying this is the result of your maximum pressure campaign and it could be a way of honoring Qasem Suleimani,” he said.
Meanwhile on Monday, Iran seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker on its way to the United Arab Emirates, saying the ship had violated maritime laws. The move further increased tensions between Iran and Western-allied nations.