May 23, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iranian Nuclear Advances Provoke Israeli Warning of Military Action

May 23, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iranian Nuclear Advances Provoke Israeli Warning of Military Action

Latest Developments

The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) chief of staff said on May 23 that Israel may take “action” against Iran’s nuclear facilities due to “possible negative developments on the horizon.” Israel has “abilities and others have abilities,” said Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi at a conference in Herzliya, likely referring to the United States. “We have the ability to hit Iran. We are not indifferent to what Iran is trying to build around us, and it is difficult for Iran to be indifferent to the line we are taking.”

Halevi’s statement comes a day after the Associated Press reported that Iran is building a new nuclear facility near the Natanz nuclear site so deep in the earth that U.S. weaponry may be unable to reach it. Still, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told the Herzliya conference that “there is no place that can’t be reached.” The Institute for Science and International Security published satellite imagery of the site in January 2022 and reported that Western officials are concerned that the site could one day house a uranium enrichment facility.

Expert Analysis

“It’s not every day that the highest-ranking Israeli military officer delivers a public speech on the development of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. IDF Chief of Staff Halevi is making it clear that Israel will attack Tehran’s nuclear weapons program if it continues to advance.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“While orchestrating terrorist attacks against Israelis in their homes, the Islamic Republic of Iran is simultaneously progressing toward a nuclear weapons capability. It is easy to see why Israel is undertaking a comprehensive campaign to ensure it has the military means necessary to prevent the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism from acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapon.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“More tunneling to hide nuclear facilities signals that Tehran has not given up on its quest for the bomb and has something to hide. While Iran’s decision to bury atomic infrastructure underground is not new, the depths this tunneling is reaching aims to make its program impervious to attack. But American changes to the explosive composition of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb over the last few years should give the clerics cause for concern. In America, there’s always a bigger bomb.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Iran Nears the Nuclear Threshold

The latest developments come three months after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) detected uranium particles enriched to 83.7 percent purity — but observed no corresponding stockpile of uranium — at the Fordow underground facility. Uranium enriched to at least 90 percent is considered atomic weapons-grade.

Israel has previously said that uranium enrichment above 60 percent purity could trigger Israeli military action. Iran’s persistent nuclear development, however, suggests that Israeli and Western warnings have not deterred the clerical regime. Still, Halevi’s statement may indicate that Israel will no longer tolerate any new nuclear advances by Tehran. Once Iran enriches enough uranium for a nuclear device, it would be extremely difficult for the IAEA to detect any weaponization activities.

Iran’s Atomic Advances

Most of Iran’s nuclear advances have proceeded after President Biden entered office in January 2021, suggesting that the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign successfully deterred Tehran from significant development of its nuclear program. In January 2021, Iran resumed 20 percent enrichment at Fordow for the first time since the JCPOA’s finalization. Tehran enriched uranium to 60 percent purity in April 2021. The same year, Iran also produced uranium metal, a material used in nuclear weapon cores. Over the course of 2021 and 2022, Iran installed thousands of fast advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

The West’s Iran policy risks another Middle East war,” by Andrea Stricker and Anthony Ruggiero

Exploiting America’s Declining Pressure: Iran’s Nuclear Escalation Over Time,” by Andrea Stricker and Behnam Ben Taleblu

Iran Enriching Uranium to Near Weapons-Grade,” FDD Flash Brief


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Nonproliferation