April 19, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Threatened to Reevaluate Nonproliferation Obligations if Israel Attacked Atomic Facilities

April 19, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Threatened to Reevaluate Nonproliferation Obligations if Israel Attacked Atomic Facilities

Latest Developments

A senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) threatened on April 18 to reevaluate Iran’s commitment not to develop atomic weapons if Israel attacked Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Maj. Gen. Ahmad Haghtalab, who oversees the protection and security of Iran’s nuclear centers, declared the regime might “revise Iran’s nuclear doctrine and policies and deviate from the previously declared considerations” should Israel “attack our country’s nuclear centers.” The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed, however, that Israel’s surprise overnight strike did not target nuclear sites.

Expert Analysis

“For several years, Iranian officials have been dropping hints that they already possess the capability to build a nuclear weapon. The regime attempted to deploy this capability to deter a potential Israeli military response against Tehran, but just because Israel managed to strike what appears to be an Iranian military asset does not mean this threat will diminish. By being a near-threshold nuclear state, Iran is likely to continue wielding its atomic infrastructure for deterrent dividends like a sword of Damocles, thereby enabling more Iranian attacks.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

“Haghtalab’s threat underscores how hollow the Supreme Leader’s alleged fatwa, that nuclear weapons are forbidden, is. Tehran’s direct attack on Israel — and longtime nuclear blackmail —should motivate Washington and Jerusalem to redouble their military preparations against a possible Iranian breakout. A nuclear-armed Iran cannot happen.” — Andrea Stricker, FDD Research Fellow and Deputy Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program

Israel Avoided Striking Nuclear Sites

Israel reportedly struck a military base near Esfahan, a city that also houses a nuclear technology center where Iran conducts uranium conversion and fuel manufacturing and stores highly enriched uranium. Bracing for an Israeli counter-strike, Tehran attempted to deter Jerusalem from targeting its nuclear facilities by claiming that the regime may reevaluate its nonproliferation commitments. Israel likely viewed striking Iran’s nuclear sites as a needless escalation.

However, Iran’s continued amassing of fuel for an atomic bomb, reductions to international monitoring, and threats to make nuclear weapons all raise concerns that the United States and Israel will eventually have no option but to act militarily against such sites to stop a breakout. Haghtalab expressed confidence that the IRGC would be able to defend Tehran’s nuclear facilities from attack — a questionable claim since Iran’s air defenses in Esfahan appear to have failed to stop the Israeli strike.

Iran’s Alleged Fatwa

In 2003, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei allegedly forbade nuclear weapons development as contrary to Islamic law. However, Tehran maintained a secret nuclear weapons program until mid-2003, after which Iran may have downsized and hidden the program. Moreover, there is no evidence that Khamenei’s fatwa is unchangeable. In recent years, Iranian officials have threatened to reduce Tehran’s compliance with Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations not to develop nuclear weapons, and they boasted about progress toward making atomic weapons.    

Iran Briefly Closed Nuclear Facilities to IAEA Inspectors,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran Makes Progress on Constructing Underground Nuclear Site,” FDD Flash Brief

Washington Cannot Rely on Iran’s Alleged Anti-Nuclear Fatwa,” by Andrea Stricker


International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Israel Israel at War Nonproliferation