by: Kate Norman
Tuesday, 23 May 2023 | Satellite imagery taken in April revealed that Iran is building an underground nuclear facility near its Natanz nuclear plant that is deep enough to put it out of reach of the United States’ “bunker buster” bomb.
The heavily guarded Natanz nuclear site lies 140 miles (225 km.) south of Tehran in the central Zagros Mountains and spreads across one square mile (2.7 sq. km.) of land. It has been the target over the past few years of sabotage attacks, including an explosion in 2020 that caused a large fire and destroyed the above-ground centrifuge facility. That attack was blamed on Israel.
Planet Labs PBC, a San Francisco-based company, took satellite images in April of the site that show workers digging into “Pickaxe Mountain” just south of the Natanz fences.
The California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) analyzed separate images and told the AP that it estimates that the new facility is likely between 260 feet (80 m.) and 328 feet (100 m.) underground, with four separate entrances: two on the east of the mountain and two on the west.
The depth of the project poses a problem, as it puts the site out of the reach of the US’s new “bunker buster” GBU-57 bomb. The 30,000-pound (13,600-kg.) bomb with its strong steel frame can burrow some 200 feet (60 m.) underground before exploding, the US military announced.
This makes the site “much harder to destroy using conventional weapons, such as like a typical buster bomb,” CNS research associate Steven De La Fuente told AP.
Washington has discussed using two of the bunker busters in quick succession, the AP reported, though it is not clear whether that would be enough to destroy a site that deep.
The size of the new site suggests, according to experts, that it could be filled with centrifuges used to enrich uranium to nuclear levels of purity.
Iran has been openly and progressively violating the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), since 2019. Since then, the regime has been enriching uranium to higher levels of purity than allowed. Nuclear investigators recently revealed that Iran has enriched uranium up to 83.7% purity, just a small step away from the 90% purity necessary for a nuclear weapon.
Iran has also been stockpiling over 10 times the amount of uranium allowed under the JCPOA, which International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Inspector-General Rafael Grossi estimated in January was enough for Tehran to build “several” nuclear weapons.
This new underground facility at Natanz “would be a nightmare scenario that risks igniting a new escalatory spiral,” the director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, Kelsey Davenport, told the AP. “Given how close Iran is to a bomb, it has very little room to ratchet up its program without tripping US and Israeli red lines. So at this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict.”
Washington has vowed to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon, though the Biden administration prefers a “diplomatic” approach, trying to draw Iran back into a new nuclear agreement, though on-again-off-again talks over the past few years have failed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also vowed to block Iran’s drive to the nuke, hinting at more military means and warning in the past that Israel can act against Iran regardless of the existence of a nuclear agreement.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been beefing up its arsenal with planes and weapons capable of destroying Iran’s nuclear sites and conducting military exercises—some jointly with the US military—that rehearse strikes in Iran. This deep underground site, however, poses a new problem, extending beyond the bunker buster reach.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also revealed Monday that Iran is loading commercial vessels with weapons and reconnaissance systems, turning them into “floating terror bases.”
Speaking to a Reichman University Institute for Policy and Strategy conference yesterday, Gallant asserted that Iran’s goal is to expand its current maritime terrorism from the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean, Red Sea and even the Mediterranean.
“This is a structured plan designed to threaten trade and flight routes—both military and civilian—and to create a permanent threat in the maritime area,” Gallant warned, as quoted by the Jewish News Syndicate.
The threat of Iran is expanding, as the regime digs nuclear facilities deep underground and sends off its floating terror bases across the seas.
Gallant asserted yesterday that the best way to thwart Tehran’s growing aggression is through international cooperation “in the air, at sea and on land.”
Posted on May 23, 2023
Source: (Bridges for Peace, May 23, 2023)
Photo Credit: Mostafa Roudaki/Mizan News Agency/commons.wikimedia.org
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