Uranium could also be shipped from Burma or North Korea. It’s likely that after Israel destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007, which should be seen as an extension of Iran’s own program, 45 tons of uranium sent by North Korea was transferred to Iran. Towards the end of last year, an intelligence report was written saying that Iran was in the final stages of negotiating with officials in Kazakhstan to buy 1,350 tons of purified uranium for $450 million. Iran is also increasing production at its uranium mine near Bandar Abbas, a site which the regime is refusing to give inspectors access to. The site has the potential to provide enough uranium for two nuclear bombs per year.
There are other reasons that the Iranian nuclear program has slowed down besides the need for more uranium. The use of the black market to provide the Iranians with faulty equipment is only the beginning of the covert efforts. Israel’s Mossad is suspected of being behind the deaths of numerous nuclear scientists. Israel has also used cyber warfare, possibly including the insertion of viruses into computer systems or even remotely causing explosions. When Iran executed a man it believe acted as an Israeli spy in providing them communications equipment that had been tampered with, it said he had “led to the defeat of the project with irreversible damage.”
The numerous defections of important personnel surely have hampered the program as well. In 2007, Deputy Defense Minister Ali-Reza Asgari switched sides. Last year, a nuclear scientist named Shahram Amiri defected and came to the U.S. A second unidentified scientist is thought to have defected around the same time. Most recently, a nuclear scientist is seeking asylum in Israel.
It is also possible that Iran is slowing down its program, hoping to avoid sanctions until it has boosted its refining capacity. The country’s heavy reliance upon imports of petroleum-based products like gasoline is a major vulnerability. Iran is currently building seven more refineries and is expanding ten current facilities, enabling it to produce twice as much gasoline in 2012. The regime may believe it’s worth moving a step slower so as to not spur the international community into action as they work to decrease this weakness.
The world should not take comfort in the fact that the Iranian-Zimbabwean agreement indicates that Iran’s nuclear program is facing obstacles. We are lucky that time has been bought, but that time is still short and the obstacles are far from insurmountable. Iran’s capabilities may not be as efficient as the country would like, but Iran still does have enough uranium for a nuclear weapon and the capacity to enrich it to bomb-grade, albeit at a much slower pace. A nuclear-armed Iran remains within sight.