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At the same time, sanctions and other likely covert operations are taking a heavy toll on the Iranian nuclear program. One issue still confronting Iran is faulty equipment. This may be connected to CIA-Mossad operations that began as early as 1998 to sell Iran booby-trapped equipment. Nuclear-related tools that the Iranians admitted were “manipulated” caused the destruction of 50 centrifuges in 2006, and the director of the Atomic Energy Organization was sacked in 2009 after a similar explosion happened at Natanz.
The creation of enriched uranium is still decreasing despite Iran’s use of newly-made centrifuges to replace the old and damaged ones. This is being attributed to the type of metal used in them, but covert operations cannot be ruled out given the history. The Institute for Science and International Security and U.N. inspectors say that Iran is producing more uranium than it did before the Stuxnet attack, but U.N. inspectors say this amount is declining as centrifuges break.
Iran must also overcome a critical shortage of raw uranium, a problem that has forced it to look to foreign suppliers such as Venezuela, Zimbabwe and North Korea. The black market equipment at the Isfahan uranium conversion site, which turns the raw uranium into gas so it can go into the centrifuges, has also suffered from technical errors. The facility must remove impurities from the uranium before it can be safely inserted into the units without damaging them. In a problem possibly related to covert operations, the equipment failed to do so.
There are a number of other mysterious incidents that have undermined Iran’s nuclear efforts. In the past two years, four Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated. In October 2010, a Revolutionary Guards base that housed Shahab-3 missiles suffered a massive explosion at an ammunition depot. There have been repeated explosions at important gas pipelines over the past year.
The problems that Iran is encountering are encouraging, but there is still not much room for comfort. It is still believed that Iran could make a nuclear weapon within 6 months if it tried. The scale of the Iranian nuclear program shows that the regime wants the ability to quickly produce multiple nuclear weapons, and does not want to build one and call it quits.
The “Son of Stuxnet” is almost certainly Israel’s answer to this continued threat. For once, it is Iran that is sitting, feeling helpless as it awaits the next attack.
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