Since the end of June, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure has been under attack. Mysterious explosions and fires have taken out missile factories, centrifuge assembly halls and underground chemical weapons research facilities. All indicators point to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as the one behind the attacks, although it has not officially claimed responsibility.
Before the attacks, defense officials predicted Iran’s nuclear breakout was mere months away. The intricate and deadly nature of creating such a weapon of mass destruction no doubt lends itself to careful and painstaking assembly. This process has likely been temporarily slowed by the attacks. However, Iran also has a number of unscrupulous friends—foreign actors that might be willing to lend their expertise. If so, a homemade nuclear bomb could still be in Iran’s hands sooner than later. Take North Korea, for instance. Iran has repeatedly purchased weaponry from this rogue nation. It has also enjoyed the luxury of copying many of North Korea’s missile designs. One example is the Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile. The nuclear-capable weapon bears all the hallmarks of Pyongyang’s Nodong-1. Russia is another friend that regularly supports Tehran’s nuclear efforts. Moscow has been the most vocal supporter of Iran’s nuclear-weapons-related programs—this despite its signature on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (jcpoa) nuclear deal. Russia has helped Iran develop nuclear technology and has supplied advanced surface-to-air weaponry to protect Iranian nuclear sites from Israeli air strikes. With an arms embargo against Iran set to end in October, Russia is pushing hard to avoid having it extended further.
Russia has also defended Iran’s underhanded efforts to skirt the jcpoa.