This is either moderately bad news, or really bad news. I’ll let you decide:
When Iran was caught last September building a secret, underground nuclear enrichment plant at a military base near the city of Qum, the country’s leaders insisted they had no other choice. With its nuclear facilities under constant threat of attack, they said, only a fool would leave them out in the open.
So imagine the surprise of international inspectors almost two weeks ago when they watched as Iran moved nearly its entire stockpile of low-enriched nuclear fuel to an above-ground plant. It was as if, one official noted, a bull’s-eye had been painted on it.
Why take such a huge risk?
That mystery is the subject of fervent debate among many who are trying to decode Iran’s intentions. The theories run from the bizarre to the mundane: Under one, Iran is actually taunting the Israelis to strike first. Under another, it is simply escalating the confrontation with the West to win further concessions in negotiations. The simplest explanation, and the one that the Obama administration subscribes to, is that Iran has run short of suitable storage containers for radioactive fuel, so it had to move everything.
Could Iran be inviting an attack on the facility? The mullahcracy is at its least secure in the 30 years since deposing the shah. It exists now only through the auspices of its military and paramilitary forces, and is one adverse event from a coup. They desperately need a legitimate outside threat — the Great Satan speeches about the US will no longer suffice — and perhaps they want to entice Israel into a quick airstrike.
That may be tempting for Israel, but even if that were the case, the mullahs and their IRGC sponsors would hardly leave all their uranium eggs in that above-ground basket. They want a nuclear weapon, and if this is just bait, then they have sufficient quantities elsewhere for their larger purpose. That is also the case if the move comes from a lack of underground storage. Either means that the Iranians are producing enriched uranium at rates faster than the West has presumed — which probably also means that they’re enriching it to higher concentrations than presumed as well.
Either way, it looks like bad news.