Iran Accelerates into the Nuclear Gray Zone

On December 26, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran more than tripled its production rate of 60 percent highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the month before. This is the latest in a series of aggressive Iranian moves to entrench itself securely in the nuclear gray zone of nuclear weapons capability, where it can credibly threaten to field a sizable nuclear arsenal in short order without actually testing a bomb or clearly crossing U.S. and Israeli redlines.

Tehran’s decades-long approach to this threshold has occurred entirely in a vacuum of serious U.S. prevention strategy. Iran has expanded its enrichment capacity most aggressively in the last 18 months, as it became abundantly clear the Biden administration had no plan beyond delaying or simply ignoring this problem as an inconvenient distraction from other global priorities. The collapse of Israeli deterrence on October 7, and the administration’s reluctance to fill the ensuing void, only gives Tehran more incentive and opportunity to push deeper into the nuclear gray zone.

These developments make it imperative that the United States reestablish credible deterrence against the entire Iran-based problem set, of which the nuclear program is one key element.