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Bennett emphasises resolve to stop Iranian nuclear programme

What happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said yesterday that he will “not hesitate to act when it is needed” against threats from Israel’s enemies.

  • Bennett’s remarks at the Israel Air Force’s Hatzerim Air Base came a day after a drone attack on an Iranian centrifuge production facility outside Tehran.
  • Referring to Israel’s airstrike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, Bennett said that Israeli prime ministers have always had “sacred responsibility not to allow an existential threat to the State of Israel. Then it was Iraq, today it is Iran.”
  • Speaking at the same event, Defence Minister Benny Gantz added: “As though no time has passed, today in Iran — as it was 40 years ago [in Iraq] — a murderous and dangerous enemy, which is building arms of terror around the State of Israel, seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel and the stability of the entire region.”
  • On Wednesday, reports emerged about a drone attack on a facility that belongs to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran, known as the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center.
  • The facility is believed to be used in the construction of centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, and was in the past subjected to UN, EU and US sanctions for being involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Context: Yesterday an interim agreement on monitoring Iran’s atomic activities expired between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, expired.

  • In February Iran announced that it was scrapping some of the JCPOA’s inspection and monitoring measures but delayed doing so for a few months to allow talks with the Biden administration over returning to the nuclear deal.
  • The interim agreement with the IAEA allowed for the nuclear watchdog to conduct online enrichment measurement to monitor and relay in real time the amount of uranium being enriched and calculate its fissile purity.
  • The agreement also allows the IAEA to monitor various aspects of assembly and storage of Iran’s centrifuges and all uranium produced in Iran or obtained from any other source.
  • A senior US State Department official said yesterday “Iran should not be playing brinkmanship each time these agreements get extended,” adding that “in the absence of such an understanding, in the absence of the IAEA being able to monitor what Iran is doing, it will be that much more complicated to get back into the JCPOA”.
  • On Wednesday Mahmoud Vaezi, President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, told reporters that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council will decide whether to prolong the IAEA agreement only after it expires.
  • The IAEA’s Director General has warned that that failure to extend the interim agreement absent a return to the JCPOA would degrade international understanding of Iran’s nuclear programme.
  • This week the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, held several days of talks in the US with senior Biden administration officials. On Wednesday, Kohavi met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and warned about the failures of the current nuclear deal. Kohavi also presented “multiple ways to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capabilities” according to the IDF.

Looking ahead: On Sunday Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome.

  • Lapid will try to further improve coordination on the Iranian issue.
  • The new Israeli government is already showing signs of a shift in Iranian policy and will try to influence the nature of the agreement under negotiation.
  • The sixth round of talks in Vienna between the US and Iran to return to the JCPOA concluded last weekend and a seventh round is expected to begin soon.

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