Israel warns Iran is at the most-advanced stage in its nuclear programme

What happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has warned that the Iranian nuclear programme is at its most advanced point ever.

  • Prime Minister Bennett yesterday hosted outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a special Cabinet meeting, where he gave his latest assessment: “The world is currently sitting and waiting for a decision in Teheran, whether or not to return to the discussion table in Vienna and to re-enter the JCPOA nuclear agreement.”
  • “Unfortunately, in the last three years the Iranians have taken a giant leap forward in their ability to enrich uranium. The Iranian nuclear programme is at its most advanced point ever. The world is waiting, the Iranians are playing for time, and the centrifuges are spinning.”
  • “The responsibility on Israel is to make certain – in actions, not speeches – that Iran will not have nuclear weapons, ever. Nuclear weapons in the hands of such an extremist and violent regime will change the face of the region and the world. For us this is not a strategic problem, but an existential issue.”
  • Speaking later at a joint press conference Merkel said that the coming weeks are decisive for the future of the nuclear deal with Iran, with every day that passes without Tehran responding to US overtures will result in Iran enriching more uranium.
  • Over the weekend the Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation announced that Iran has enriched more than 120kg of 20 per cent enriched uranium.

Context: If true, 120kg is beyond the estimates of the latest IAEA assessment.

  • According to the IAEA report in May, Iran had 62.8kg enriched uranium at 20 per cent.
  • At the start of September, the IAEA estimated that Iran has a of 84.3kg of 20 per cent enriched uranium, plus an additional 10kg of near 60 per cent enriched uranium.
  • According to the ISIS think-tank, Iran would need about 40kg of 60 per cent enriched uranium to be able to produce enough weapons-grade enrichment (93.5 per cent).
  • Under the nuclear deal, Iran was not meant to enrich uranium above 3.67 per cent, and not to stockpile enriched uranium higher than 3.67 per cent for at least 15 years.
  • Merkel, like her European colleagues, believe that diplomacy is the correct path in dealing with Iran and that they are encouraging the resumption of talks with Iran soon.
  • Bennet is keen for Germany (along with the UK and France) to prepare an alternative plan if renewed talks with Iran fail.
  • Iran is thought to be deliberately stalling for time, whilst trying to gain leverage to extract further concessions for when negotiations do eventually resume. Among their demands, Iran wants the sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump lifted and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) taken off the terrorism blacklist.
  • Prof Eyal Zisser yesterday wrote in Israel Hayom: “The only thing separating Iran from a nuclear weapon is a political decision from its leaders. Indeed, in recent years Iran has enriched enough uranium to make a bomb, and even if it hasn’t done so yet and hasn’t developed the ability to launch one on a ballistic missile, this is still just a technical matter requiring just a few weeks of effort, rather than an actual obstacle.”

Looking ahead: This evening Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will travel to Washington for a trilateral meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. They are expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal and Blinken will share with the two allies the latest US assessment and approach moving forward.

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