Israel warns of Iran stalling talks to become a nuclear-threshold state

What happened: Israel has increased its public warnings of Iran’s developing nuclear programme amid new concerns that the Islamic Republic could produce enough weapons-grade nuclear material for one bomb within a month.

  • On Sunday Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the weekly cabinet meeting: “The Iranians are advancing unhindered with their nuclear programme. They are ignoring the IAEA guidelines. They are simply disrespecting it, and are trying to disguise the fact that their programme was, and remains, a nuclear weapons programme… The Iranian nuclear programme is at the most advanced point ever.”
  • He continued: “The Iranians understand that they are facing world powers that are very interested in returning to the nuclear deal at almost any cost – and I remind you, we do not believe in this agreement. It does not provide the necessary benefit; however, the Iranians are dragging things out and making progress in the meantime.”
  • On Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a similar warning during his remarks at the annual International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) Conference at Reichman University.
  • He noted: “Iran does not honour the agreements it has signed, and there is no reason to believe that it will honour any future agreements. The time has come for action. I call on the countries that are still members of the nuclear agreement to impose the sanctions set out in the agreement. It’s time to make a ‘snapback.’”
  • Gantz also referred to what he described as “organised terror armies” which are assisting Iran in achieving its economic, political and military goals. One of the most significant tools employed by Iran and its proxies is UAVs with a range of thousands of kilometres. Hundreds of these UAVs are spread across Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran is also attempting to transfer the know-how needed for UAV production to Gaza.”
  • Gantz named the Kashan base, located north of the city of Isfahan, as a key site for training proxies to produce Iranian-designed UAVs and exporting them across the region.
  • In a rare interview with Foreign Policy magazine published yesterday, Defence Minister Gantz said that whilst he’d accept putting “the Iran nuclear programme back in the box,” he is pressing for a viable plan B that includes broad economic, diplomatic and political pressure imposed on Iran by the US and the JCPOA partners in case the talks in Vienna fail.

Context: Israel is increasing becoming concerned that the US and JCPOA partners will agree to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal with caveats that allow Iran to maintain the nuclear technology it has acquired in violation of its commitments over the last two years – i.e. to remain a nuclear-threshold state.

  • On Monday, Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement in which Iran would reinstall cameras at its Karaj centrifuge manufacturing facility and allow the IAEA to service them – Iran removed the cameras in June following a suspected attack at the facility.
  • The agreement, however, did little to resolve other outstanding issues between the IAEA and Iran, such as the latter’s failure to explain uranium traces found at three undeclared former sites.
  • Furthermore, given the lengthy period since the IAEA had access to surveillance data at Karaj, serious gaps could have developed in the IAEA’S ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear programme, particularly concerning centrifuge manufacturing and assembly.
  • At the start of September, the IAEA estimated that Iran has a stockpile of 10kg of near 60 per cent enriched uranium and 84.3kg of 20 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).
  • Another nuclear proliferation concern is the production of uranium metal. Iran has produced a total of 200 grams of near 20 per cent enriched uranium metal. The development of uranium metal is concerning because its production is a key step in making nuclear weapons.
  • EU political director Enrique Mora, who also serves as the coordinator of the nuclear talks in Vienna, said the interim agreement with the IAEA “gives space for diplomacy”, adding it was crucial for the talks to resume as soon as possible.
  • During Prime Minister’s visit to the White House in August, US President Joe Biden pledged that Iran will “never” get a nuclear weapon, and said that though he prefers a diplomatic solution, there are “other options” should that fail.
  • Last week, Maj.-Gen. Tal Kalman, commander of the IDF’s Strategy and Third Circle Directorate, told Maariv that Hezbollah’s precision-guided missile programme was a “serious strategic threat,” adding: “These are not just ballistic missiles, but cruise missiles and drones, which the Iranian military industry produces in their thousands and distributes them across the region.”

Looking ahead: It remains unclear if or when Iran will return to the nuclear talks in Vienna. They left the talks in June due to elections.

  • Yesterday, Iran’s new President Raisi replaced Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s outgoing deputy foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator with Ali Bagheri, who is very critical of the JCPOA deal. However, someone else in the new government could lead nuclear talks.
  • The US is still waiting for Iran to return to talks. Last week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Germany that “we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA does not reproduce the benefits that that agreement achieved”.
  • According to FP, In the event that the diplomatic talks fail, Israel is encouraging the US to prepare a serious “demonstration of power”.

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