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Israel welcomes IAEA resolution, Iran retaliates by curtailing nuclear monitoring

What happened: Israel welcomes the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors’ resolution that criticises Iran for failing to cooperate with an agency investigation over its past nuclear activities.

  • The resolution, passed with 30 votes for, two against (Russia and China) and three abstentions (India, Libya, Pakistan), said the board “expresses profound concern” over uranium traces that were “not clarified by Iran”.
  • Iran responded by saying it will disconnect 27 IAEA surveillance cameras and other monitoring equipment added as part of the JCPOA deal.
  • Two days before the vote, Tehran installed advanced IR-6 centrifuges in a cascade at an underground enrichment plant. In the morning of the vote, the Iranian Atomic Agency removed two IAEA cameras at an unspecified enrichment plant.
  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennet said: “This is a significant decision that exposes Iran’s true face. The Board of Governors’ decision determines that Iran is neither cooperating with the IAEA nor obeying its directives and is thus preventing the agency from fulfilling its important function and acting against military nuclear activity.”
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “Iran has demonstrated once again that it threatens both regional and global peace. In addition to the condemnation, the international community must take concrete steps. Every monitoring device that is turned off should be met with diplomatic and economic sanctions. We must stand united and work closely together in facing Iranian regional and global aggression.”
  • The resolution was sponsored by the US and E3 (UK, Germany and France), who said in a joint statement: “The overwhelming majority vote at the IAEA Board of Governors sends an unambiguous message to Iran that it must meet its safeguards obligations and provide technically credible clarifications on outstanding safeguards issues.”
  • “We urge Iran to heed the call of the international community to fulfil its legal obligations and cooperate with the IAEA to fully clarify and resolve issues without further delay. If Iran does this and the Director General is able to report that the unresolved safeguards issues are no longer outstanding, we would see no need for further Board consideration and action on these issues.”

Context: The IAEA has been seeking Iran’s answers for three years about undeclared nuclear material in Iran. Some of the evidence is thought to be based on archives uncovered by the Mossad in 2018.

  • Last Friday, IAEA head Grossi took an unannounced trip to Israel and met with Prime Minister Bennett, who days earlier revealed that Iran stole classified documents from the IAEA and used them to deceive international inspectors nearly two decades ago.
  • Grossi said that Iran could now build more centrifuges without IAEA knowing about it.
  • Tehran is also enriching and storing uranium at its highest-ever levels, and close to weapons-grade. An Israeli government official said earlier in the week that Iran has enriched enough uranium to a high-grade to allow it to build three nuclear bombs. The IAEA’s latest report estimates that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit agreed on in the JCPOA nuclear deal.
  • By voting for the resolution, the US and E3 aim to affirms the importance of monitoring and verification as a principle and express their concern over lack of progress on a probe Iran itself has agreed to. However, it is not meant to scupper the JCPOA talks. As such, it is not inconsistent with wanting the nuclear deal fully restored, if Washington and Tehran can overcome the remaining hurdles and finalise a ready text.

Latest Israel-Iran shadow war: For a second time this week, Israeli IAF planes reportedly attacked several positions in southern Damascus early this morning. According to Syrian military sources, the air strike had been carried out from the Golan Heights.

  • On Monday, Israel allegedly struck a building in the heart of Damascus that housed a depot that played a role in the precision-guided missile programme being overseen by Iran.
  • Prime Minister Bennett took a short visit to the UAE yesterday and met with President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, where they discussed developing a regional architecture.
  • Last week it was reported that two high-ranking officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in mysterious circumstances. In addition, one engineer in the Parchin missile development complex, an expert on aeronautics and drones, and a scientist who worked at the centre for uranium enrichment in Natanz were also allegedly targeted.
  • In what was a possible retaliation to the recent events, Iran sent explosive drones toward northern Iraq and killed three civilians close to where a new US consulate is being built.
  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in the Knesset this week: “This past year was a transitional year in the Israeli strategy vis-à-vis Iran. We see the courageous Iranian people heading out into the streets of their country to demonstrate against the regime’s oppression and tyranny, against hunger, against the corruption that harms them.”
  • “We shifted into higher gear,” said Bennett, adding: “The State of Israel has been operating this past year against the head of the octopus of terrorism, and not just against the octopus’s tentacles, as was done in the past few decades.”
  • There is a sense in Israel that a return to the JCPOA is becoming less likely and that there has been progress in creating a regional alliance vis-à-vis Iran.
  • Israeli media has suggested that detection and defensive equipment have already been stationed in the region to support anti-Iranian activity.

Looking ahead: In theory, IAEA member states could escalate the matter to the UN Security Council, which could take measures against Iran. However, given Russia and China’s opposition to the resolution, action at the Security Council seems unlikely.

  • Grossi believes there is now a window of about 3-4 weeks to resolve JCPOA talks before the IAEA loses its continuity of knowledge about Iran nuclear activities due to the removal of cameras.
  • Without the ability to monitor, Iran is likely to install more cascades of IR-6 centrifuges.

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