Prime Minister Bennett lays out concerns over JCPOA revival


What happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett related yesterday his concerns over the anticipated return to the JCPOA nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna.

  • At the weekly cabinet meeting Bennett gave his assessment that the new agreement between Iran and the US is “shorter and weaker than the previous one”.
  • Bennett explained: “The original agreement, signed in 2015, was an agreement for ten years and is now for two-and-a-half years. Meaning, restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme are expected to expire in 2025. Two things have happened since the original signing: The Iranians have made great strides in building their enrichment capability and time has passed.”
  • He continued, “If the world signs the agreement again – without extending the expiration date – then we are talking about an agreement that buys a total of two and a half years, after which Iran can and may develop and install advanced centrifuges, without restrictions. According to the agreement, this would mean ‘stadiums’ of centrifuges. In return, the Iranians will currently receive tens of billions of dollars and the lifting of sanctions; that is a lot of money.”
  • He added: “This money will eventually go to terrorism in the area. This terrorism endangers us, endangers other countries in the region, as we have seen recently, and it will also endanger American forces in the region.  In any case, we are organising and preparing for the day after, in all dimensions, so that we can maintain the security of the citizens of Israel by ourselves.”
  • Last night Bennett addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations where he expanded on his concerns about the parameters of what is being negotiated in Vienna:
    • 1. The agreement would leave Iran with a fast track to military-grade enrichment by allowing it to store and not destroy all the advanced centrifuges they developed over the past few years in contravention of the JCPOA nuclear deal.
    • 2. The Iranian regime is insisting on closing the open files of the IAEA – these are ‘hot investigations’ pertaining to possible military dimensions. The concern is that Iran has hidden and is still hiding nuclear-weapon related materials.
    • 3. The agreement will pour money, billions of dollars, into Iran’s terror network, meaning more attacks on ships, more rockets on Israel and US allies through its proxies.

Context: Last week an Israeli delegation visited Vienna to discuss the progress being made in talks with the JCPOA participants and the IAEA.

  • Israel’s ability to influence the negotiations is considered negligible, but they were able to express their concern over Iran’s regional aggression and the proliferation of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in particular.
  • With a return to an agreement, large parts of the cash injection from sanctions relief is expected to go to Iran’s regional proxies, increasing the likelihood and severity of attacks.
  • The latest example was on Friday when a model airplane, controlled by Hezbollah, triggered air raid sirens in northern Israel. The UAV crossed into Israeli airspace from Lebanon, flew south to the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee before turning round and returning to Lebanon.
  • The Iron Dome system fired but missed, as the UAV flew slowly at a low altitude.
  • Iran has been deploying UAVs and arming proxies, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, who last month attacked the UAE.
  • In an unusual move, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the UAV last Friday, claiming it flew 70km into Israeli territory for around 40 minutes. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah also claimed in a speech that his organisation has developed indigenous capabilities to build UAVs and precision missiles.
  • In addition, Iran continues to exploit civilian flights from Tehran to Damascus to transport weapons under the guise of civilian equipment. Iran also transfers weapons in containers that arrive to the port of Latakia.
  • Since February 2021, Iran has prevented the IAEA accessing cameras installed, and limited their ability to  monitor their nuclear progress.  As a result, the international community has been in the dark.  Despite reaching  a new agreement in December 2021, Iran has not yet allowed its previous footage to be seen.
  • Without a full IAEA investigation into Iran’s previous nuclear activity, including full access to military sites, it would be impossible to verify Iran’s nuclear programme.

Looking ahead: Defence Minister Benny Gantz yesterday addressed the Munich Security Conference and related to the negotiations in Vienna. If the JCPOA nuclear deal is revived, Gantz implored:

  • “Action must be taken to ensure that Iran does not continue to enrich in additional facilities, and oversight must be increased.
  • “It is essential that the IAEA continues to investigate and monitor the possible military dimensions.
  • “We must ensure that the advanced centrifuges are not found in other facilities.
  • “Development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads must be stopped.
  • “It is critical that the sunset clauses are not understood as an expiration date that enables Iran to revisit its nuclear ambitions.
  • “All steps must be taken to ensure that Iran never becomes a nuclear-threshold state.”

As well as the north, Israel has set up an air defence system close to Eilat, to be prepared for a UAV attack launched from Yemen.