Which one will come into effect?

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Newly appointed head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami, made an important announcement on October 10.

Iran has enriched more than 120 kilograms of uranium to the 20% level, he said, a significant jump from the 84 kilograms that Iran had previously enriched a month earlier, according to the body. United Nations nuclear oversight, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The 120 kilogram milestone is bigger than it looks. While Islami said the number represented a target set by the Iranian parliament that was successfully met, which it did, the number has a much broader meaning.

This amount of enriched uranium, if still 90 percent enriched, is almost what is needed to build a single nuclear bomb.

The fact that Iran is also openly enriching other amounts of uranium, albeit lower, at the 60% level, as demonstrated by its previous announcements, represents an abandonment by Iran of civilian cover for its nuclear program. . No non-nuclear state needs to enrich uranium to the 60% level.

All in all, this means that Iran is at its most advanced stage of its nuclear program, both in terms of the amount of enriched uranium and especially the level at which some of this uranium has been enriched (60%). .

These developments signify a larger problem, and it is the twilight zone of “no man’s land” in which Iran’s nuclear program currently finds itself. For one thing, no new or old nuclear deals have been made since the Trump administration left the JCPOA. in 2018 unilaterally. On the other hand, the “maximum pressure” campaign that the former US administration waged on Iran is not in place either.

Although the Biden administration has not lifted sanctions against Iran, the level of enforcement has declined significantly, as has the discipline of members of the international agreement. China is making crude oil deals with Iran that were not done a year ago.

In the absence of maximum pressure and an agreement, Iran enjoys all the advantages as it enriches an increasing amount of uranium.

The longer the status quo persists, the worse it will be for global, regional and Israeli security.

In the meantime, Iran has increasingly limited the IAEA’s oversight capabilities. Iran delays return to nuclear talks; the last round of negotiations took place in Vienna in June.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In a few months, if no change occurs, the threshold for Israeli military action could be triggered.

All told, Iran is about a year and a half away from having a nuclear program. While making major strides in the development of fissile material, it has not made a leap to other areas of the program, such as preparing for an underground nuclear test, as it would show the world that a military nuclear program is bombing.

This would likely create a strong backlash, a development the Iranian regime is keen to avoid. Instead, Iran retains all the technological knowledge and personnel necessary to break through, and “puts them on ice”, waiting another time.

Economic, diplomatic and military deterrence

Looking ahead, there appear to be three potential plans in the job to deal with this situation.

The first, “Plan A” is the intention of the Biden administration to revert to the 2015 nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Negotiations in Vienna, Austria, between Iran and the European Union, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China. Source: European External Action Service / Twitter.

While Washington seems determined to this plan, it is almost pointless in terms of a meaningful halt to the Iranian program in light of all the nuclear progress Iran has made in the past 18 months.

“Plan B” would involve exerting real international pressure to bring Iran back to the negotiations in a genuine way in order to conclude a longer and stronger nuclear deal. This would involve the use of diplomacy, mixed with a credible military threat from both the United States and Israel.

It seems reasonable to assume that visiting Israeli officials in Washington promoted such an approach. A better and stronger deal would keep Iran away from nuclear weapons for decades, not just years like the current JCPOA and its short-term sunset clauses would.

A better deal would also see Iran not only abandon its fissile material, but also dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, and the IAEA would benefit from enhanced oversight capabilities capable of responding to suspicious activity, as Iranian records reveal, which the Mossad has. recovered in Tehran in 2018 in a daring operation.

The international community has already proven its ability to unite and push Iran to the negotiating table in 2015, and in theory it could repeat it. A combination of economic, diplomatic and military deterrence and pressure would be needed to achieve this.

A strike could spark a wider war

If both plans fail, the question of military action becomes relevant.

The Israel Defense Forces is working to put in place updated military options to prevent Iran from switching to nuclear weapons.

If diplomacy continues to stagnate, Iran will need to remember that military options exist as well.

From Israel’s perspective, a nuclear Iran would pose an intolerable existential threat – and not just because of direct nuclear threats. Iran’s regional activity and its network of proxies would be given a nuclear umbrella, meaning Iran’s risky and destabilizing activity in the region would be placed on steroids. It would spark a nuclear arms race with Sunni states like Saudi Arabia launching their own offers to arm themselves with atomic bombs in the decades to come. Such a regional future represents an unacceptably dangerous and unstable scenario to be avoided at all costs.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York, USA. September 27, 2021. Photo by Avi Ohayon / GPO.

Despite its bravado, Iran has no interest in entering direct state-to-state wars. He has demonstrated this repeatedly over the past 20 years. In 2003, with the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq around it, the Islamic Republic froze its military nuclear program, dubbed “Amad”. More recently, Iran has invested a great deal of effort and resources in protecting its nuclear infrastructure by placing parts of it underground and surrounding its sites with air defense systems, showing how seriously Tehran takes the threat. military action.

If diplomacy fails, “Plan C” would be the last resort. This is a scenario for which the Israeli defense establishment must prepare intensively. A strike against Iran’s nuclear program would likely trigger a wider regional war, but not necessarily.

Multiple scenarios, including the activation of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is 20 times more powerful than it was during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, coupled with Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq, must be taken into account in planning.

This will contribute to the credibility of Israel’s military deterrence. Currently, it appears that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei does not assess that there is an imminent military threat to his country, and he acts on the basis of that assessment.

If convinced otherwise, especially with the help of the United States, Khamenei is likely to change course because he fears what direct war could do to his Islamic revolution.

Israel began to develop its military capabilities to stop Iran’s nuclear program in 2004, and it hasn’t stopped. Over time, the chances that Israel will need to deploy these capabilities appear to have increased. Now, with Tehran ramping up its nuclear program, Jerusalem is simultaneously ramping up its own military strike capacity.

The year 2022 will prove to be a critical crossroads.


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