US, Iran, Israel oppose nuclear weapons, everyone blinks – what now? – analysis

In the ongoing nuclear standoff involving the United States and Iran – Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab states being the most actively interested parties on the sidelines – everyone has now blinked.

Where that means the nuclear stalemate will go next is less certain.

The United States blinked first.

Israeli intelligence sources explained that when Washington saw that Ebrahim Raisi would be elected president, he relaxed some of his red lines, hoping to strike a deal before he arrived.

Those relaxed positions included a willingness to allow the Islamic Republic to stockpile its advanced centrifuges – which could allow it to produce material for a nuclear bomb at a faster rate – as opposed to the initial demand that almost all of them be destroyed.

Incidentally, as part of Iran’s 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, Tehran was allowed to retain a very limited number of its advanced centrifuges, compared to the hundreds it currently operates.

In addition, the Biden administration has reportedly shown some additional flexibility in what sanctions it would remove in a return to the JCPOA.

Iranian presidential election WINNER Ebrahim Raisi looks at a polling station in Iran last Friday (Credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR / WANA / REUTERS)

These pre-Raisi concessions are part of what may have encouraged the new Iranian leader to seek more concessions by suspending negotiations for four months and continuing with a 60% enrichment, a notch below the 90% needed. for military grade uranium.

Iran then blinked.

Last week, the Islamic Republic agreed to resume talks with the IAEA on nuclear inspections and allowed the agency first access to some of its nuclear observation equipment after months of lockdown.

Notably, some equipment was reported as damaged and the IAEA gave its first details on the damage.

The IAEA has not disclosed whether the damage to its cameras was caused by the June attack on Iran‘s Karaj nuclear facility (attributed to Israel) and whether its conclusion was based on Iranian reports or whether it had independently confirmed the cause of the damage.

This is an important question as it raises suspicions that the Iranians have tampered with IAEA equipment in recent months to hide certain activities – although it should be noted that Israeli officials did not did not deny their involvement in the attack on Karaj.

Arguably, Iran hasn’t blinked so much that it has finally started to take advantage of Washington’s new conciliatory approach.

But it still is, and the Islamic Republic has yet to receive the major concession it has requested – a complete lifting of sanctions by the United States before a return to the JCPOA.

Under the deal, Iran is expected to drop all of its 60% and 20% enriched uranium and most of what has been 5% enriched before the sanctions are lifted.

Israel also appeared to flash in pre-Yom Kippur interviews.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has become the first senior Israeli official to publicly reduce his opposition to a US return to the JCPOA.

So far, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz and all other Israeli officials have publicly opposed the deal.

If there was a difference between Netanyahu and Bennett’s approaches, it was in the style: Netanyahu wanted to make the fight with the United States over Iran a constant source of friction to gain political points with part of the American and Israeli electorate and possibly intimidate Iran.

Bennett attempted to regain support for Israel within the Democratic Party which reached historic lows under Netanyahu and after publicly attacking Barack Obama with a speech to the US Congress in 2015.

Gantz’s statement crossed a new line.

It only happened a day after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid played down the fact that Iran only has one month’s worth of uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Lapid said out loud what only Israeli critics, nuclear scientists and sometimes IDF officials were saying quietly when Israeli politicians slammed their sabers at Iran’s proximity to a nuclear weapon.

He explained that even if the Islamic Republic got to the point where it had enough uranium, it would still have more than a few months before it could deliver a nuclear weapon.

In fact, even hawkish nuclear experts and Israeli (non-political) intelligence officials have said for some time that the fastest Iran could develop a nuclear weapon after having enough militarized uranium would be six months.

The IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General. Aviv Kohavi and several IDF intelligence officials have estimated the number to be nearly two years.

The disparity stems mainly from all that Iran has done covertly in the areas of detonation and ballistic missile development since the 2003 era (an era that Israel knows well after the Mossad seized the nuclear archives of the ‘Iran) and what activities Tehran may or may not be physically and financially able to undertake in parallel.

But by saying this out loud, Lapid lessened the urgency that Israel placed on Iran’s pressure for a nuclear bomb.

Lapid could try to ease the pressure on the US to rush into a deal again on the pretext that if Iran isn’t about to build a bomb then the US can wait. a “better” deal.

But, alongside Gantz’s statement, it appears that at least some members of the current Israeli government are prepared to agree to a return of the United States to the JCPOA on condition that they obtain guarantees to withdraw economic sanctions in the event of a violation and assurances from the United States that it would not resist Israeli plans to attack Iranian nuclear facilities in the future if necessary.

Will all of this lead to an Iranian and American return to the JCPOA?

What will the new JCPOA look like and will the Biden administration stay true to its commitment to apply an add-on to the JCPOA to correct flaws in the agreement?

How will Israel act if Washington and the West simply wither under Iranian pressure and settle for a slightly weaker JCPOA in which Iran can permanently retain its hundreds of advanced centrifuges – even if they are temporarily closed?

These are all open questions.

But the flickering on all sides over the past few days has started to reshape the geopolitics surrounding the issue, and it looks like more changes and surprises are not far away.

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