Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei speaks during a televised address on March 21, 2021 in Tehran, Iran.
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As Iran increases uranium enrichment to 60%, a short jump to 90%, world powers are trying to persuade the Islamic Republic to take a break.
Meetings aimed at returning both Iran and the United States to some form of the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action resumed this week in Austria.
While Israel is not part of the talks, it is a major player in the drama that could quickly escalate.
Israel and its Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, want the US to increase pressure on Iran by strengthening the JCPOA to address terrorism, missile development and so-called “Iranian expansionism” throughout the Middle East Include east.
Iran and Israel were embroiled in a shadow war that intensified over the past month. An explosion disrupted one of the Iranian nuclear power centers in Natanz. One of the Iranian spy vessels was hit by an explosive device in the Red Sea. and at least two Israeli-owned cargo ships were targeted.
Iran’s decision to increase uranium enrichment came after the explosion in Natanz, which the Islamic Republic of Israel has blamed.
Israel has vowed to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if all else fails, and they have experience in this area.
Forty years ago, in June 1981, eight Israeli F-16s took off, flew over the Red Sea, spanned the Jordan-Saudi border and dropped their bombs on the Iraqi nuclear power plant in Osirak days before it should get hot. It was called Operation Opera and one of the pilots was General Amos Yadlin.
“Saddam and Assad were surprised. Iran has been waiting for this attack for 20 years.”
General Amos Yadlin
Former head of the Israeli military intelligence service
In 2007, Yadlin, as chief of the Israeli army’s military intelligence, helped plan a second operation. This was aimed at Syria’s secret nuclear power plant. Operation Orchard was also a success – the target was completely destroyed.
Yadlin said that if it comes down to it, this time around will be very different: “Saddam and Assad were surprised. Iran has been waiting for this attack for 20 years.”
Yadlin said the Iranian program is “much stronger and more dispersed” while the nuclear programs of Iraq and Syria are concentrated in one place. The Iranian nuclear program is in dozens of places, many of which are buried deep under mountains. In addition, it is not clear whether intelligence agencies know all the details about the locations of the Iranian program.
“Iran learned from what we did, but we also learned from what we did and now we have more skills,” said Yadlin.
Military planners in Israel say that regardless of the Vienna talks, they have five strategies to stop Iran:
- Option 1: Push for a stronger deal between Iran, the US, Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK.
- Option 2: Show Iran that the sanctions and diplomacy costs are too high to continue on the current path.
- Option 3: What is known in Israel as “Strategy C” – with covert attacks, secret actions and cyber attacks. Essentially try anything but war.
- Option 4: bombing the Iranian nuclear program.
- Option 5: Push for regime change in Iran. This is the hardest strategy.
Given the strength of the Ayatollahs – their control over the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and a powerful force known for their brutality – the Basij internal rebellion is a long shot.
Retired Israeli General and Executive Director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University (INSS) Amos Yadlin attends a meeting of the Security Conference on Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital on December 5, 2020.
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However, according to Ali Nader, an Iranian analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the regime has become increasingly unpopular domestically, and protests have broken out in the country in recent years. The main reason for these protests is a stalled economy hit hard by US sanctions, which serve as the main US lever against Iran in the Vienna nuclear talks.
“The US has the Iranian economy completely under control,” said Nader. In 2018, Iran had cash reserves worth more than $ 120 billion. Due to sanctions, this inventory fell to around $ 4 billion in 2020, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund.
The first thing Iran wants during these talks is for the US to relax sanctions and freely sell oil to Asia and Europe. Iran is circumventing sanctions and increasing supplies to China, according to the International Energy Agency, which oversees oil production and deliveries.
Iranian oil shipments to China reached record levels in January. Nader believes that by stopping the US doing more to enforce these sanctions, it is signaling that it is ready to make a deal.
The big question for the talks, however, is who has control over what becomes a chicken game.
Henry Rome is watching the negotiations as an analyst for the Eurasia Group. He doesn’t expect a breakdown or breakthrough as both sides try to get the other to take the first step.
With Iran due to elect a new president in two months’ time, Rome said: “Iran does not want to be viewed as desperate. The Supreme Leader would prefer to wait until after the June 18 elections before even making concessions. ”
“Iran play a weak hand, but they are very good at it,” said Rom.
Yadlin is nervous that the US will be too eager for a deal and give away too much. Repeating what he calls are the mistakes of the 2015 deal. Yadlin points to Iran’s successes in enrichment and reaches the symbolic 60% mark.
“The first deal is proving to be a problem. See how fast they’re moving,” Yadlin said. “You could have enough enriched uranium to get you to two or three bombs quickly.”
While there is still some work to be done in terms of delivery methods and weapons, Yadlin has no doubt that they have the knowledge to make atomic bombs.