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Three plans to deal with Iran’s nuclear program: Which one will go into effect?

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Three plans to deal with Iran’s nuclear program: Which one will go into effect?

Iran’s uranium enrichment activities are at their most advanced stage to date, as Tehran benefits from a current status quo that lacks maximum pressure or terms associated with a new deal.

A view of nuclear centrifuges at the Iran nuclear energy exhibition at the Islamic Revolution & Holy Defense Museum in 2018. Credit: Inspired by Maps/Shutterstock.

The freshly appointed head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami, made a significant announcement on Oct. 10.

Iran enriched more than 120 kilograms of uranium to the 20 percent level, he said—a major jump from the 84 kilograms that Iran had previously enriched a month earlier, according to the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The 120-kilogram milestone is more significant than meets the eye. While Eslami said the figure represented an objective set by the Iranian parliament that was successfully met, which it was, the number holds a far wider significance.

This quantity of enriched uranium, if further enriched to 90 percent, is almost what is required to build a single nuclear bomb.

The fact that Iran is also openly enriching other, albeit smaller quantities of uranium to the 60 percent level, as its previous announcements demonstrate, represents an abandonment by Iran of the civilian cover for its nuclear program.

No non-nuclear states need to enrich uranium to the 60 percent level.

All told, this means that Iran is at its most advanced stage ever in its nuclear program, both in the amount of uranium enriched and especially at the level that some of that uranium has been enriched to (60 percent).

These developments signify a wider problem, and that is the twilight “no-man’s-land” zone that the Iranian nuclear program currently is in. On the one hand, no new or old nuclear deal has been reached since the Trump administration exited the JCPOA in 2018 unilaterally.

On the other hand, the “maximum pressure” campaign that the former American administration waged on Iran is not in place either.

Although the Biden administration has not lifted sanctions on Iran, the level of enforcement has noticeably decreased, and so, too, has the discipline by members of the international deal.

China is striking crude-oil deals with Iran that didn’t strike a year ago.

Absent maximum pressure and absent a deal, Iran is enjoying all of the benefits as it enriches a growing quantity of uranium.

The longer the status quo goes on, the worse the situation will become for global, regional and Israeli security.

In the meantime, Iran has increasingly limited the IAEA’s supervision capabilities.

Iran is delaying its return to the nuclear talks; the last round of negotiations occurred in Vienna in June.

Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In several months, if no change occurs, the threshold for Israeli military action might be triggered.

All told, Iran is approximately a year-and-a-half away from having a nuclear program. While it is making major progress on developing fissile material, it has not surged on other components of the program, such as preparing an underground nuclear test, due to the fact that this would make it obvious to the entire world that a military nuclear program is breaking through to the bomb.

This would likely create a strong backlash—a development that the Iranian regime is keen to avoid. Instead, Iran retains all of the technological knowledge and personnel needed to break through, and “puts them on ice,” waiting for different timing.

Economic, diplomatic and military deterrence.

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

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

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

While Washington appears intent on this plan, it is almost pointless in terms of meaningfully stopping Iran’s program in light of all of the nuclear progress that Iran has made in the past 18 months.

“Plan B” would involve applying real international pressure to bring Iran back to negotiations in an authentic manner in order to strike a longer, stronger nuclear agreement.

This would involve employing diplomacy, mixed with a credible military threat by both the United States and Israel.

It seems reasonable to assume that Israeli officials visiting Washington have been promoting such an approach. A better, stronger agreement would keep Iran away from nuclear weapons for decades—not just several years as the current JCPOA and its short-term sunset clauses would.

A better deal would also see Iran not only giving up its fissile material but disassembling its nuclear infrastructure, and the IAEA receiving stronger supervision abilities able to respond to suspicious activity as revealed in the Iranian archive, which the Mossad retrieved from Tehran in 2018 in a daring operation.

The international community has already proven its ability to unite and press Iran to the negotiations table in 2015, and it could in theory repeat this.

A combination of economic, diplomatic and military deterrence and pressure would be needed to achieve this.

A strike could trigger a wider war

In the event that the two plans fail, the question of military action becomes relevant.

The Israel Defense Forces has been working to build updated military options to prevent Iran from breaking through to nuclear weapons.

If diplomacy continues to stall, Iran will need reminders that military options also exist.

From Israel’s perspective, a nuclear Iran would form an intolerable, existential threat—and not only because of direct nuclear threats.

Iran’s regional activity and network of proxies would receive a nuclear umbrella, meaning that Iran’s risky, destabilizing activity in the region would be placed on steroids.

This would trigger a nuclear arms race with Sunni states like Saudi Arabia launching their own bids to arm themselves with atomic bombs in the coming decades.

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 NYC, USA. September 27, 2021. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.

Despite its bravado, Iran has no interest in entering into direct state-on-state wars. It has demonstrated this repeatedly in the past 20 years. In 2003, with the U.S. Military in Afghanistan and Iraq around it, the Islamic Republic froze its military nuclear program, dubbed “Amad.” More recently, Iran has invested plenty of efforts and resources in protecting its nuclear infrastructure by placing parts of it underground and surrounding its sites with air defense systems—showing just how seriously Tehran takes the threat of military action.

Should diplomacy fail, “Plan C” would be the last resort. It is a scenario that the Israeli defense establishment must prepare intensively for.

A strike on Iran’s nuclear program would likely trigger a regional wider war, though not necessarily.

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

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

Should he be convinced otherwise, particularly with the assistance of the United States, Khamenei is likely to change course for he fears what a direct war could do to his Islamic revolution.

Israel began developing its military capabilities for stopping Iran’s nuclear program in 2004, and it hasn’t stopped. As time goes by, the chances of Israel needing to deploy these capabilities appear to have risen.

Now, with Tehran accelerating its nuclear program, Jerusalem is accelerating its own military strike capability in parallel.

The year 2022 will prove to be a critical junction.

 

 

 

-JNS

 

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EU planning to send more migrants back to home countries

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EU planning to send more migrants back to home countries

 European Union migration ministers met on Thursday to discuss visa restrictions and better coordination inside the bloc.

The meeting focused on ways to be able to send more people with no right to asylum in Europe back to their home countries including Iraq.

Three years after the 27-nation EU agreed to restrict visas for countries deemed failing to cooperate on taking their people back, only Gambia had been formally punished.

The EU’s executive European Commission proposed similar steps vis-a-vis Iraq, Senegal and Bangladesh, though two EU officials said cooperation with Dhaka on returning people has since improved.

Still, the EU’s overall rate of effective returns stood at 21 percent in 2021, according to Eurostat data, the latest available.

One of the EU officials said “that is a level that member states consider unacceptably low.

“Immigration is a highly politically sensitive topic in the bloc where member countries would much rather discuss stepping up returns, as well as reducing irregular immigration in the first place.

“It will be better than to revive their bitter feuds over how to share out the task of caring for those who make it to Europe and win the right to stay.’’

The commission said in a discussion paper for the ministers, which was seen by Reuters that “establishing an effective and common EU system for returns is a central pillar of well-functioning and credible migration and asylum systems.’’

Some 160,000 people made it across the Mediterranean in 2022, according to U.N. data, the main route to Europe for people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.

On top of that, nearly 8 million Ukrainian refugees were also registered across Europe.

The ministers meet two weeks before the 27 EU national leaders gather in Brussels to discuss migration, and are also expected to call to send more people away.

“Swift action is needed to ensure effective returns from the European Union to countries of origin using as leverage all relevant EU policies,” read a draft of their joint statement, which was also seen by Reuters.

Inside the EU, however, there are insufficient resources and coordination between different parts of government to ensure each person with no right to stay is effectively returned or deported, according to the Commission.

“Insufficient cooperation of countries of origin is an additional challenge,” it added, naming problems including recognising and issuing identity and travel documents.

However, pressure from migration chiefs to punish some third countries with visa restrictions has in the past run against the EU’s own foreign and development ministers or failed due to conflicting agendas of various EU countries.

There had therefore, not been enough majority among EU countries so far to punish another country apart from Gambia, where people can no longer get multiple entry visas to the bloc and face a longer wait.

While EU countries including Austria and Hungary loudly protest against the mainly Muslim, irregular immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, Germany is among those seeking to open up their job market to much-needed workers from outside the bloc. 

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Killing of journalists up by 50% in 2022 – UN

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Killing of journalists up by 50% in 2022 – UN

The United Nations (UN) said on Tuesday that the killing of journalists worldwide significantly increased by 50 per cent in 2022 following a decline over the previous three years.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in its 2021-2022 freedom of expression report, released on Tuesday said 86 journalists were killed in 2022.

Accounting to the agency, the figure amounted to the killing of one journalist every four days.

The report added that the number of killings rose from 55 in 2021.

The findings highlight the grave risks and vulnerabilities that journalists continue to face in the course of their work, the agency said.

“Authorities must step up their efforts to stop these crimes and ensure their perpetrators are punished because indifference is a major factor in this climate of violence,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, said.

The UNESCO chief described the findings as “alarming”.

The United Nations culture agency noted that nearly half of the journalists killed were targeted while off duty.

It stated that some were attacked while travelling, or in parking lots or other public places where they were not on assignment, while others were in their homes at the time of their killing.

The report warned that this implies that “there are no safe spaces for journalists, even in their spare time”.

Despite progress in the past five years, the rate of impunity for journalist killings remains “shockingly high” at 86 per cent.

Combating impunity remains a pressing commitment on which international cooperation must be further mobilised, the organisation said.

In addition to killing, journalists in 2022 also were victims of other forms of violence.

This included enforced disappearance, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, legal harassment and digital violence, with women particularly being targeted.

The UNESCO study highlighted challenges for journalists, pointing out that the weaponisation of defamation laws, cyber laws, and anti “fake news” legislation, are being used as a means of limiting freedom of speech and creating a toxic environment for journalists to operate in.

UNESCO found that Latin America and the Caribbean were the deadliest for journalists in 2022 with 44 killings, over half of all of those killed worldwide.

Worldwide, the deadliest individual countries were Mexico, with 19 killings, Ukraine with 10 and Haiti with nine. Asia and the Pacific registered 16 killings, while 11 were killed in Eastern Europe.

While the number of journalists killed in countries in conflict rose to 23 in 2022, compared with 20 the previous year, the global increase was primarily driven by killings in non-conflict countries.

This number almost doubled from 35 cases in 2021 to 61 in 2022, representing three-quarters of all killings last year.

Some of the reasons the journalists were killed ranged from reprisals for their reporting of organised crime and armed conflict to the rise of extremism.

Others were killed for covering sensitive issues such as corruption, environmental crime, abuse of power, and protests

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U.S., UK vow to maintain Ukraine support ‘for as long as it takes’

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U.S., UK vow to maintain Ukraine support ‘for as long as it takes’

The United States has signalled readiness to further step up its military assistance for Ukraine as Britain and America vowed to maintain their support in the struggle against Russia “for as long as it takes.”

Following talks in Washington with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, U.S.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed UK’s decision to supply Kyiv with British Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

He indicated that the U.S. would be making further announcements in the coming days, with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin due to host talks with key allies in Ramstein in Germany later this week.

“We have continuously provided what Ukraine needs and we are doing it in a way that makes sure we are responsive to what is actually happening on the battlefield as well as projecting where it might go,” he said.

“We are determined to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to succeed on the battlefield.”

While Britain has promised to send 14 Challenger 2s, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for some 300 modern Western battle tanks to enable his forces to take the offensive against the Russian aggressor.

In practice, this is likely to mean US Abrams tanks and German Leopard 2s – or a combination of the two – which are potentially available in far greater numbers than the Challenger 2.

Cleverly, who is in Washington to urge the Americans to go “further and faster” in their support for Ukraine, praised U.S. efforts to date pointing out that it was the biggest single supplier of assistance – both military and economic – to Ukraine.

He said the U.S. and UK have worked “hand in glove” – along with other allies – since the start of the conflict to ensure Ukraine had the support it needed.

“Never in living memory has Russia been more isolated and the Atlantic alliance more united,” he said.

“If Putin believed that the world would succumb to Ukraine fatigue and lose the will to resist his ambitions then that was once again another colossal misjudgment on his part.”

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