Iran tests new precision-guided ballistic missile [File].
(photo credit: IRANIAN MEDIA)
Former head of IDF intelligence Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin on Tuesday said, “Islamic State is much less dangerous than the Islamic Republican of Iran,” in opening comments to his Institute of National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv on the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal.
Yadlin explained that he “still thinks this [an Iranian nuclear bomb] is the biggest potential threat to Israel” and expressed concern that now that the deal has moved forward it “is off the public agenda” and the “governments and the media are thinking more about Islamic State, Russia and Turkey.”
The former IDF intelligence chief stated that the deal had made Iran “more aggressive in Syria.” Iran is “sending more advanced weapons to Hezbollah,” as well as causing greater nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
Despite the pessimistic introduction, Yadlin then charted out a middle ground approach to the deal.
He said he did not agree with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach of it having put Israel “on a platform to Auschwitz,” nor with US President Barack Obama’s approach that the agreement was a “historic” achievement that would totally stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
Rather, he said he recognized that in the short term there were potential benefits in pushing off Iran’s charge toward a nuclear weapon, but was simultaneously concerned with Iran’s nuclear program gaining legitimacy when the deal expires in 10 to 15 years.
Separating the issues, Yadlin also voiced concern that the end of sanctions will unleash a flow of funds for terror in the Middle East, and questioned whether the US and Israel would succeed at catching any Iranian cheating.
Sounding a more optimistic tone, former US State Department Official Robert Einhorn said that Iran would meet all of its obligations for dismantling and converting aspects of its nuclear weapon by late January.
He quoted a current US government official as having told him that Iran was “taking apart centrifuges at breakneck speed” and was “not even being careful to avoid damage” to the machines, which enrich uranium, and whose detachment (down from around 19,000 to around 5,000) were a central point of the deal.
Einhorn said that Iran was moving faster than even expected on that issue, in preparations for converting its Arak plutonium facility to only civilian nuclear use and for shipping out almost all of its enriched uranium stock to Russia, to get sanctions removed faster and gain a windfall from its frozen funds.
Further, he suggested that Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani hoped to have sanctions removed before the February 2016 elections in order to build political capital over the deal, which will soon reopen Iranian markets to the East and the West.
Still, even Einhorn highlighted a number of challenges with implementing the deal.
The former US diplomat noted that Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has put several implementation issues on hold pending a key December report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which Iran hopes will close the book on questions about its past violations of UN nuclear rules.
He also expressed concern over “how to keep Iran at 300 kilograms of [enriched] uranium when they keep producing” newly enriched uranium, and whether there would be bumps in agreeing to the exact number of centrifuges which could continue to operate and at what levels.
Former top US State Department official and key Iran deal backer Thomas Pickering gave an overview of problem areas in the region where Iran was involved, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.
He concluded that in some places the deal might facilitate Western cooperation with Iran, but in other places the deal might make no difference – positive or negative.
Top Defense Department official Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad said he disagreed with “some who think Iran will be taken over by moderates” as a result of the deal. He called the deal short-sighted, expressing respect from an adversarial perspective with the Iranians who he said have a long-term view, and do not care how long it takes them to get a nuclear weapon, with the deal letting them do it in 10 to 15 years without even needing to cheat .
Former Israel Atomic Energy Commission official and current INSS fellow Ephraim Asculai demanded an international group of professionals to oversee and critique the IAEA’s work on Iran. He was extremely disturbed that the IAEA allowed Iran to take a soil sample from the Parchin nuclear site on behalf of the IAEA instead of the IAEA taking its own sample. He said that the IAEA will not press Iran hard enough for answers about its past nuclear military program, but that an oversight group could help on the issue.
INSS head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program Emily Landau was also concerned that the IAEA will be soft on Iran reporting about its past nuclear activities. Further, she emphasized that if there was a fight with Iran about a violation of the deal, the international community now lacked the political will to stare Iran down.