Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran at the weekly cabinet meeting.
(photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG)
Iran is paving the way to creating a nuclear weapon by raising its uranium enrichment levels beyond those spelled out in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the 2015 Iran Deal.
Tehran’s main goal is to garner support from European countries in providing cover from US sanctions, which have been re-imposed since the US left the deal in May 2018.
This is of utmost concern to Israel, as it is essential that European countries ensure that Iran does not produce a nuclear weapon, and that its uranium enrichment be monitored closely.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Iran has begun to “break out of the uranium enrichment curbs that were imposed on it.” This would mean brushing off red lines and beginning a march towards nuclear weaponry.
However, Steinitz noted that the current move is “moderate,” and that the path to a weapon is not simple. This is an important paradigm through which to view the current Iranian moves.
Tehran is not enriching and stockpiling more uranium to build a bomb immediately. If it had wanted to do that, it would have done so clandestinely. Its purposeful announcement to the world is a threat to the European signatories of the JCPOA and other states that it is serious about getting around the US sanctions.
Tehran’s message is that Europe is the key to stopping the current American campaign of “maximum pressure.”
The decision was announced by a spokesman from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the Iranian deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Abbas Araqchi. The statement says that Iran will start to enrich uranium higher than 3.67% purity limit, and blamed European countries for missing a 60-day deadline that Iran had imposed two months ago.
Ostensibly, Iran is doing this for nuclear energy purposes, according to its own claims that it is merely enriching up to 5% for its Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and might reach 20% enrichment for a research reactor.
But the nature of the news conference was not scientific or about nuclear energy needs. It was purely aimed at Europe and at creating its own campaign of maximum pressure.
Rather than dealing directly with the Trump administration, Tehran is seeking a way to bypass the US. It wants a non-dollar direct payment channel called INSTEX to be activated. European countries have been slow to develop this method, and Iran is hungry for an end to the sanctions.
The degree to which Iran has set its sights on European countries, such as France, Germany, and the UK, is interesting because it shows that other countries Iran has amicable relationships with – such as Russia, China, Turkey, Japan, and even India – do not meet its needs to get around the sanctions.
This illustrates how much leverage European countries have over Iran. Iran tends to present to the world this “good cop, bad cop” strategy of threatening on the one hand and pretending to behave like a diplomatic country on the other.
For instance, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is not treated like a pariah when he travels but as a normal diplomat, and is even feted sometimes at Western think tanks.
At the same time, Iran is suspect for attacking oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which is a form of state piracy. Iran openly threatens other states, particularly Israel, with annihilation.
Iran’s threats are not taken seriously enough. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles, nominated to be the EU’s next foreign policy chief, has said that Iran’s desire to wipe Israel off the map is something “you have to live with.”
No, Mr. Borrell, we don’t have to live with it. France and Germany especially understand the importance of not living with the idea that countries can threaten genocide.
Iran may be blustering now, but it is important that European countries take its threats seriously and contain its nuclear ambitions.
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