Ex-intel. official: Iran footprint in Syria may be to hide nuke scientists

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Iran's economy will be in grave danger within 6-12 months.

An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, January 15, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, January 15, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A major purpose of Iran wanting to enlarge its footprint in Syria may be to hide aspects of its nuclear program from the International Atomic Energy Agency, former top IDF Military Intelligence official Yossi Kuperwasser said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs conference on the Iran nuclear situation, JCPA fellow Kuperwasser, a former IDF brigadier-general, noted that IAEA inspectors are limited to inspecting Iran’s territory, as the Iran nuclear deal did not grant IAEA inspectors complete access to Iranian scientists.
Based on that limited access, Kuperwasser said Iran could move and conceal its nuclear scientists and various nuclear activities in Syria.
Defense Minister Avgidor Liberman says Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria an a tour of the Golan Heights with IDF officers, July 10, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson"s Unit)
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He noted that Iran holding on tight to the deal, even though the US has already left it, shows that Iran knows it got a good deal; that a better deal could have been negotiated; and that Iran may lean toward compromising so as not to lose the deal.
Earlier at the conference, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that he believes the current US sanctions would succeed at getting Iran to make further compromises regarding its nuclear program and overall behavior, because “in six to 12 months, the [economic] situation in Iran will be extremely grave.”
Steinitz said that the key to understanding how Iran will respond to the current US economic pressure is to understand that even as the US is acting alone, its secondary sanctions could be even more suffocating for Iran’s economy than prior UN sanctions, which most of the world signed on to.
He was pressed afterward by The Jerusalem Post about whether the EU’s retaliatory sanctions and vow to prop up any of its companies that continue business with Iran, as well as the Trump administration’s trade wars, would limit the US sanctions’ impact.
The energy minister responded that he is less concerned about EU actions to prop up the agreement, but is concerned that if the Trump trade wars are drawn out for a long time, this could reduce the power of US secondary sanctions.
He explained that if EU, Chinese and other foreign companies were already being limited from access to the US economy by broader trade war issues, they would not view Iran-related sanctions as causing them new damage.
Steinitz also said that Iran might choose to make new compromises regarding its nuclear program and adventurism in the Middle East, out of fear that if it tries to rush toward a nuclear bomb, the US under Trump is more likely to attack than it was under Obama.
He said that Trump’s administration has been more muscular in projecting power and keeping Iran and others off guard about how far he would go.
Finally, he said that US negotiations with North Korea could greatly impact whether Iran decides to compromise or dig in its heals, for good or for ill.
JCPA director and former foreign ministry director-general Dore Gold told the conference attendees how the pressure of the Trump administration’s sanctions will force Iran to make hard economic choices.
“Iran was relying on having more cash on hand for exporting revolution. If there is no cash, will Iranian behavior or [Iranian] impact on the region change? My view is that Iran has prioritized the funds given to the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps... and will be very reluctant to cut back those programs,” said Gold.
He added that if Iran continues to fund revolution and terrorism in other countries, this would negatively impact what would be left over for the common Iranian citizen, and that “people on the street [in Iran] are aware of it, creating internal difficulties for Iran.”
Moreover, Gold said that Iran is already reeling somewhat from loss of allies and influence in some countries. He said it failed in efforts to sway Jordan into its corner and lost relations with Morocco after Morocco caught it dealing with a group trying to overthrow Moroccan sovereignty in the disputed Western Sahara area.
Also, Gold said that over the last decade of war in Yemen, with countries having to choose sides between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran lost its strong traditional ally Sudan to the Saudis.
Gold noted that the Sudan development also harmed Hamas, as Sudan’s Red Sea ports had provided a staging area for Iran to unload weaponry for Hamas.
Overall, he said that Iran is in greater “danger of having weakening economic infrastructure,” which means that there is a “better chance of creating more moderate Iranian behavior.”