It was early March. Iran had been caught red-handed just a couple of weeks earlier, enriching uranium to the 84% level, the closest it had ever dared to get to 90% weaponized uranium for a potential nuclear bomb.
Then, right before the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors was due to issue a third loud condemnation of Iran and possibly a referral to the UN Security Council for global snapback sanctions, a dramatic deal was struck between the Islamic Republic and the IAEA.
A month later, signs are that the drama was once again superficial and that the IAEA and the West may have fallen for yet another deception by Tehran.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi had said in early March that within seven-10 days, there would be intense contacts to make sure the ayatollahs kept their commitments but nothing has happened, at least publicly.
What is going on with the IAEA and Iran?
We have not received specific details about which IAEA inspection activities have been restored and which have not. We do not know what new answers the Islamic Republic has provided to explain its past nuclear military dimensions.
Nor has anyone said that Iran’s enrichment to 84% purity was a mistake, and not intentional. And there is no talk of Tehran freezing its constant march toward enriching uranium for a potential nuclear arsenal of not just one or two nuclear bombs, but four or more.
There is lots of talk about Iranian terror plots in Greece and elsewhere. And there have been plenty of analyses written about likely Israeli airstrikes killing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers in Syria.
Frequently, commentators are debating the impact of Iran’s new deal with the Saudis.
But it seems as if the IAEA and the West will do anything but talk about Iran’s constantly expanding nuclear threat.
What is stunning about this state of affairs is that Tehran has been playing this game on and off with the West since the Mossad seized its nuclear secrets in 2018 and proved unequivocally to the world that the ayatollahs were still hiding nuclear secrets.
In March, there were some signs that perhaps the ayatollahs would finally give something more tangible to the IAEA about their nuclear past.
After all, Grossi did get a rare meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, whereas usually he only meets with Iran’s nuclear chief, or at most, its foreign minister.
Moreover, the IAEA chief himself made broad announcements about getting all of the surveillance back online and about 50% more inspections at Iran’s nuclear facility at Fordow.
Fordow was the nuclear site where Iran had recently enriched some particles up to the 84% level.
There was even a mix of statements about Grossi getting access to Iran’s nuclear scientists. That access could have been the real deal that the IAEA had waited for.
However, even in the first days after the deal, as soon as it became clear that the IAEA Board of Governors would not refer the Islamic Republic to the UN Security Council, Iran’s officials nixed any contact with the scientists and new visits to disputed nuclear sites, and clarified that any new access at Fordow was only related to the 84% issue.
All of this might have been Tehran’s way of trying to confuse the West yet again.
It now seems that Tehran simply gave a little bit of extra transparency at Fordow, restored a bit of nuclear surveillance, yet will still stonewall questions about its nuclear secrets, both past and present.
With US President Joe Biden now more than half way through his term, along with the period when Iran could guarantee economic recovery, there seems to be a diminishing chance for a real deal.
Sure, the IAEA Board can threaten Iran again in June. But why take the threat seriously after the West has shown so many times that it is afraid to go to the mat with the ayatollahs?
Rather, it is becoming clear that the West will tolerate Iran on the nuclear threshold as long as it is perceived as not making a final rush for a nuclear bomb.
And if when everyone is distracted, the Islamic Republic does make that final push, will the West really be bold enough to stop it – or will the task be left solely to Jerusalem?