What does the Iran-IAEA nuke deal mean?

Radio silence from Israel, despite Mossad achievement

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi speaks during a press conference with Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi in Tehran, Iran August 25, 2020 (photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/ALI KHARA VIA REUTERS)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi speaks during a press conference with Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi in Tehran, Iran August 25, 2020
It would seem that Israel and the US achieved a major win in the Iran nuclear standoff on Wednesday when the Islamic Republic finally gave in regarding inspectors’ access to two disputed nuclear sites.
The sites came to the fore thanks to the Mossad’s January 2018 raid of Iran’s secret nuclear archive.
Israel’s spy agency and the US eventually transferred information to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which – after its own extended delay – led the UN nuclear watchdog to demand access from Tehran.
If the Mossad’s efforts ultimately led to the IAEA getting tough with the ayatollahs, and Iran blinked after a half-year standoff, how come no one in Israel is popping champagne?
In fact, following the surprise announcement of an IAEA-Iran deal (only about a month ago, IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi was threatening the Islamic Republic with unprecedented harsh language), there was complete radio silence in Israel.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Intelligence Ministry declined to comment.
The Foreign Ministry repeatedly alluded to potentially commenting, but as of press time on Thursday, it apparently still had not figured out what to say.
While getting access to the two disputed sites was better than not, there were multiple major concerns precluding any celebration, sources in the defense establishment and government indicated off the record.
First, with regard to the specific issue of IAEA access to the sites, the sources said it was too little, too late. The IAEA should have been given access to these sites already in mid-2018 when the agency was informed about them, they said.
Instead, IAEA director-general at the time, Yukiya Amano, sat on the issues for an extensive period, ostensibly to check the information’s veracity.
However, being that the information came directly from Iran’s own secret archive, many in Israel interpreted Amano’s delay as an attempt to placate Tehran and potentially give it time to remove any incriminating material from the sites in question.
Next, even once the IAEA started demanding access, it took months before it publicly criticized Iran in March for noncompliance. It was not until the end of June that the IAEA Board of Governors voted to condemn Iran’s noncompliance for the first time in nearly a decade.
In other words, so much time has passed that Israel assumes Iran has long since sanitized the sites and is partially agreeing to access now because everything has been covered up.
But this is only part of the answer since after the June IAEA vote, several Israeli officials made high-profile statements supporting the agency’s condemnation of Iran.
The bigger picture is that Israel is looking for effective restrictions on the ayatollahs’ nuclear program.
A vote condemning Iran and potentially threatening UN Security Council action could help achieve that goal.
Israel does not merely want inspectors to have “anytime, anywhere” access to Iranian nuclear sites. It also wants to extend the 2015 nuclear deal’s restrictions beyond their expiration dates, limit Iran’s ballistic-missile testing and support of terrorism in the region and to halt its progress with advanced centrifuges that can speed up the process of enriching uranium for a nuclear bomb.
In contrast, a deal limited to just these two sites does not address any of the other fundamental issues.
It is also possible that one reason Iran agreed to provide access at this point is that it has just successfully routed the US twice at the UNSC – once regarding the conventional-arms embargo issue and a second time with the US attempt to snap back global sanctions.
With these much-bigger diplomatic victories over the US, Tehran may feel more comfortable in showing flexibility on the relatively technical and narrow issue of access to these two nuclear sites.
When the attention was on Iran withholding access, the nuclear standoff could be framed as the rogue Islamic Republic playing another game of concealment with the international community and might have led to a more general rally against the ayatollahs.
Put differently, the IAEA-Iran dispute had regained the diplomatic high ground for Israel and the US to focus on: What is Iran hiding?
If Iran is no longer hiding anything, this path of diplomatic attack has run its course at the same time that Tehran has won much bigger victories and may be close to outlasting US President Donald Trump.
There are also some remaining technical objections.
Iran also was supposed to resolve questions surrounding nuclear material the Mossad found for the IAEA at Turquzabad, and it was unclear from the deal how or when this would be addressed.
Also, some IAEA visits have been timid and symbolic, with Iran collecting samples “on behalf” of inspectors, and the deal did not reveal how or when access would be given.
But Israel unquestionably is more worried about whether this deal signals a reduction of pressure on Iran on the big-ticket issues than it is about any of the specific details involved.