Israel, US Should Rethink Their Strategy, Formulate Ways of Preventing Iranian Nuclear Progress, Increase Regional Pressure on the Islamic Republic: INSS Report

By Arie Egozi

Foreign Affairs

Tel Aviv: Iran feels that its new alliance with Russia gives it the freedom to enhance terror activities using its many proxies. This results in a reassessment of the US and Israel relations to explore the ways to confront Iranian threats.

Iran’s plans to hit everything that is connected to Israel and its biggest ally the US is a very serious issue that will have to be confronted in the very near future, according to the assessment of Israeli sources that are following the Iranian progress  – both its nuclear and hostile plans. Israeli sources say that Iran is acting according to a very accurate plan to become a power that will threaten western countries in different aspects.

“The new honeymoon between Moscow and Tehran makes this problem even more serious. The Kremlin has now a proxy that will serve its targets in world issues. The US and Europe do not see the new setup which is being fortified every day,” one of the sources said.

In recent months, the international community has focused on preventing a regional confrontation in the Middle East in light of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the assistance that Tehran and the resistance axis provide Hamas in the framework of the conflict. Against this backdrop, members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors convened in Vienna, Austria on November 22-24, 2023, to discuss, inter alia, a report published on November 15 about Iran’s progress in its nuclear program.

According to a paper prepared by Danny (Dennis) Citrinowicz, a Research Fellow in the Iran Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS),under routine circumstances, the report would presumably have grabbed headlines across the world because of its grave findings, but the conflict between Israel and Hamas has shunted it into the shadows.

“The international media, and even the Israeli media, ignored it entirely. And still, because it is so severe, and notwithstanding the focus of attention on the Gaza Strip, the Iranian nuclear issue cannot be ignored. Rather, it demands a serious, thoughtful examination regarding the future of Iran’s nuclear program and effective and realistic ways to thwart its progress.”

Citrinowicz served 25 years in a variety of command positions units in Israel Defence Intelligence (IDI) including as the head of the Iran branch in the Research and Analysis Division (RAD) in the Israeli defence intelligence and as the division’s representative in the United States.

According to the paper, the report paints a very negative picture of Iran’s worrying progress toward nuclear capability, including stockpiling material that has been enriched to a level of 60 percent. In concrete terms, the report points out that Iran has stockpiled 189.8 kilograms of material that has been enriched to a level of 60 percent and another 838.9 kilograms of material that has been enriched to 20 percent, from a total stockpile of enriched uranium in Iran that is estimated to be around 4,486.8 kilograms.

The report adds that Iran is continuing to expand its enrichment facilities, including the Natanz plant, where there are already 15 cascades of advanced centrifuges (three IR6 cascades, six IR4 cascades, and six more IR4 cascades that are ready for operation). In addition, there are advanced plans to expand the Natanz facility, as well as the enrichment facility in Fordow.

The report states that Iran refuses to make any progress toward implementation of the joint statement from March 4, 2022, refuses to hand over additional information about the so-called open files, and is unwilling to work with the IAEA toward implementing the modified Code 3.1, which makes it hard for the organisation to verify that Iran is not diverting nuclear material.

According to the INSS report, over the past few months, Iran and the United States have reached a series of understandings, whereby Iran committed not to enrich uranium beyond the 60 percent level, and, in exchange, it would receive funds frozen by various countries. The fact that Iran chose to continue enriching to that level, while, in the background, the US administration sought to shirk these agreements and stop the transfer of money from banks in Qatar to Tehran given Iran’s involvement in the war between Israel and Hamas, highlights the fragility of the agreements.

“It now appears that the likelihood of the United States and Iran reaching a temporary agreement, let alone a long-term deal, over Iran’s nuclear program has plummeted. Three factors have combined to increase tension between the two countries to such an extent that a deal seems close to impossible: Iranian involvement in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip; Iran’s directing Shiite militias in Iraq to attack American forces, in part in an effort to pressure Israel to agree to a ceasefire; and the United States entering a presidential election year. In addition, the vocal criticism of Iranian behaviour in Washington, including from some senior members of Congress, could even prevent any discussion of an agreement with the Islamic Republic. Moreover, it seems that Iran’s involvement in the Gaza war will lead to even more sanctions being imposed by the US administration, which could further worsen relations between Tehran and Washington. It seems that the administration is currently making supreme efforts to avert a severe downturn in relations with Iran (by extending the Iraqi exemption on trading with Iran, for example), yet the chances of reaching an agreement over the nuclear program have declined significantly,” the report mentions.

The researcher says that  it appears that Iran’s enrichment program will continue unimpeded. Iran has no interest in stopping this progress as long as it does not enjoy significant economic relief, and it seems almost certain that the political hot potato of the Iranian nuclear program will have to wait for the next administration – assuming, of course, that there is no Iranian nuclear breakout before the presidential election in November 2024.

“The West and Israel would be well advised to rethink their strategy and formulate ways of preventing Iranian progress in its enrichment program, while at the same time increasing regional pressure on the Islamic Republic. Although the fact that Iran is approaching an enrichment level of 90 percent appears to negate the West’s ability to take any action against the nuclear program, over fears that additional pressure would encourage Iran to cross the nuclear Rubicon and enrich to military-grade levels, it is the West’s inaction that allows Iran to expand its nuclear program in a way that means it will be impossible to roll it back under any circumstances,” the report emphasises.