Overview Iran Deal

The Iran Deal – An Overview

by

Howard Adelman

I was on my island up north in the week that the Iran deal was concluded. I was not connected to the internet. My reading and analysis was focused on continuing my blogs on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) evaluation of the Gaza War. So when I returned, I not only had to read the 159 pages of the Iran deal, but the writings of over 100 commentators on that deal. Initially, in reading the terms of the agreement and the commentators over 36 hours, I began to think I was an alien in a foreign world. For I was reading a cascade of criticisms of the deal, initially without any commentator offering a positive response. However, before the end of my reading, I breathed somewhat easier. For I was not alone. There were others who agreed that overall and on balance the deal was a good one. Those commentators consisted of only about 20% of those I read, but on this issue I felt strengthened that I was not totally out of synch with what appeared to be a dominant note from the commentators.

Unlike the UNHRC evaluation, the Iran deal is not a retrospective analysis, but a performative one in its own right. The agreement changes the world in which we live and changes it significantly. So I temporarily suspended my analysis of the UNHRC Report on the Gaza War – I will return to it – and offered my analysis of the Iran deal, focusing first on the agreements that led up to it, then the commentators and only in the end provide my own detailed analysis of the agreement itself. In doing so, I will mainly deal with commentators who think the deal is a bad one and, most of my discussion will focus on the comments under four categories:

  1. Goals and significance of the deal;
  2. Intentions and motives (different than the goals);
  3. Consequences;
  4. Erroneous assumptions.

Thus, I will also be dealing with the commentators in reverse to a natural order that would begin with the deal itself and then deal with its misinterpretations and effects. In this backwards approach, let me first clarify why my approach relies on a cool, detached analytic tone rather than on a lamentation, aichah, the first word of Lamentations as Rabbi Splansky cited in her response to the Iran deal.

My oldest son, Jeremy, is named after the prophet of peace, Jeremiah, who is credited with this lamentation and who warned of the imminent threats to Israel. It is what we read on Tisha B’Av, an annual fast day in the Jewish religious calendar commemorating a number of disasters inflicted against the Jews over the course of history and when the rabbi gave her sermon on the Iran Deal. As Rabbi Splansky wrote, the word aichah is not the response of an inquisitive mind, but of an aching soul. It arises from the deep well of our being, from a history of horrific experience. The lamentation does not invite discussion, but a communion of crying and screaming “Alas!” and “Woe are we!”

Rabbi Splansky asks us to understand the deal and view ourselves as Jews within the large arch of Jewish history. However, looking at the Iran deal from the perspective of the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem does not invite questioning, including the questioning of whether mourning is the appropriate response. It may help us understand the deep roots of that response and why the leaders of the opposition in Israel line up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in deploring the deal, but restricting their criticism to how he allowed this to happen on his watch, as if the Prime Minister of a small country like Israel could manipulate and control the outcome, not just of American thinking and policy, but of all of the five powerful states who are the permanent members of the Security Council as well as Germany in whose name this deal has been made. To claim that Netanyahu was guilty of failing to stop the juggernaut of China, Russia, France, Britain as well as America, not to speak of Germany, is just chutzpah and partisan politics. It deserves to be largely ignored.

Unlike Rabbi Splansky who says that, “Everyone is watching, worrying, wondering, but God only knows,” I take the position that even God does not know. For God has always been very poor at prophecy dealing with the future and was often on the wrong side of history. Further, unlike the watchers and kvetchers and those stunned in awe, either in fear and bewilderment or in wondrous appreciation, I believe in the power of an inquisitive mind that can enlighten us on this deal, on its significance, on its intentions, on its possible and even likely consequences, and, most of all, on the actual contents of the deal instead of the projections onto that agreement sometimes, to be charitable, propelled more by fear and worry than by detached analysis.

Let me begin by putting my approach up front after my reading the commentators – well over one hundred – and my very initial reading of the deal. (I will return to that reading near the end of this series.) Not surprising, since I have written about this a number of times in the past, overall my reaction closely resembles that of President Obama who, in an interview with Tom Friedman of The New York Times, offered his own evaluation of the deal. I have arrived at similar, but not identical conclusions. They are as follows:

In contrast to the view that the deal should have eliminated Iran’s nuclear infrastructure altogether given the powerful effects of the sanctions and the enormous powers arrayed against Iran, and the evaluation that the leverage has been squandered, I hold that this was never the premise nor the intention of the negotiations, nor one that could have been achieved or needed to have been achieved. If in the late thirties, a deal depriving Hitler of any capacity to make nuclear arms with a full scale inspection regime (admittedly a far-fetched imaginative stretch), such a deal would have been preferable to a Nazi Germany that could arm itself with nuclear weapons within three months while doing nothing about Hitler’s anti-Semitic genocidal plans and his record of persecutions or his ambitions for hegemonic conquest of Europe. The issue is not about whether Iran is an evil regime or about depriving Iran of even an ability to enhance its peaceful development of nuclear energy, if only to save face. The deal is only about control of nuclear weapons over which there was a global consensus. There was no consensus about depriving Iran of its nuclear infrastructure, only of its capacity to make nuclear weapons against the terms of the International Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Second, such an agreement does not rely on trust. Given Iran’s horrific treatment of dissidents and minorities, particularly of Bahá’is, its hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East, its overt support of terrorists such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and its repeated pronouncements of an intention to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, let alone Iran’s past record of working on the development of a nuclear weapons capacity behind the backs of international inspectors, any agreement has to be based on a deep distrust of Iran and putting in place an unprecedented inspection regime that could come as close as possible to reducing any chance that Iran could deceive the international community and revert to advancing its nuclear weapons program.

What is required and is in question is whether a powerful, but not perfect – an impossible dream – verifiable regime to cut off Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium, remove the majority of its cascades, including all of those of the most advanced technology, remove almost all of its highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear bombs, initiate a very intrusive and extensive inspections regime (we will have to see whether it is as intrusive and extensive as Obama argues that it is), and shut down Iran’s capacity to produce plutonium, is sufficient. However, if inspectors have to give 24 days – not 24 hours – notice for inspections, as too many interpreters have insisted, then that would certainly raise questions about the adequacy of the inspections regime. But, to adumbrate and deviate from the order of my presentation, the agreement definitely does not say that 24 days notice must be given for an inspection.

For all the facilities on the list (known sites for nuclear work), the 150 inspectors stationed in Iran will have immediate access at any time of the day or night and with no notice. Further, the inspection of Iran’s nuclear regime has no termination date; it continues “forever”. Only the inspection of non-nuclear facilities terminates, and then only after 25 years. The 24 days notice applies to suspected, illicit or unreported sites. 24 days is a maximum not a requisite. The section on inspections provides for the following:

Inspectors must be allowed to enter any suspect facility in Iran within at most (my italics) 24 days. If they aren’t, this will be considered a violation that could lead to renewed sanctions.

The procedure for those 24 days is as follows: If IAEA inspectors suspect that illicit or undeclared nuclear activity is taking place at an unmonitored facility, like a military base, it must first request explanations from Iran. If the explanations don’t satisfy the inspectors, they can ask to visit the facility.

The Iranians can then suggest ways of resolving the issue that don’t involve a visit. But if the inspectors remain unsatisfied 14 days after first broaching their suspicions to Iran, the matter will be transferred to the eight-member committee overseeing the deal’s implementation.

The committee will have seven days to try to find a solution that satisfies everyone. But if no such solution is found, the committee will then vote on whether Iran must allow the visit.

That decision requires only a simple majority – five of the eight members. Since Iran enjoys reliable backing from only two other panel members, Russia and China, it will have trouble preventing a decision ordering it to allow the visit. If such a decision is made, Iran must permit the visit within three days, hence the 24 day maximum period.

Certainly, aside from the routine monitoring required under the agreement, if inspections cannot realistically be done to cover research and development and to cover possibly new secret facilities under development, then the agreement might be just a sham and a cover for further cheating. Thus, evaluating the quality of the inspection regime will be crucial.  However, when a commentator insists that 24 days notice must be given for any inspection, one immediately recognizes that the individual has not read the agreement and that the comments are worth far less than the value of the paper on which those comments have been printed or, if in electronic version, far less than even the infinitesimal cost of electronic publishing. Or else the author is an outright liar.

To revert to my initial main point, regime change, or even deprivation of Iran’s capacity to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, was never the goal of the negotiations. If those had been the ambitions, there never would have been any negotiations in the first place. So one has to ask whether we are better off with an Iran on the verge of developing a nuclear military capacity or an Iran prevented from so doing, but at a cost, the opening of the dams that had confined Iran’s earnings from its oil into reserves which Iran could not access, but now would be able to do so, thereby enabling Iran to expand its purchase of conventional weapons and expand its support of terrorism. This was the critical choice between the Scylla of an Iran on the verge of producing nuclear weapons or the Charybdis of an Iran with its treasury replenished and enabled to enhance its terrorist and hegemonic foreign policy. Over this choice, there can be reasonable differences and very varied conclusions. But criticizing the deal for its failure to produce deliverables which it never was intended to produce nor could produce is simply misplaced and disingenuous.

Would the deal, however, advance the process of regime change or even open the possibility of regime change? I think this is not a likely possibility. Others argue that it is. I find the latter to be wishful thinking and an unsound foundation for making a deal. Others who are equally pessimistic about this possibility think that should be a reason for not making a deal. I disagree with them as well. If the deal depended on its value only if it leads to or even makes more likely regime change, then that is absolutely no ground for supporting this deal, though I welcome the fact that this deal will increase the slim possibility of facilitating regime change for a number of reasons, including reinforcing the factions that are not identical with the genocidal extremists in the regime.

As will be seen when I turn my attention to the commentators, reading all those accounts reinforces my conviction that they have deliberately shifted the debate from preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power to the criticism that the deal does nothing, or, perhaps, by the odd moderate critic, does very little to stop this evil regime and undermine its authoritarianism within and its destructive ambitions in its foreign policy. Those criticisms are by and large correct. But they are totally beside the point. And that is their point, to distract citizens of the world from the achievements of the deal and view the agreement from the perspective of what was not and could not be achieved.

The issue is whether a deal with a non-nuclear-armed Iran is better than no deal that allows Iran to bring its nuclear armaments program to fruition – ignoring Iranian claims that they never had a goal of developing nuclear weapons. This is the core question. Some might argue that an Iran that completes its nuclear program but remains under severe sanctions that cripple its economy is a better choice because it limits the non-nuclear trouble-making in which Iran is deeply involved in the regime. Better an economically crippled nuclear–armed Iranian regime than one which is infused with cash, and, though deprived of its nuclear capacity, can now extensively expand its programs and foreign policy of undermining Saudi Arabia, keeping its satraps in place in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Gaza, and, thereby, significantly enhance the threats to Israel. That is an argument worthy of engagement. But, as will be seen, this is not the approach of the vast majority of the critics of the accord.

On another point, the inspection regime does not end in ten years. The inspection regime continues. The fact that I have to state this boldly, and will subsequently support this extensively, is a testament to a great deal of the misreporting and misinterpretation of the deal. Similarly, the agreement does not remove all sanctions. It only removes those put in place to enforce the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Other sanctions exist. Those sanctions could themselves be expanded. A whole set of other tools could be activated to target the Iranian abuse of human rights and its support of terrorism. The deal allows the West (and East) to further such an agenda, even though it is highly unlikely that Russia or China would join in such an effort. This may make a strong argument for using the confinement of the nuclear development program as leverage to fight against Iran’s hegemonic interests and its abuse of the rights of its own citizens rather than a goal in its own right, but it is actually shocking how few of the critics, as shall be seen, are this honest and straightforward in their criticisms.

President Obama has made the very valid point that this agreement is totally one-sided. Iran gives up its capacity to make nuclear weapons. Iran gives up almost all of its enriched uranium. Does the agreement curtail the nuclear weapons programs of China, of Russia, of France, of the U.K. or of the United States? Not at all. Nor does it restrict any of the parties from using other diplomatic, legal, economic and moral tools at its disposal for confronting the regime in other areas. What is given up is holding hostage Iran’s treasure and wealth, money which does not belong to any party except Iran, in return for Iran backing away from its nuclear arms program. Further, it removes the pressures on China and Russia, both of which have grown antsy under the sanctions regime, particularly China which has been denied access to Iranian oil in exchange for its exports. The deal removes the possibility that the sanctions regime could collapse from within because of the tensions among and different interests of the members of the negotiating team dealing with Iran.

More specifically, the U.S. and Israel (as well as Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies) can cooperate much further in limiting Iran’s hegemonic goals. Congress was unable to veto the deal. Then an enlarged program of dealing with Israel’s and Saudi’s enemies, specifically Iran, can be advanced. Further, if Iran does not live up to its commitments, the snap-back provision allows the sanctions to be re-imposed without a new vote in the Security Council. Now some may argue that this is correct in theory, but once Russia and Iran are offside on sanctions, they can remain offside by obfuscating and delaying any practical re-imposition of the sanctions regime. That is fully possible now. Further, the West has other means of leverage than diplomatic and moral suasion to keep China and Russia on side in addition to the interests of those two countries in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. However, there is an even more serious problem about the snap-back provision. It would take place against a regime that had recovered its economic stability and wealth and would, consequently, make the snap-back provision much less effective, especially in the short run. Instead of starting from an advanced position with sanctions with Iran on its knees, the West would be back to a zero starting point. How does the Agreement handle such a foreseeable contingency?

So we have the following issues to sort out over the next series of blogs. To what degree can the inspections regime work? Are the inherent weaknesses of the snap-back provisions sufficient to offset the advantages Iran will have gained? Is the likelihood, not just risk, of Iran advancing its conventional arms program and its geo-political advances in the Middle East too much to pay for obtaining an Iran without nuclear weapons? Finally, since there are no deep signs of an ideological change within Iran and no signs at all of a regime change, with the momentum having been somewhat lifted with the easing of sanctions, was the gamble worth the cost? After all, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may have concluded that the world has changed with the Vienna Agreement, but Iran’s view of Israel as an unrepentant enemy has not altered one iota. As he said in an interview with journalists after the conclusion of the agreement, while calling for his enemies in Sunni dominated states to reconcile with Iran, there was no such call to Israel. Israel, in his view, needs, “crisis and wars to continue to hide their aggressions and their inhumane policies against the people of Lebanon, Palestine and the people of the region, so peace is an existential threat to them.” [Translation: Iran will remain an existential threat to Israel.] Given Iran’s rejection of Israel as having a place in the Middle East, Iran will clearly be better off and richer and freer to advance its implacable opposition to Israel.

I began with the words of one rabbi. Let me end with the words of another. “I understand that not all experts believe that the deal to be struck in Vienna is bad for Israel. Perhaps they know things that aren’t obvious to the public, even to those of us who follow the criticism of the current government. To end on a positive note: let’s hope that the optimists will be proven right. The alternative is too grim to contemplate.” If “Alas!” and “Woe is Me!” are not to stand in the way of reasonable and detached analysis, the other alternative of relying on hope with no basis in reality is just as bad, especially when it presumes that supporters of the deal argue that it is not bad for Israel. I have not read one who makes such an argument. Instead, most supporters argue that the deal is bad for Israel in many ways, but the alternative of no deal is even worse. Whether that argument is valid is open to question. But let us not misrepresent supporters of the deal. More importantly, DO NOT support the deal if the foundation for that support is a misplaced optimism or “hope”.

The 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA):

The 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA):

Transparency, Inspection and Verification

by

Howard Adelman

In Tehran, with the aim of “ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme through the resolution of all outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA,”  on 11 November 2013, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, and Iran’s Vice-President, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA). Those outstanding issues included disputes over IAEA verification activities, Iran supplying timely information about its nuclear facilities and the implementation of transparency measures. More specifically, the FCA laid out initial practical steps for Iran to take within three months, including allowing IAEA access to the Heavy Water Production Plant at Arak and the Gehine uranium mine in Bandar Abbas. Iran promised to provide IAEA with information on all new research reactors and nuclear power plants that Iran planned to build on sixteen sites. In addition, Iran agreed to provide information on Iran’s announced additional enrichment facilities and its laser enrichment technology. In return, IAEA agreed “to take into account Iran’s security concerns, including through the use of managed access and the protection of confidential information.” The latter qualification to the principle of transparency would offer an enormous target for critics of the IAEA agreement with Tehran.

The FCA is a short agreement that went to the heart of the IAEA role of inspection and verification as well as Iran’s responsibility to be transparent. The qualification: Iran demanded that this not give IAEA free reign to access Iran’s conventional military program. IAEA acknowledged that this would be accomplished through “managed access” and the non-disclosure of sensitive data. As Professor Toope pointed out, the transparency requirement and the inspection and verification procedures were necessarily intrusive because of IAEA’s decade long experience with Iran’s evasions, secrecy, misrepresentations and very low marks for demonstrating transparency. The record clearly shows why this deep distrust was warranted.

However, this absence of full transparency and the provision of misleading information were also characteristic of the data and analysis the U.S. Intelligence services provided to IAEA. The situation got so bad under the Bush administration that in February 2007, IAEA presumably leaked a report by some of the IAEA diplomats that most intelligence reports provided by U.S. intelligence to IAEA had proven to be inaccurate. The information did not lead to any discoveries that Iran had been surreptitiously conducting a military nuclear program.

This IAEA frustration with the U.S. even broke into the open. On 10 May 2007, IAEA, as well as Iran, denounced the report that Iran had blocked IAEA inspections of Iran’s enrichment facilities. Marc Vidricaire, the spokesman for IAEA, stated unequivocally, “We have not been denied access at any time, including in the past few weeks.” Thus, IAEA had to walk a fine diplomatic line between hyperbolic and false claims of the Americans under the Bush administration and efforts to sabotage the principle of transparency by the Ahmadinejad government in Iran. It seemed also clear that Iran was only really moved to demonstrate cooperation and transparency to try to head off further sanctions. This seemed certainly to be the case when Iran on 20 July 2007 gave IAEA access to the Arak complex over eight months.

There were even encouraging reports, such as the 30 August 2007 IAEA assessment, that Natanz was operating well below its capacity in enriching uranium; only 12 of the 18 centrifuge cascades were in operation. IAEA was also able to verify that there had been no diversion of the declared nuclear material. Even IAEA’s much repeated complaints about access to Iran’s plutonium experiments and the problem of contaminated spent fuel containers were resolved. Given IAEA’s stringent protocols for inspection and verification, these were impressive findings, especially since they took place midway in Ahmadinejad’s first term in office.

There was even a plan of action to resolve a number of remaining issues within a reasonable time frame. These measures proved to be insufficient even though they addressed the transparency, inspection and verification side of the puzzle. For Iran under Ahmadinejad was unwilling to curtail let alone cut back on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. However, under the work plan, IAEA would be enabled to inspect and verify a number of issues related to the nature and scope of Iran’s nuclear program that it had not been unable to do heretofore. As a result, and seemingly undercutting the American push for more sanctions, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, in October 2007 told the International Herald Tribune that IAEA had no evidence of Iran developing nuclear weapons. However, IAEA still had a number of concerns about weaponization.

Subsequently, IAEA confirmed on 15 November 2007 that Iran’s claims and what was revealed through inspection and verification measures were consistent. The big issue remaining was Iran’s refusal to sign the Additional Protocol of the non-proliferation agreement to include plans as well as activities within its monitoring program. This was the key obstacle that was resolved in 2013. On the more substantive issues, Americans were pushing for complete cessation of all enrichment while Iran insisted on its right under international law to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This insistence persisted for a short period even when Ahmadinejad was replaced by a more progressive political leader in 2013. The logjam was only broken when Iran agreed to allow full transparency re both nuclear weapons production and planning, with the qualification that the secrecy of its conventional military not be breached.

At the end of 2007, after what appeared to be a sincere though very inadequate effort to satisfy IAEA and the P5+1, Ahmadinejad proposed a detour which was also interpreted as a feint. Enriching uranium for Iran would take place in a neutral third country, presumably one of the Gulf states. This was more than the P5+1 achieved in the end, but, as in 2004, a potential opening was closed because the P5+1 under U.S. pressure had adopted a very hard line – no enrichment whatsoever. Iran insisted that no self-respecting state could permit such a limitation on a peaceful nuclear enrichment program and refused to bend.

In spite of IAEA’s stellar performance of integrity as an international inspection and verification agency, the Israelis, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s then Minister of Strategic Affairs in particular, denounced IAEA-director AlBaradei as a lackey of the Iranians.

On 22 February 2008, IAEA issued a clean bill of health on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, including on all outstanding issues. This was confirmed three months later in the IAEA May Report, but Iran still refused access to its centrifuge manufacturing sites. Iran’s acceding to the Additional Protocol was important since, without that and the inspection and verification regime that went along with it, IAEA could only state that there was no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weaponization program. It could not verify the total absence of such a plan and program in undeclared nuclear facilities, for example, whether the claims by Iran’s critics that Iran had clandestinely received information on how to design a high explosive charge suitable for an implosion nuclear device.

What had been revealed? The list included such items as the fact that the number of operating centrifuges at the Iranian fuel enrichment plant in Isfahan had increased. All uranium hexafluoride was under IAEA safeguards, contrary to the multitude of rumours otherwise that uranium hexafluoride was missing. To summarize:

  • Even under the Ahmadinejad regime, and under pressure of increasing sanctions, the IAEA had gained access to all of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities
  • The outstanding issue on the inspection regime was whether Iran would accede to all the contents of the its nuclear program to enable the AIEA to investigate Iran’s past plans and its potential future ones
  • Beyond the transparency, inspection and verification issues, the S. kept insisting on complete cessation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The IAEA and Tehran were at a standstill. In its 19 February 2009 Report, IAEA noted that Iran continued to enrich uranium and had produced over a ton of low enriched uranium, contrary to the requirements of the UN Security Council, but at levels consistent with similar enrichment plants elsewhere. The Report also confirmed that no ongoing reprocessing had been taking place at Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility. However, Iran still refused to provide design information or access to verify design information for its IR-40 heavy water research reactor in accordance with the Additional Protocol and in spite of Iran’s February 2003 agreement to do so.

The Agency insisted on its right to verify design information independent of the stage of construction or the presence of nuclear material. Hence IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. So the disagreement over Iran’s repeated refusal to implement the Additional Protocol continued, though the IAEA confirmed that, thus far, the agency had not been able to find any evidence that Tehran was seeking to make a nuclear weapon and that no nuclear material could be removed for further enrichment to make nuclear weapons without the agency’s knowledge though in September 2009 the IAEA reprimanded Iran for not disclosing that it had built another enrichment facility at Qom. IAEA demanded that Iran freeze its construction and any uranium enrichment.

By February 2010, IAEA had become thoroughly exasperated on learning that Iran had purchased additional sensitive technology, had conducted secret tests of high-precision detonators and modified designs of missile cones to accommodate larger payloads, all steps associated with the development of nuclear warheads. Since by May 2010 Iran produced over 2.5 tons of low-enriched uranium, enough when further enriched to make two nuclear weapons. The breakout period was now estimated to be about a year.

The IAEA-Iran dispute escalated. In July 2010, Iran banned two IAEA inspectors. In August, IAEA accused Iran of initiating a new cascade with 164 centrifuges at Natanz capable of enriching uranium to 19.5%. Fifteen months later, IAEA reported that it had credible evidence that Iran was designing a nuclear weapon and, through satellite imagery had identified a large explosive containment vessel inside Parchin. Iran continued to deny IAEA access to Parchin.

By the Spring of 2012, IAEA and Iran were engaged in a loud war of words, of accusations and counter-accusations. It was clear that Iran was operating more cascades, was enriching uranium to 19.5% but had not yet been able to get its advanced design centrifuges to work. Even more frightening, in May 2012, IAEA reported detecting uranium enriched to 27% at Fordow, an enrichment level that clearly pointed to the aim of producing a nuclear weapon. By August, Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at Fordow and was now in possession of 190 kg of 19.5% enriched uranium, creeping very close to Israel’s red line of 250 kg, especially since in September 2012 AIAE reported that Iran had completed advanced work on its computer modeling pointing to advanced nuclear weapons research.

The situation continued to worsen. At Fordow, 16 cascades of 174 IR-1 centrifuges each had been installed with half in production mode, though only half of that half were actually operating. By November 2012, the total of highly enriched uranium had reached 233 kg, perilously close to Netanyahu’s red line. Iran continued to deny IAEA access to Fordow. Arak was expected to be operational in early 2014.

By February 2013, Netanyahu’s red line had been crossed. Iran had 280kg of near 20% enriched uranium. The rate of increase was 15 kg per month. The air was filled with rumours of an imminent Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the aftermath of Israel’s 2007 destruction of the Syrian nuclear facility at Rif Dimahq. (See the 28 September 2012 Report of the Congressional Research Service analyzing the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities –   https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R42443.pdf) The signals to Iran and the rest of the world were unmistakable. Even Saudi Arabia let it be known that it favoured such an attack. Netanyahu warned that Iranian nuclear weapons would unleash the possibility of nuclear terrorism, provide Iranian sponsored terrorists with a nuclear cover and would threaten the world’s oil supply as well as instigating Turkey and Saudi Arabia to join the nuclear arms race in the Middle East. However, Israel still lacked the support of the U.S. for such an initiative as the Americans favoured further diplomacy, especially in light of the imminent elections in Iran. Israel had been supplied with bunker buster bombs, the U.S. continued to refuse to supply Israel with deep penetration ones. Even though Israel had only two planes known to be equipped to carry such bombs, Israel let it be known that it had plans to “go it alone.”

2013 was the tipping point. Israel’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz in April 2013 said that Israel was still willing to give sanctions a chance, but warned that Iran could achieve “nuclear capability before the end of the year.” The doomsday clock had only eight months at most left.

Everything changed with the change in government in Iran, especially in the aftermath of Barack Obama becoming president. A Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) was signed by IAEA.

Tomorrow: The 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action