Ahead of crucial negotiations in Vienna, Israel says it is developing its capabilities to launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed that Tel Aviv is working to develop its capabilities to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, in parallel with its efforts to improve the terms of a future agreement between world powers and Tehran.

Gantz added that Israel wants an agreement that deals not only with the issue of uranium enrichment but also with Iranian missiles and Tehran’s activities throughout the Middle East.

The statements of the Israeli Defense Minister coincide with the meeting of the governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, prior to the resumption of talks in Vienna next Monday between Tehran and Western countries, after a 5-month hiatus, and comes amid a charged atmosphere between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose director visited the Iranian capital a few days ago.

The visit of the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, to Tehran did not achieve any results. On the contrary, it raised concerns about the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and the restrictions imposed on the operations of international inspectors.

Grossi canceled a press conference that was scheduled at the end of his visit to Tehran on Tuesday evening, after his arrival in Vienna, which indicates the extent of the differences with Tehran and the international concern over the developments of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Obstacles to inspectors

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s concern is the restrictions imposed on the work of the inspectors since last February by the Iranian government, which “seriously impedes” its verification activities, according to a recent report.

There is also another unresolved issue, which is the placement of 4 undeclared sites where nuclear materials have been detected, which also poses a problem.

According to the agency, the treatment of the inspectors also raises concern, as a number of them were subjected to “exaggerated searches by security forces.” Grossi indicated that “the issue has been brought up”, hoping “that similar incidents will not be repeated.”

Grossi met in Tehran with the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian.

In a declaration before the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors, the European Union expressed its “grave concern that the talks did not achieve any results.”

“We are approaching the point where I will no longer be able to guarantee continuity of information” about Iran’s nuclear programme, warned the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Karaj facility

Urgently related is the issue of access to the Karaj facility, two months after Iran promised to allow it.

The facility is intended to manufacture parts for centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, and was apparently sabotaged in June. Tehran has blamed Israel for what it says was an attack that destroyed one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras there.

But Tehran later removed all the cameras. Moreover, the footage captured by the destroyed camera is missing.

This means that there is a gap in the IAEA’s monitoring of sensitive facilities, through which large quantities of materials or equipment for a covert nuclear weapons program can be transported.

In a statement to the agency’s board of governors meeting, the United States said Iran should allow the agency to reinstall the cameras in Karaj “immediately”, and that the continuing crisis over the issue would complicate efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.

Iranian justification

But a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said Thursday evening in response to this that the Karaj facility will not be subject to inspection because it does not contain nuclear materials, indicating that the facility’s activities are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Despite this, the Iranian spokesman clarified that the Karaj facility produces advanced centrifuges with high capacities.

This problem is an additional complicating element before the indirect talks that will resume in Vienna next Monday between the United States and Iran, through the other countries that are still party to the agreement, namely Germany, China, the United Kingdom, Russia and France, with the aim of reviving the nuclear agreement.

A US State Department spokesman told AFP that “Iran’s decision not to cooperate” with the International Atomic Energy Agency “is a bad indication of its effective will to negotiate to reach a settlement.” But he noted that the 2015 deal could still be salvaged “quickly”.

The agreement made it possible to lift many of the sanctions that were imposed on Iran in exchange for limiting its nuclear activities and ensuring the peacefulness of its program, with an inspection program from the International Agency considered one of the most stringent in the world.

In response to US sanctions, Iran began in 2019 to gradually retreat from implementing many of its basic obligations under the agreement. While Western countries accuse Iran of “violating” the agreement through this retreat, Tehran asserts that its steps are “compensatory” after the US withdrawal.

US President Joe Biden announced his readiness to return to the agreement, provided Iran returns to comply with the restrictions imposed on its nuclear program.

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