One year since Iran deal, 'threat still exists'

A year after Iran nuclear deal, former head of IDF intelligence says situation is better short-term, but long-term threat looms.

Shai Landesman,

Nuclear power plant (illustration)
Nuclear power plant (illustration)

On the occasion of a year passing since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, Arutz Sheva conducted an interview discussing the matter with General in Reserves Amos Yadlin, who is currently serving as head of the Institute for National Security Studies, and who formerly was the head of IDF intelligence.

"I was one of those who said the deal was problematic, but mainly for the long term," recounted General Yadlin, "I didn't accept the claim that it would cause a second Holocaust, while I also didn't delude myself to think that it would bring another Nobel prize for the person who made it happen," commented the General, referring to President Barack Obama.

Yadlin advocates a balanced approach when examining the effects of the deal, claiming that in the short term it improves Israel's security situation. "The Iranians were weeks away from a bomb and now they are a year away.

"All the enriched Uranium - that was enough for 10 bombs - went to Russia, two thirds of the centrifuges were taken apart, and their heavy water reactor was disabled. These are the good parts of the deal. The problematic part comes in the second decade. After the tenth year the Iranians are allowed to go back to the previous number of centrifuges and get legitimacy for it," he explained.

The General added that "the basic premise of the deal is problematic. It's built on two assumptions: One, that even if the Iranians conduct a broad nuclear operation the international community will always be able to monitor it. Obama has said that even if they get extremely close to a bomb, the monitoring will be such that the Iranians will not be able to "break out" to a bomb without being stopped. Even just a year in there are serious questions about this assumption. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE) says that the monitoring was worse this year than it was before. That's already one reason to think the deal must be revised.

"The second assumption, which in my eyes is the most important, is that the regime in Iran will change over the next decade and will no longer wish to develop nuclear weapons or at any rate become more moderate and stop calling for Israel's destruction.

"I have been making the case that if the regime doesn't in fact change, and continues to call for Israel's destruction, we can't let them get within the range of a bomb. We'll have to amend the deal in coordination with the Americans. The American hope was that the Iranians will change and become more moderate. That hasn't yet happened," Yadlin asserted.

When the General was asked whether US economic interest in the deal may not be so strong so as to preclude any possibility of American cooperation in amending the deal, he replied that "the economic projections were a nightmare scenario that didn't materialize. People said the Iranians will get hundreds of billions of Dollars and investors would all go there. That didn't happen. They're only receiving tens of billions and the investors aren't waiting in line. They're worried about instability and there are still other sanctions in place that are dependent on human rights violations and funding of terror, not just nuclear sanctions. This is why Secretary of State Kerry has been trying to convince European bankers to invest in Iran. However, there is no doubt that the more money gets tied up in Iranian ventures the more of an economic interest there will be not to rock the boat with Iran.

"Israel need to keep the option of acting alone after all other avenues have been exhausted. Active operation against Iran must always be the last resort, but must remain on the table in order to preserve the principle established in 1981 [when Israel bombed and destroyed the nuclear reactor in Iraq] that a country that wants to destroy Israel will not have nuclear weapons. We must keep the capacity to preserve that principle."

Later in the interview Yadlin addressed Iran's ability to return to its previous nuclear capacity should it so choose. "Iran was left with nuclear capability. You can't bomb know-how. The knowledge in the heads of scientists exists. They have 6,000 centrifuges and not 19,000, but what they do have is there, and they can build more centrifuges. If they decide to break out of the deal they have a baseline to start from. They have a known plan, but even if they do decide to break out they'll still be a year away and not two months as they were before.

"In order to calculate the time needed to get to a bomb you need to take into account the time for enriching the material, and the time needed to develop the mechanism for the detonator. The first factor entails an easy calculation depending on the number of centrifuges enriching Uranium. As for the second, though, there is a difference of opinion, so usually the first factor of Uranium enrichment is used to calculate "breakout" times."

As for Israel's ability to act despite the deal Yadlin said that seeing as Israel was left out of the deal it's not committed to it, but for obvious reasons it's unwise to speak this way publicly. "Israel sees Iran as the only real existential threat, and the intelligence agencies are monitoring Iran very closely to devise plans of action if we're left isolated and with no recourse but to act."

What about Iran's involvement in the various battlefronts in the Middle East and its continued funding of terror groups? General Yadlin explained that these things aren't included in the deal, and this fact was one of the main points of Israel's criticism. Those who signed the deal argued that any demands on Iran's other activities in the region would have made it very difficult to reach an agreement. So the Iranians haven't stopped funding terror or supporting the rebels in Yemen and Syria.

In this context Yadlin mentioned how Israeli officials outlined to the US government the difficulty in separating Iran as nuclear threat, where a deal was signed and sanctions were lifted, and Iran as terror sponsor and regional menace, where sanctions must be employed. It is here that we already see the difficulty in enacting two separate policy-tracks vis-a-vis Iran.

"The whole world united in saying that Iran will be made to use its nuclear capabilities solely for civilian purposes and if it turns out they aren't, the world will stop them, with this challenge kicked down the road for the next American President or the one after that. So at least we got ten years, and if we can make the right moves diplomatically, militarily, and in terms of intelligence, we'll be in a better spot in ten years."

At the end of the conversation Yadlin was asked about the periodically arising conspiracy theories claiming that Iran already posses a nuclear weapon. "I won't comment on that," the General replied, but added that "in my opinion these are pure fabrications."