Nuclear Iran
Nuclear Iran iStock
Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna announced that the monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program is “no longer intact”.

IAEA head Rafael Grossi made it clear that this doesn’t mean that Iran has completely stonewalled inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, but that the Islamic Republic makes it impossible to get the full picture of what exactly is happening with its nuclear program.

Iran refuses, for example, to give the IAEA access to a key nuclear plant in Karaj after the facility was targeted by a small drone in June this year.

“It hasn’t paralyzed what we are doing there, but the damage has been done, with a potential of us not being able to reconstruct the picture, the jigsaw puzzle, Grossi told the American news outlet NBC.

He added that “if and when the JCPOA (nuclear deal with Iran) is restarted, I know that for the JCPOA partners to go back to an agreement, they will have to know where they are putting their feet.”

Iran has blamed Israel for the Karaj attack and accused it of “terrorism”.

The Iranians claimed that the attack destroyed some IAEA surveillance cameras, but later the truth came out and it appeared that Iranian personnel at the Karaj facility had removed the damaged cameras and their memory cards. It remains unclear how many cameras the IAEA had at the facility in Karaj.

When Grossi was asked if the IAEA is still able to determine if Iran is close to break-out capacity, he answered in the affirmative and added that he still believes that the Iranians didn’t plan to cross the nuclear threshold, but nevertheless warned that a “North Korea scenario” was possible.

“I don’t have any impression or any information indicating that that is the case (an Iranian break-out),” he said despite the fact that Grossi’s organization recently announced that Iran already has 10 kilograms of highly enriched (60 percent) uranium and has produced uranium metal. Both materials have no civilian use and are needed to produce an atomic bomb within a short time span.

It is precisely because of this crucial information that a number of Israeli and US officials have said that Iran is only a few months or even weeks away from break-out capacity.

During his recent visit to Washington, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned his American counterpart Antony Blinken that Israel firmly believes that Iran is now very close to the moment it will become “a nuclear threshold state.”

Grossi also admitted that he has not yet spoken with Iran’s new Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and said that he deems talks with the Iranian FM very important.

“I hope to be able to have the opportunity to meet with him soon because it’s very important... so when there is a problem, when there is a misunderstanding when there is a disagreement, we can talk about it. I used to have it before, and I would assume” that would be the normal thing,” the IAEA head said.

Grossi added that a failure to restart the negotiations with Iran would have “enormous political impact and reverberations in the Middle East and beyond.”

Later, on October 26th, the IAEA reported that Iran had expanded its highly enriched uranium program at the above-ground nuclear facility at Natanz,

The agency indicated that the Iranians are currently doing tests with a cascade of centrifuges which could be added in order to speed up uranium enrichment up to 60 percent purity or even higher.

In April, Natanz was the scene of a mysterious explosion that destroyed the plant’s power grid. Later, the Iranian regime said the explosion was the result of sabotage, blaming Israel for the attack.

Sabotage of parts of the Iranian nuclear weapons program may soon not be enough anymore, however, and therefore Israeli ministers and military officials increasingly talk about putting the military option back on the table.

Recently, Israeli ministers and PM Bennett have made it clear that Israel has a ‘plan B’ in case the stalled nuclear negotiations with Iran do not resume quickly.

The Israeli government has earmarked $5 billion for preparations connected to plan B and has asked the Pentagon to speed up the delivery of four KC-46 refueling aircraft that are used for long-distance missions of Israel’s F-16, F-15, and F-35 warplanes.

Currently, Israel has an aging fleet of modified Boeing 707 tankers and ordered 8 Boeing-made KC-46’s which were originally to be delivered in the coming years.

The Israeli air force (IAF) has now asked the Pentagon for the immediate delivery of at least two KC-46 tankers.

Meanwhile, Channel 12 in Israel revealed last week that Aviv Kochavi, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, had instructed the IAF to resume training exercises on strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The news came after Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said that a confrontation between Israel and Iran was “inevitable and only a matter of time.”

The IAF maneuvers were halted two years ago shortly after the US left the JCPOA and started its maximum pressure campaign against the regime in Tehran.

Israel is extremely worried about the passivity of the international community in light of Iran’s quick progress in its nuclear weapons program and recently has tried to develop a joint alternative plan of action with the US Administration in case Iran continues to refuse to return to the negotiation table in Vienna.

It remains unclear if the Israeli attempts to develop this joint plan B with the Americans were successful.

If we are to believe Robert Malley, Biden’s Special Envoy to the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the US and its allies should get used to an Iran with nuclear weapons.

Malley said this at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace on the same day US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Lapid and told his Israeli counterpart that the Biden Administration “will look at every option to deal with the challenge posed by Iran.”

Considering the fact that Biden’s hasty and feckless withdrawal from Afghanistan has already made it clear that the current administration has no stomach for wars and certainly not in the Middle East, it is fair to assume that the job of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program will rest on Israel’s shoulders.

You might ask if Israel’s military is up to this daunting task and the answer to this question is yes.

Israel is in the possession of the most lethal and sophisticated weapons and has already used all sorts of smart tactics to set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, including cyber attacks.

The problem Israel is facing, however, is not only Iran’s size and complex topography, but more Iran’s ability to start a multi-front war against the Jewish state via its many proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria.

In this respect, it’s important to notice that Iran is not sitting on its hands and is aware of the increasing Israeli preparations for a confrontation with it.

In Syria, for example, Iran is again building up forces and has enlisted local tribes in eastern Syria for its battle against Israel.

The Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has, furthermore, increased its presence in Syria in the past few months and is trying to completely take over the Syrian Golan Heights.

In addition, Iran is increasingly using drones to target military facilities in Syria and Iraq that it says are in use by Israel.

The last Iranian drone attack in Syria took place at the beginning of this week and targeted the al-Tanf base on the Syrian Iraqi border.

The US military later said five Iranian drones were used in the attack, but didn’t disclose how the attack was thwarted.

As said, Iran claims Israel is using al-Tanf for attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and on bases in use by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in both Iraq and Syria.

In reality, however the al-Tanf base is home to the last contingent of American soldiers in Syria.

The response for the brazen attack on al-Tanf apparently came on Tuesday when a cyber-attack disrupted gas stations across Iran.

In this case as well, Iranian media were quick to blame Israel for carrying out the cyber attack.