New concerns over IAEA inspections of Iran

Update 10/18 #02

This Update focuses on some new evidence and arguments that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of Iran’s nuclear program are less effective and airtight than proponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal usually assert.

Its core is a new report by the respected American think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, which draws on the Iranian nuclear archives stolen by Israeli intelligence earlier this year to draw conclusions about the state of Iran’s nuclear abilities, the IAEA inspections and especially the role of the Parchin military research complex in Iran.

We lead with a news report on the Institute’s finding from the Jerusalem Post for those who do not have time to read the report in full. The story, by Yonah Jeremy Bob, notes that the new report, written by experienced former weapons inspectors, offers evidence that Iran has already overcome obstacles to building a bomb which experts thought it had not yet mastered, meaning Teheran’s lead time to a functioning nuclear weapon is shorter than previously thought. Furthermore, the report also takes the IAEA to task for failing to aggressively seek to inspect the Parchin site, given the new evidence about nuclear work that was done there provided by the Israeli archive. For a longer summary of the report’s conclusions, CLICK HERE. A different news report highlighting other aspects of the Institute for Science and International Security report is here. 

Next up is some comment from American analyst and writer Josh Block on the IAEA’s troubling response to Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s revelations on Sept. 27 at the UN General Assembly of an additional alleged Iranian nuclear warehouse. In addition to discussing the IAEA’s refusal to follow up on Netanyahu’s claims, Block cites earlier findings by experts from the Institute of Science and International Security that the IAEA is simply unable to provide assurances with respect to Iran’s obligations under Section T of the JCPOA – “activities which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” He points out that overall, IAEA assurances that Iran is complying with the deal mean no more than “Iran didn’t blatantly violate the deal at any site that the IAEA has access to.” For this knowledgeable argument in full,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, on a separate but related topic, Israeli military intelligence experts Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen and Dany Shoham explore the European efforts to preserve the JCPOA in the wake of the US withdrawal from it. They argue that the EU approach – attempting to meet Iranian demands that Iran be given the full economic benefits of the JCPOA despite US sanctions, and being willing to downplay Iranian missile testing and refrain from pushing Iran for more effective inspections – is based on a misunderstanding of the nature and goals of the Iranian regime. They posit that the current “sophisticated blackmail campaign” by Teheran against the EU will eventually cause the EU’s utopian approach towards Iran to be reassessed. For all the details of this well-informed analysis,  CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in…


Think tank: Iran was closer to nukes than we thought

By YONAH JEREMY BOB

Jerusalem Post, 24/10/2018

Mossad documents and satellite photos shed new light on Iran’s nuclear program.


A 2004 Google Earth commercial satellite image shows the Parchin complex that was involved in nuclear weapons high explosive testing work under the AMAD project taken from the new Institute for Science and International Security report.

Iran was closer to developing nuclear weapons than previously thought, according to a think tank report issued late Tuesday.

A report by the Institute for Science and International Security said that combining new information produced by the Mossad during its January raid on a Tehran warehouse along with satellite imagery “conclusively shows that the Parchin site did house high explosive chambers capable for use in nuclear weapons research and development.”

While the focus of the report is Iran’s activities up until 2003, the premise of the report and of the documents which the Mossad appropriated from a site in Tehran (which had not been disclosed to the IAEA) is that the tests performed mean Iran could be capable of building a weapon faster than previously thought.

There are unending debates about whether the Islamic Republic is currently around 12 months or closer to six months from being able to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to do so.

Iran has already overcome some of the obstacles to building a bomb which experts thought it had not yet overcome, based on the new report. This would shorten the countdown number.

Moreover, the report implies that based on photos from the Mossad appropriated documents, Iran has not accounted for complex equipment that would be used for the process of developing a nuclear weapon – meaning the IAEA should be confronting Tehran about where and whether it is hiding it.

The report, authored by the think tank’s director David Albright, by former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen and other top experts, said,  “The additional evidence specifically mentions explosions and radioactivity at the Parchin site, and this information far more vividly establishes Iran’s nuclear weapons-related activities there.”


Image from the archive seized by Israel and made available to the public. it shows a high explosive test chamber at the Parchin site. Annotations by the Institute for Science and International Security. 

The report said that the Mossad-obtained “nuclear archive shows that Iran conducted at Parchin more high explosive tests related to nuclear weapons development than previously thought…this work appears to have involved more than what the IAEA called feasibility and scientific studies,” as the IAEA asserted in a December 2015 report.

In addition, “the information highlights dual-use, controlled equipment used at the site, such as a flash x-ray system utilizing a Marx generator and a variety of neutron measurement equipment, with electronics, designed to monitor high speed, explosively driven tests of a neutron source commonly used in a nuclear weapon.”


What the IAEA doesn’t know — or want to know — about Iran’s nuclear program

BY JOSHUA BLOCK 

The Hill, 18/10/18 08:30

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations on Sept. 27 and makes new allegations about a previously unknown Iranian nuclear warehouse. 

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Iran, in addition to having an archive of files documenting its illicit military nuclear research, has a warehouse containing nuclear equipment and material. The prime minister exhorted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano to “go and inspect this atomic warehouse immediately,” before Iran hides its contents.

A week later, however, the IAEA rejected his suggestion. In a statement, the agency said, “All information obtained, including from third parties, is subject to rigorous review and assessed together with other available information to arrive at an independent assessment based on the agency’s own expertise.”

This wasn’t the first time the IAEA failed to investigate possible Iranian violations discovered by Israeli intelligence. When Israel in April smuggled out a half-ton of documents and CDs from a Tehran warehouse, the IAEA issued a similar statement: “In line with standard IAEA practice, the IAEA evaluates all (nuclear) safeguards-relevant information available to it,” but gave no indication that it would investigate further.

Israel subsequently shared many of the files it recovered from Iran with independent weapons experts and selected journalists. The Wall Street Journal assessed in July that the documents showed not only aspects of the Iranian nuclear weapons program the IAEA knew about, but also details “about which international inspectors were unaware.”

Though it is charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, at least twice the IAEA has acknowledged it was not verifying compliance. In September 2017, Amano said the IAEA did not have the tools to verify items listed in Section T of the accord, governing “activities which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” David Albright, president of the nonpartisan Institute of Science and International Security and a former weapons inspector, said the statement was an admission that “the deal is not fully implemented.”

In announcing the Iran nuclear deal in January 2016, President Obama said Iran couldn’t possibly cheat because the agreement ensured “the most comprehensive, intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.” The guarantee for Iran’s full compliance, therefore, was one of the central selling points of the accord. However, critics at the time pointed out that the IAEA did not, in fact, have complete knowledge of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

In an analysis of the final IAEA report on the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, Albright observed that, “Iran did not provide the IAEA with anywhere near a full declaration about its past nuclear weapons-related activities, and it did not provide the kind of transparency and cooperation required for the IAEA to conclude its investigation.”

This effectively meant the nuclear watchdog was unable to explain in full Iran’s nuclear weapons activities, including verification that Iran’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled.

The gaps in the IAEA’s knowledge — of Iran’s past nuclear work, of its military sites, of items mentioned in Section T of the nuclear deal, and of the nuclear sites discovered by Israeli intelligence — raise questions about the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program. These gaps are important as we approach November, when President Trump has said the United States will impose sanctions on Iran’s energy sector that could “cripple” its economy.

Defenders of the nuclear deal say the IAEA has confirmed Iranian compliance, but in fact, all they can confirm is that Iran didn’t blatantly violate the deal at any site that the IAEA has access to.

Defenders of the nuclear deal have argued that the United States is wrong to impose sanctions on Iran because the IAEA confirmed it has been complying with the deal. But with its failure to establish a full picture of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it can’t be said to have confirmed the country’s compliance; just that Iran didn’t blatantly violate the deal at any site that the IAEA has access to.

When he revealed Iran’s nuclear archive in April, Netanyahu said Iran kept the files to “use them at a later date.” In other words, the gaps in the IAEA’s knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program mean the deal enables Iran to do what Obama said the accord would never allow: develop nuclear weapons.
There is a lot that we don’t know about Iran’s nuclear program. There is a lot we will be unable to know because the deal has too many holes, and the IAEA is unable — or unwilling — to address them.

Joshua S. Block is CEO and president of The Israel Project. He is a former Clinton administration official and spokesman at the State Department’s USAID. He got his start on Capitol Hill in the office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and was a spokesman for the Clinton/Gore and Gore/Lieberman presidential campaigns. Follow him on Twitter @JoshBlockDC.


The EU’s Utopian Approach to Iran

by Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen and Dany Shoham

The Algemeiner, October 25, 2018

Iran’s Revolutionary guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks during a conference to mark the martyrs of terrorism in Tehran, September 6, 2011. Photo: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl.

On August 7, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said:

We are doing our best to keep Iran in the [JCPOA nuclear] deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran, because we believe this is in the security interests of not only our region but also of the world. If there is one piece of international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation that is delivering, it has to be maintained. We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something [that] for us is a security priority.

This open defiance of Donald Trump’s policy on the Iran nuclear agreement reflects the determination of the E3 (France, Germany, and the UK) to rescue the JCPOA.

The EU governments are committed to keeping the JCPOA alive, and Tehran has agreed to give their efforts a chance — on the condition that they provide “practical guarantees” that Iran will reap the economic dividends of the deal despite the American withdrawal and re-imposition of sanctions.

The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has made clear that “the JCPOA is a means, not the goal, and if we come to the conclusion that it cannot serve [our] national interests, we will leave it.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged his French counterpart, as well as the remaining signatories to the agreement, to act faster and in a more transparent manner to preserve it. However, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Muhammad Ali Jafari, congratulated his nation on the US withdrawal, describing the JCPOA as “not credible even before the withdrawal.”

Tehran has set out several specific conditions if it is to remain in the deal: an EU commitment to preserve its oil trade with Iran and a guarantee that it can sell as much oil as it wants on the world market; the provision of practical ways to bypass the US financial system by making direct, euro-denominated payments for Iranian oil to Iran’s central bank; an increase in EU investment in Iran; and a commitment to refrain from seeking new negotiations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and its activities in the Middle East.

The most significant measure the EU has taken to defy the US was the decision to establish a mechanism to facilitate payments for Iran’s exports, including oil, as well as its imports, reached after high-level closed-door talks at UN headquarters. The public joint communique on the matter, issued on September 24, is clear: “Mindful of the urgency and the need for tangible results, the participants welcomed practical proposals to maintain and develop payment channels, notably the initiative to establish a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports, including oil.”

This measure is in addition to the EU decision to activate the “Blocking Regulation” (initially adopted on November 22, 1996), which is aimed at protecting EU businesses against the effects of extra-territorial application of legislation adopted by a third country. The Blocking Regulation is expected to be amended by the European Commission to include the new US measures. In effect, this will order EU businesses not to comply with US sanctions.

For Tehran, the EU’s continuing support for the agreement — together with Russia and China, and, most recently, India — signals confirmation of the legitimacy of the nuclear deal and the endorsement of Iran as a responsible and credible partner. As long as the EU is convinced that Tehran is fulfilling its commitments, its right to a civilian nuclear program — including uranium enrichment — is guaranteed, and regime change is not on the international agenda. The IAEA has certified repeatedly (most recently on August 30) that Iran continues to fully implement its commitments under the JCPOA and that the IAEA has been given access to all sites and locations that it needs to visit.

The EU is not insisting that UN nuclear inspectors have immediate access to all sites, including non-nuclear military installations, as the US administration demands. This difference is highly consequential, considering the various covert operations in the nuclear domain conducted by Iran prior to the JCPOA era. So too are the divergences pertaining to ballistic issues.

The attitude of the EU toward Iran is nourished, in part, by the glory of Iranian history up to the rise of the ayatollahs and the IRGC, the inability to distinguish between the fanatical Iranian regime and the decent Iranian people, the grossly misleading façade of the regime’s key figures, and tempting economic calculations. A fear of Iranian might likely plays a role as well.

Is Europe failing to realize Tehran’s true nature, or is it well aware and simply unwilling to clash with it? Geo-politically speaking, its approach to Iran is irrational. The strategic orientation of the Islamic Republic is perfectly clear: Russia, China, North Korea, and Assad’s Syria.

A vivid illustration of the Iranian-North Korean nuclear and ballistic interface — mirroring Tehran’s approach with respect to the nuclear and ballistic spheres — was furnished during the visit of North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, to the Iranian capital on August 7. The two countries were facing similar challenges from the US, particularly after the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jung-un and President Trump. The foreign minister’s visit to Tehran might have presaged an attempt to covertly retain and transfer cardinal North Korean nuclear and ballistic assets to Iran.

Those assets — in addition to operational weaponry — located in North Korea that are intended to be eliminated or dismantled might instead be conveyed, either assembled or unassembled, to Iran, where they will be warmly welcomed. Pyongyang might be planning to move weaponry, technological assets, and skilled personnel to Iran rather than declare their existence and eliminate, dismantle, or reassign them. The absence of a common border between the two countries will make camouflaged transportation from North Korea to Iran complicated and risky, but the two countries should be expected to do their utmost to overcome that disadvantage.

Two processes are occurring in parallel: the EU’s defiance of Washington’s pull-out from the JCPOA and its challenge to any kind of re-imposed sanctions (the second phase of which are to be activated in early November); and the EU’s intensive contacts with Iran to keep the JCPOA alive irrespective of US policy.

When President Trump was inaugurated, bringing the Obama era to a close, a rupture opened up in transatlantic relations. This was visible in the EU’s harsh criticism of Trump’s unilateral strategy in several domains in the international arena. The body’s leading states are horrified by Trump’s abrasive and non-diplomatic style, and they continue to tout liberal values through the prism of political correctness. In their eyes, “Trumpism” represents a severe danger to the Western democracies. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently called on Europeans to counter Trump’s policy of “America First” by adopting the idea of a “United Europe.”

In keeping with this attitude, the EU is advocating for an independent capability to make its own decisions as a sovereign body. On this matter, the leader of the liberal group in the European parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium, said: “We as Europeans must strengthen our foreign policy to be able to shape relations with the greater Middle East independently from the US.” Not surprisingly, the uncompromising polemics over the JCPOA are among the toughest ongoing diplomatic transatlantic quarrels.

It would be superficial and foolish to assume that economic interests related to high-volume European investments in Iran, as well as future prospects for enhancing EU involvement in developing the Iranian industrial infrastructure, are the sole explanations for the EU’s insistence on conserving the JCPOA as the mechanism by which to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.

In fact, the E3 (France, Germany, and Britain) were firmly in favour of amending the JCPOA in order to avoid a US withdrawal. The French even used the term JCPOA-2 to highlight the original deal’s key shortcoming, namely that it does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program. French President Emmanuel Macron stated in February that “we need to put Iran under surveillance over its ballistic missiles. It’s indispensable for the security of the region and so we need a mechanism of sanctions and control adapted to that.”

On January 22, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed that Iran was violating UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), which was ratified to endorse the nuclear deal. Le Drian said European countries will have “the opportunity of underlining our firmness on Iran’s compliance with … Resolution 2231, which limits access to ballistic capacity and which Iran does not respect.” This wording is less restrictive than the prior prohibition on missile testing contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (2010), which said that Iran “shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

While Mogherini has stated that Iran’s missile tests wouldn’t be regarded as violations of the JCPOA provisions, the German intelligence community claimed in May that Tehran has continued its attempts to acquire nuclear and missile technologies, which violates the nuclear deal agreement.

An Iranian government spokesman asserted that “Tehran categorically rejects France’s proposal to open discussions concerning the ballistic and missiles program, because such talks would violate Iran’s defensive and national infrastructure. Therefore, the door is closed to this unofficial French initiative.”

In June, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei urged the IRGC to boost Iran’s missile program. “Work on missiles as much as you can,” he said in a meeting with IRGC commanders, according to his own official website. “You can see how much the enemy is vigilant about [Iran’s] missiles, therefore, you should know that your work [on missiles] is very important,” he added.

Iran’s hardliners are intentionally utilizing Iran’s long-range ballistic missile arsenal as an aggressive diplomatic tool to deliver a message to the EU: “Back off.”

Iran’s arrogant dismissal of the EU’s initiative on this matter was demonstrated by its conducting of a series of ballistic missile live tests, as well as the spectacular disclosure of the Khorramshahr missile, which has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) and the ability to carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) within a range of 1,800 kilometers. Iran was known to have missiles of similar ranges, like the Shihab-3, which is based on a North Korean prototype, but the Iranian ballistic program extends far beyond that range.

The hardliners in Tehran — particularly in the IRGC — are intentionally utilizing Iran’s long-range ballistic missile arsenal as an aggressive diplomatic tool to deliver a message to EU members, first and foremost to France: “Back off.”

The operational launch by the IRGC of six ballistic missiles into eastern Syria on October 1, targeting ISIS-related facilities, employed Zolfaghar and Qiam variants, which have ranges of 750 kilometres (465 miles) and 800 kilometres (500 miles), respectively. This was a message not only to the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, but to the EU as well. It is not by coincidence that the operational use of the long-range missiles took place just a month after French Foreign Minister Le Drian warned Iran (on August 31) that it “cannot avoid” talks on its ballistic missile program and role in Middle East conflicts.

By acting in this way, Iran appears to have been signalling 1) that it will not hesitate to employ strategic weapons for tactical purposes, and 2) that it already possesses the necessary technological and operational capacity to threaten targets in Europe.

This is not the first time Iran has launched ballistic missiles after French warnings. On June 18, 2017, six Iranian ballistic missiles were launched targeting ISIS forces in eastern Syria. The missiles reportedly were of the Zolfaghar type (an upgraded Fateh-110 with a longer range and optional cluster munition warhead), with a reported range of 750 kilometres. This striking incident occurred shortly after an EU senior delegation conducted high-level talks in Tehran (on the occasion of Rouhani’s inauguration) during which Iran was firmly advised to abandon its ballistic missile program.

Another incident took place on November 9, 2017, when the Houthi rebels in Yemen launched a ballistic missile targeting Riyadh just a few hours after French President Macron left the Saudi capital for Dubai. The missile was successfully intercepted by Saudi air defence. Macron blamed Tehran for the attack, stating that it was by definition an Iranian missile. He said, “There are extremely strong concerns about Iran among its Arab neighbours in the Persian Gulf region over the missile launch, and there are negotiations we need to start on Iran’s ballistic missiles.”

The Iranians probably used other means as well to sway the EU into abandoning its ambition to impose sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program. On March 29, 2018, it was reported that at a closed-door meeting, Italy, Spain, and Austria rejected a plan to freeze assets and impose travel bans on some 15 Iranian individuals, companies, and groups linked to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its involvement in the Syrian civil war. According to EU rules, such a decision can’t be taken without unanimous agreement.

A “traditional” instrument available to Tehran and probably used by it to achieve its goal of thwarting the EU was activation of its sleeper terror networks in Europe. The foiled terror attack in Paris in June 2018 was officially attributed to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. The French interior, foreign, and economy ministers said on October 2: “This extremely serious act envisaged on our territory could not go without a response. … France underlines its determination to fight against terrorism in all its forms, particularly on its own territory.”

France subjected Iranian diplomat Assadollah Asadi and another man, Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, to six-month asset freezes. Asadi and five others were arrested by European police. The French government said it also froze the assets of Iran’s Ministry of Security and Intelligence.

“I hope it’s a wake-up call across Europe to the nature of the regime and the threat that they pose,” said John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, on October 4. A State Department official was quoted as saying that “in light of Iran’s failed attack in Europe, it is all the more important that our European allies and all countries join us in holding Iran accountable for its dangerous and malign behaviour, including by increasing economic pressure on Iran to deter such threats.”

Hassan Rouhani registering his candidacy for the 2017 Iranian presidential election, photo by Tansim News via Wikimedia Commons

The hardening of relations between Paris and Tehran could have far-reaching consequences for Iran as President Rouhani’s government looks to European capitals to salvage the nuclear deal following the US pull-out. As for the EU, its utopian approach towards Iran, as expressed by Mogherini, will eventually come up against Iran’s true face.

The EU states are facing a sophisticated blackmail campaign directed by the Iranian regime aimed at preserving the JCPOA and deepening existing cleavages among the transatlantic partners. The same applies in the ballistic missile domain. Contrary to naïve conventional wisdom in Europe, President Rouhani’s smile is just a façade. The decision-maker in the Iranian regime is Supreme Leader Khamenei, and the IRGC is under his personal command. It is time to acknowledge the true nature of the governing elements in Iran, their intentions, and the meaning of their conduct.

Dr. Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen is a retired colonel who served as a senior analyst in IDF Military Intelligence. Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, a microbiologist and an expert on chemical and biological warfare in the Middle East, is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He is a former senior intelligence analyst in the IDF and the Israeli Defense Ministry. BESA Center Perspectives Papers, such as this one, are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.