October 3, 2023
October 3, 2023

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Iran Makes Moves With IAEA, Ballistic Missiles: What Are They Up To?

Before analyzing how these moves mix together, one must look closely. As is often with the ayatollahs, there is more than meets the eye.

Iran on Tuesday, May 30 started to claim that it has closed two IAEA probes into either undeclared sites or unexplained traces of molecules of uranium enriched to the 84% level, leaving only two outstanding probes.

The claims come only days after the Islamic Republic last week said it had tested a ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers and only days before the IAEA Board of Governors is set to meet next week.

What is Tehran’s game at this time? It is clearly trying to convince the IAEA Board not to refer its nuclear violations to the UN Security Council for a potential global snapback of sanctions? But is this campaign being done by using “carrots” (giving the IAEA more data that it had previously withheld), by “sticks” (new and longer range tests of ballistic missiles) or both?

What Is Iran Trying to Do?

Before analyzing how all of these moves mix together, it is important to look more closely at the major events, as often with the ayatollahs there is more than meets the eye.

Regarding the IAEA probes, it is unclear if anything at all happened Tuesday.

The IAEA issued no public statement, only Iran issued one.

Further, The Jerusalem Post requested clarification from the IAEA, and at press time the international inspectors had issued no response which would back up Iran’s claims.

In the past, when only the Islamic Republic claimed some positive movement with the IAEA or the West, it was wishful thinking and an attempt to pressure other parties into accepting Iranian terms which were under negotiation, but which remained in dispute.

So Tehran could be flat-out lying.

Alternatively, there could be some truth to Iran’s claims or a partial deal on the way, but even this would not necessarily be a game-changer.

To date, the IAEA has a number of accusations against Iran that need clearing up.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi has said repeatedly from 2020-2022 that, “Iran has not provided explanations that are technically credible in relation to the agency’s findings at three undeclared locations in Iran.

“Nor has Iran informed the agency of the current location, or locations, of the nuclear material and/or of the equipment contaminated with nuclear material, that was moved from Turquzabad in 2018,” said Grossi.

Further, he has said, “Unless and until Iran provides technically credible explanations for the presence of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at Turquzabad, Varamin and ‘Marivan’ and informs the agency of all current locations of the nuclear material and/or of the contaminated equipment, the agency cannot confirm the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.”

Then in February of this year, the Islamic Republic was also caught with a small number of molecules of uranium enriched to the 84% level at the Fordow facility.

All Iran is claiming has been resolved is the latest 84% incident and one of the three undeclared sites known alternately as Marivan/Abadeh.

The Turquzabad and Varamin sites and issues would still be open, including illicit traces of uranium found at Turquzabad and a variety of questions about missing nuclear weapons testing equipment from Iran’s nuclear archives which the Mossad seized in 2018.

Moreover, this would not be the first probe closed against Iran, and the last time a probe was closed in March 2022 relating to an illicit metal disc of nuclear material, there was no less pressure by the IAEA on Tehran regarding the remaining open probes.

So the carrot here may be weak.

The stick may not be any less weak.

Iran’s claims last week of launching a ballistic missile with a 2,000-kilometer range led to loud condemnations from the US and others.

But did it really give Iran anything it did not already have and did it cross any of the ballistic missile boundaries that could be game-changers? It looks like it clearly did not.

The British think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies has campaigned in recent years to promote a Western European talking point of letting Iran keep its existing ballistic missile stock, as long as it does not increase their range.

The main reason?

The think tank and Western European countries want a limit of 2,000 km. because that would stave off the development of missiles that could directly threaten Western Europe, let alone eventually the US.

Even a few years before this last ballistic missile test, Iran’s existing Shahab-3, Emad-1 and Sejjil were estimated to be able to strike up to 2,000 kilometers away, meaning they can already easily strike Israel, the Saudis and much of Eastern Europe.

In contrast, to reliably reach Western Europe, Iran’s ballistic missiles would need to have a range of 3,000 kilometers.

A report by the think tank tip-toes around the issue that the Khorramshahr missile has a maximum range of 2,000 km, but with independent experts’ assessments suggest it could reach greater distances of up to 3,000 kilometers, if armed with a lighter warhead.

But basically, the working assumption is that Iran is still 1,000 kilometers off from being able to threaten Western Europe. The latest ballistic missile test does not change this critical calculus.

However, it does remind Western Europe that if the West’s sanctions continue, the Islamic Republic could increase its ballistic missile’s range to a point where it could threaten Western Europe, even if Tehran does not cross the nuclear threshold.

Threatening the US is a whole different game. The ayatollahs would need to get into the 10,000 kilometers range.

Theoretically, top arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote in December 2021, that a modified Sarir satellite launching rocket might be able to carry 1,000 kilograms for 7,000-9,000 kilometers. That is closer to striking distance. So the latest test is also maybe a vague threat to the US.

It does seem that Iran wants to bribe and threaten the US and the EU to avoid a confrontation at the UN Security Council.

The question is what impact these relatively weak moves will have on IAEA Board decision-makers from those countries.

By Yonah Jeremy Bob/JPost.com


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