Iran has announced that it will start to enrich uranium to up to 60 per cent purity.
The enrichment, Iran’s highest level to date as it has not enriched higher than 20 per cent purity, will take place at the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, which was targeted in an attack this week.
An explosive device that had been smuggled into the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran was detonated remotely, destroying primary and backup electrical systems, wrote The New York Times, reportedly causing significant damage to uranium enrichment centrifuges. Iran has accused Israel of being behind the blast at the nuclear site.
Israeli analysts have noted that uranium enrichment to 60 per cent takes Iran very close to weapons-grade fissile material.
This is Iran’s most severe violation of the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA), the nuclear deal signed in 2015. It will leave Iran short of the 90 per cent enrichment necessary to produce a nuclear weapon, but closer to that threshold than ever before.
The Iranian move increases the pressure on the US and the JCPOA participants in their talks in Vienna with Iran.
Iran is also installing a further 1,000 advanced centrifuges at the site, with enrichment capability 50 per cent higher than those already installed.
The Iran nuclear deal restricts the Islamic regime to the 3.67 percent level, although Iran has been enriching a growing quantity of uranium to the 20 percent level in recent months as part of its efforts to gain bargaining chips ahead of nuclear talks with world powers.
In 2012, Iran amassed 190 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium, prompting warnings by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the time against the crossing of Israel’s red line.
Frank Gardner, the BBC News security correspondent, wrote about the dangerous developments in the shadow war between Iran and Israel following the Natanz attack. “This [Natanz attack] is not an isolated incident. It follows a gradually accelerating pattern of hostile, tit-for-tat actions by both countries as they step up their covert war while being careful – so far – to avoid an all-out conflict which would be hugely destructive for both nations … the underlying theme of this shadow war is brinkmanship. Neither side can afford to look weak but both Iran and Israel know they need to carefully calibrate their actions so as not to trigger an all-out war,” he wrote.
EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday discussed with U.S. the Secretary of State Antony Blink ‘’the situation in Iran and the state of play of the ongoing discussions to bring the JCPOA back to full implementation,’’ the EU’s external service announced.
Meanwhile, ongoing indirect talks between the United States and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal appear to have escalated tensions in the Middle East, as Israel makes it clear to its ally that it will not accept Iranian nuclear capability.
John Hannah, a senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, told JNS that at the heart of the administration’s plan to rejoin the JCPOA, none of President Joe Biden’s advisers want to admit that there is no deal without removing terrorism-related sanctions.
“The fact is there’s no way back to the deal unless the United States is willing to accept Iran’s demand that massive sanctions relief be granted to the central pillars of its regionwide terrorist enterprise: its Central Bank, oil sector and the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps],” he said. “There’s no escaping the reality that at the core of the administration’s Iran strategy is a devil’s bargain that will funnel billions of dollars into Iran’s imperial project across the Middle East in exchange for little more than a temporary reprieve from Iran’s relentless march towards nuclear-weapons capability.”
The renewed talks come as tensions remain high with Israel and other Arabs states, and as the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to chart Iran’s growing nuclear advances.
Harold Rhode, a longtime former adviser on Islamic affairs in the U.S. Defense Department of Defense, said “the Iranians are having a field day humiliating us.”
America has “shown weakness—the more Iran demands, the more the United States gives in,” he added.
Rhode said that U.S. allies in the region, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, are looking for other alternatives. The media of our allies in the region “are full of articles which, taken in their cultural context, indicate that the United States betrayed them and that China is making a bid to replace America as the world’s superpower.”
The United States called talks in Vienna with Iran “indirect.”
Rhode said it may make “American negotiators feel good about themselves, but to our allies that have relied on the United States for protection and to enforce the international order, the word ‘indirect’ and ‘direct’ make no difference since the result is the same. America has caved.”
As a result, he added, “more Arab countries are looking to Israel to assume American’s role, though they would never say so publicly.”