The IDF’s former head of military intelligence said Tuesday that Iran’s reported readiness to close its Fordo nuclear enrichment facility is a result of crippling sanctions against the Islamic Republic and not due to the recent crisis in Syria.
“Iranian President [Hasan] Rouhani’s alleged willingness to work to close the nuclear reactor near the city of Qom isn’t because of what’s happening in Syria, but a result of the damage sanctions have brought to the citizens of his country,” Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin said during an interview on Army Radio.
Yadlin was referring to a Monday report in the German news magazine Der Spiegel that claimed Iran was willing to close its uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in exchange for an easing of Western sanctions.
He said the “enormous” sanctions levied against Iran, which increased in 2012, had a “catastrophic effect” on the Iranian economy and that the new Iranian leader was backed into reconsidering the international community’s demands vis-à-vis his country’s nuclear program.
Yadlin contended that the connection between Syria and Iran is weaker than the world thinks, and that the recent overture is likely Rouhani trying to change direction in order to “end sanctions with the minimum amount of compromise,” after having come to the negotiating table with the West with “absurd” demands. He described the move as Iran’s “first step” in testing the waters before a new round of negotiations, calling the Iranians very skilled negotiators with a lot of experience.
Quoting an intelligence source, the Der Spiegel magazine reported Monday that Rouhani might consider closing down the heavily fortified Fordo facility and allow international observers to supervise the destruction of the centrifuges if the West were to lift the sanctions it has placed on Iran’s oil industry and central bank. Rouhani could make the offer later this month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the report said.
Iran’s reported willingness to compromise comes on the heels of a US-Russian deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, signed after Washington threatened military action against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the German report, but — based on its record — would likely reject such an Iranian overture as a ploy to blind the West and buy time while inching toward the bomb. In fact, a top minister in Jerusalem predicted a few weeks ago that Rouhani’s first move on the nuclear issue would entail an offer to halt enrichment in return for an easing of sanctions.
Israel’s long-standing demands have been that Iran halt all enrichment activity and remove all enriched nuclear material from its territory, as well as shut down Fordo and end plutonium production.
“We are determined to insist on our demands, which must be the demands of the international community,” Netanyahu said in July. “One, to stop all enrichment. Two, to remove all enriched material. Three, to close the illegal nuclear facility in Qom. We believe that now, more than ever, in light of Iran’s progress, it is important to intensify the economic sanctions and place a credible military option before Iran.”
Fordo, an underground fortified nuclear facility carved into a mountain south of Iran’s capital, was built in secret and only revealed by Western intelligence in 2009. Currently, Iranian scientists are enriching uranium there using 696 centrifuges.
Referring to the potential Russia-US compromise with Syria, Yadlin, who currently heads Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, called it a good agreement — “if it’ll be implemented as it’s written” — during a Monday conference call with journalists.
Israel shouldn’t rush to oppose the Syria deal, he said. “It could be good for us,” he said, and said the government should examine its parameters. A deal could stop a US strike and also stop a rebel assault on Damascus, Yadlin added Tuesday.
He said the weapons stockpiles were very important to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and that they were his “insurance policy” against foreign intervention. He also noted that Assad’s dependence on Russia was paramount at this moment, and that the US-Russian deal didn’t even involve Syria’s consent because they had taken Syria’s acceptance as a fait accompli.
“The deal could be a win-win-win-win situation,” he said, referring to the positive outcome it could have for Russia, the US, Syria, and Israel.
Yet, he added: “Unfortunately, I think the chances [of an agreement] are low.” He also noted that Syria would be required to grant inspectors full access to its chemical weapons sites by November. “But we’ll know quite soon whether they Syrians intend to cooperate or are just buying time.” Yadlin said.