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Gantz warns UN: Iran has vastly increased number of advanced centrifuges

Defense minister cites Israeli intelligence that uranium enrichment capabilities at Fordo site have tripled, calls on Security Council to prepare sanctions against Tehran

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz briefs diplomats at the United Nations, September 12, 2022. (Nir Arieli)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz briefs diplomats at the United Nations, September 12, 2022. (Nir Arieli)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday revealed to United Nations diplomats that Iran has vastly increased the number of its advanced centrifuges capable of enriching weapons-grade uranium, saying that the world needs to prepare sanctions against Tehran.

Speaking to a host of foreign diplomats in a briefing at the UN hosted by Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan, Gantz said that in the past year, Iran has “increased production of advanced centrifuges that enable its high-level enrichment, by many hundreds.”

Citing Israeli intelligence, Gantz said that the number of advanced centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz underground nuclear site more than doubled in the past year, while at the underground facility at Fordo, the enrichment capacity tripled.

IR-6 centrifuges, the country’s most advanced model, can enrich uranium to at least 60% purity — a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90% enrichment.

Under the terms of its 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, Iran is only permitted to enrich uranium to 3.67% purity. That deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent the production of a weapon. However, after the Trump administration pulled the US out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018 and reimposed its own sanctions, Iran dropped many of its commitments to the pact and has since ramped up uranium enrichment.

“If Iran decides, it can also move to 90% enrichment,” Gantz warned the diplomats.

A chart presented by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to diplomats at the United Nations on September 13, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

“The entire international community must unite. We must act, put operational, political, and economic plans in place, and not allow an agreement that does not significantly set Iran back. This mission should also be reflected in the activities of the UN Security Council,” he said, according to a readout provided by his office.

Participating in the meeting were the members of the UN Security Council and members of the Abraham Accords — a group of Arab nations that normalized ties with Israel in 2020.

Israel has heaped pressure on Western nations to halt talks on reviving the agreement, warning against the consequences of returning to the accord.

In this June 6, 2018 frame grab from the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

US President Joe Biden favors restoring the deal. Under the proposed agreement, Iran would enjoy sanctions relief and again be able to sell its oil worldwide in return for tough restrictions on its nuclear program.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid has said that Israel is not opposed to a deal, but that the specific one being negotiated would still allow Iran to advance toward a nuclear bomb in the future. Israel also insists Iran would use revenue from sanctions relief to bolster allied groups capable of attacking Israelis, notably Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, plus Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two key Palestinian terror organizations.

While there had been initial optimism about prospects for reviving the nuclear deal in recent weeks, it has gradually dissipated, with world powers charging that Iran had made unreasonable demands at the last minute.

Iran’s underground Fordo nuclear facility outside of Qom, Iran, October 23, 2021. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

On Sunday, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom issued a statement expressing “serious doubts” over Iran’s sincerity in seeking a nuclear agreement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that in light of Iran’s latest reply to a draft proposal by the European Union, prospects for the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the near future were not looking good.

“Iran seems either unwilling or unable to do what’s necessary to reach an agreement and they continue to try to introduce extraneous issues to the negotiations that make an agreement less likely,” Blinken said during a news conference in Mexico City.

However, a State Department spokesperson denied claims made by a senior Israeli official that the US was giving up on the talks after Jerusalem provided proof that Tehran had not been forthright during negotiations.

Lazar Berman and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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