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Israel said readying for signing of ‘spectacularly bad’ Iran deal next week

TV network cites Israeli security officials warning that revived agreement won’t take into account the nuclear gains Tehran has made since Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Israel is readying for world powers and Iran to reach an agreement next week to revive the deal aimed at curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, Israeli television reported Friday, despite Jerusalem’s efforts to lobby against a joint US-Iranian return to the multilateral accord.

Israel opposed the original agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, when it was signed in 2015, with then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arguing that it actually paved the path to an Iranian nuclear arsenal. The Netanyahu government then backed former president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the deal in 2018 and initiate a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which led Tehran to ramp up nuclear work in violation of the JCPOA.

US President Joe Biden is now seeking to revive the accord, conditioning doing so on Iran returning to compliance.

Quoting an unnamed Israeli security official, Channel 13 news reported that while Israel considered the original deal to have been bad, the revived accord taking shape is “spectacularly bad,” as it does not factor in the progress Iran has made since.

Referring to a leaked draft of the imminent accord, the source said Iran will not be required to destroy its advanced centrifuges under the revived agreement. Tehran will have to reduce its uranium enrichment levels, but it has already developed the capability to enrich at high levels. It will also be required to cease producing uranium metal, a crucial component of the bomb-making process. However, the source noted that Iran now has the knowledge to be able to manufacture such materials in the future.

“In essence, it is an agreement that leaves Iran as a nuclear threshold state,” the network said, citing the security source.

Channel 13’s report asserted that Israel would plainly not be able to target Iranian enrichment facilities if and when a revived deal was signed. A key question, though, said its military analyst Alon Ben-David, was whether Israel would have a free hand, as far as the Americans are concerned, to take actions to thwart Iranian progress on weaponization and missile delivery systems for a bomb — areas not covered by the deal.

According to Channel 13, furthermore, the Biden administration has told Israel that Trump enabled Iran to become a “nuclear threshold state” in terms of uranium production and that a failure to revive the old agreement — as Jerusalem is hoping — would leave Tehran weeks away from accumulating enough nuclear material needed for a bomb, rather than months away from the bomb under the terms of the deal.

A diplomat familiar with the talks disputed that assessment, telling The Times of Israel that the deal being negotiated would likely leave Iran between six months to a year away from having enough nuclear material needed for a bomb (weaponization would take another year or two, according to most estimates).

A technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Feb. 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, file)

Jerusalem appears to argue that is a price worth paying, rather than granting sanctions relief.

A small ray of hope for Israel is that the sanctions relief being proposed by negotiators in Vienna would only occur gradually and not all at once, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Negotiators still have a number of issues to settle before a deal can be signed, but Israel believes that will still happen next week, according to Kan.

Accordingly, Jerusalem is preparing a number of actions it plans to take in the coming days, including holding briefings with ambassadors, a possible public address by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett responding to an announcement of a resurrected JCPOA, and private conversations that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz will hold on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

Separately Friday, a senior European Union official told Reuters, “I expect an agreement in the coming week, the coming two weeks or so. I think we have now on the table text that is very, very close to what is going to be the final agreement.”

“Most of the issues are already agreed. But as a principle in this kind of negotiation, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So we still have… some questions, some of them rather political and difficult to agree,” the official said.

The United States said Thursday that “substantial progress” during negotiations in Vienna to save the Iran nuclear deal had been made, deeming an agreement possible within days if Iran “shows seriousness” on the matter.

An eighth round of Vienna talks, which involve Iran as well as Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia directly, and the United States indirectly, resumed in late November.

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