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Israel tells nuclear watchdog that Iran is source of Middle East instability

At annual conference, Atomic Energy Commission chief Moshe Edri says Tehran and Damascus are deceiving IAEA

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Israel Atomic Energy Commission chief Moshe Edri addresses the IAEA General Assembly in Vienna, September 28, 2022 (courtesy)
Israel Atomic Energy Commission chief Moshe Edri addresses the IAEA General Assembly in Vienna, September 28, 2022 (courtesy)

Israel’s nuclear chief told the International Atomic Energy Agency conference on Wednesday that Iran is “the leading factor” in instability in the Middle East, and that Israel will not accept Tehran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“The ongoing unrest in the Middle East is a threat to peace and security worldwide, and requires the attention of all member states,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Edri, head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission. “One country is the leading factor in the instability of the region.”

In his address to the nuclear watchdog’s annual general assembly in Vienna, Edri reminded the body that Iran “has continuously failed to provide credible explanations, or clarifications, regarding the nature of these past activities, and continues to deceive the Agency and the international community concerning its clandestine nuclear activities. ”

The agency is probing traces of uranium found at undeclared nuclear sites in Iran. Tehran has been demanding the IAEA end the probe before agreeing to reenter the deal, but IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said during his speech on Monday that his agency would not stop the investigation.

The three undeclared sites represent a key sticking point in negotiations to restore a tattered 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

The body has been pressing for answers on the presence of nuclear material at the sites and the issue led to a resolution that criticized Iran being passed at a June meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors.

Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) speaks at the 66th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, September 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Theresa Wey)

“Iran continues to develop, test and deploy long-range ballistic missiles, in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and supports terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East,” charged Edri. “Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is not an option that Israel, nor the world, can tolerate.”

Edri also pointed a finger at Syria, stressing that Israel’s northern neighbor “is still in noncompliance with its safeguards obligations for over a decade.”

In September 2007, Israel bombed a secret Syrian nuclear reactor outside of Deir Ezzor.

“Such concealment of illicit nuclear activities is a severe violation of Syria’s safeguards obligations,” Edri said. “Syria’s noncompliance and lack of cooperation is extremely dangerous. The international community should stand behind the IAEA with a goal towards receiving clear answers from Syria once and for all.”

Edri also accused the Arab Group in the IAEA of singling out Israel for political reasons, and putting an “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” item on the agenda every year: “This useless political act is in contradiction to the overall positive spirit in our region. These acts are bound to fail.”

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), updates journalists about the current situation in Iran in Vienna, Austria, June 9, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Edri reaffirmed Israel’s support of the IAEA mission, including in the fields of safety, emergency response, and technical cooperation.

The Israel Atomic Energy Commission was set up by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, in 1952, and Israel was among the founding members of the IAEA in 1957.

Israel, along with India, Pakistan, and North Korea, has not joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT.

Edri’s remarks came as world powers try to negotiate with Iran to revive a tattered 2015 nuclear agreement that aimed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action offered Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent it being weaponized. But the deal fell apart after the US pulled out and reimposed sanctions, after which Iran ramped up its program, enriching uranium beyond the agreed limits.

A person involved with security at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, on March 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Iran has been demanding the IAEA end its probe before agreeing to reenter the deal.

Iran’s atomic energy agency chief Mohammad Eslami also signaled to the gathering on Monday that Iran was unwilling to compromise on the issue, saying the IAEA investigation relied on “false, baseless information.”

Eslami insisted that a revived nuclear accord should prevent “baseless allegations” from being made against his country and suggested that Israel had planted evidence in the IAEA’s possession in an attempt to fabricate charges against Iran.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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