Sanctions relief would save Iran up to $40b., says Israeli minister

Yuval Steinitz claims insider knowledge of ‘horrible’ nuclear deal thanks to Israeli intelligence gathering on Iran

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Yuval Steinitz attends a session of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset, October 16, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Yuval Steinitz attends a session of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset, October 16, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

The world’s superpowers are on the verge of signing a “horrible” interim deal with Iran which may spare the Islamic Republic up to $40 billion in financial damage from sanctions, Israel’s minister of intelligence said on Wednesday. In an allusion to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertions that Israel’s critique of the emerging deal is misplaced in part because it doesn’t know the full details, Yuval Steinitz said Israel’s detailed knowledge was derived in part from its own “quite good intelligence coverage of the Iranians.”

“Unfortunately, if I need to evaluate, I would say that in one, two or three weeks’ time there will be a deal,” Steinitz told journalists at the Jerusalem Press Club. “I still hope that there will be some remedies, some significant changes, but as it stands now — it’s not even a bad deal, it’s not a deal [at all] because in a deal both sides have to give something, and here the Iranians are giving nothing and getting so much.”

Talks between Iran and world powers in Geneva failed last week to produce an agreement, following Iran’s insistence on formal recognition of what it considers its right to nuclear energy and as France sought stricter limits on Iran’s ability to produce nuclear fuel. Negotiations are scheduled to resume next week.

As a result of the strict sanctions regime imposed on it, Iran is currently hemorrhaging some $100 billion annually, Steinitz said, a figure comprising nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP. The relief in sanctions, discussed in Geneva last week, would directly ameliorate $15 billion-$20 billion worth of damage to Iran’s economy but also erode the international enforcement of the sanctions regime to the tune of $20 billion-$40 billion.

The easing of sanctions, Steinitz noted, would not apply to the two core sanctions against Iran’s banking system and against its oil exports, but would nevertheless be “very significant.”

Iran, for its part, would need to do almost nothing in return for the partial lifting of sanctions, the Israeli minister said. It would merely have to halt operation of its heavy water reactor in Arak for six months and stop the enrichment of uranium to a level of 20 percent, a demand Steinitz called “not extremely significant” given Iran’s vast stockpiles of uranium enriched to the level of 3 percent.

“The sad news is that Iran is giving almost nothing,” he said.

Kerry rapped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week for criticizing the deal with Iran as “worse than bad” before the deal was finalized and without knowing its exact details.

But Steinitz said that Israel was well aware of deal’s minutia both through close contacts with its Western allies, including the US, and through Israeli intelligence gathering on Iran.

“I think we’re very well-informed and we know exactly what we are talking about,” Steinitz said. “Don’t forget that we have quite good intelligence coverage of the Iranians.”

“I’m not confident that everyone, including the participating countries, know the details to such a degree as we do.”

Some have suggested that Iran merely sought nuclear capabilities, but was not after producing an actual atomic weapon, a notion Steinitz patently rejected.

Iran has been a “threshold country” — a term denoting its ability to manufacture nuclear weapons within a year if it chose to do so — for a year and a half, Steinitz said. But the interim agreement would, for the first time, grant it legitimacy in its nuclear aspirations. Moreover, he asserted, Iran will not remain a threshold country — but “sooner or later” manufacture the bomb.

“Iran is not Japan. Nobody is concerned about the Japanese or British nuclear capabilities,” Steinitz said. “It’s totally different with Iran. If Iran will remain a threshold country other countries in its vicinity will try to follow … and therefor this is unsustainable for too long.”

Israel’s minister of intelligence estimated the total cost of Iran’s nuclear program both through direct investment in nuclear facilities and in financial damage caused by international sanctions at roughly $200 billion.

Most Popular
read more: