Israel: Inspection clauses in deal ‘worse than worthless,’ actually help Iran

Complicated mechanism hands Tehran any Western intelligence on violations and a month to conceal them, says PM’s Iran point man Steinitz

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz addresses the seventh Annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, January 29, 2014 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz addresses the seventh Annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, January 29, 2014 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

The nuclear deal’s inspections regime, much hailed by the Western powers that negotiated the agreement with Iran, is “worse than worthless” and actually helps Iran more than the international inspectors, a senior Israeli minister charged Wednesday.

“Actually, you have here a mechanism that instead of serving the inspection is serving the deception,” said National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unofficial point man on Iran and nuclear affairs.

By instituting a mechanism that gives Iran close to a month of advance notice to conceal any illicit nuclear activity before it needs to grant access to inspectors, the agreement renders useless any intelligence suggesting that Tehran is violating the deal, Steinitz contended. Indeed, the agreement would have been better without its inspections regime, he told reporters during a briefing in Jerusalem.

The P5+1 world powers argue that the historic deal they signed with Iran Tuesday in Vienna grants the International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented access to the country’s nuclear facilities. “This deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification,” US President Barack Obama said. “Because of this deal, inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location — put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary.”

IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014 (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)
IAEA inspectors at Iran’s nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014 (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)

Israel is generally satisfied with the surveillance to be put in place at Iran’s main uranium enrichment facilities, Fordo and Natanz. However, Steinitz, a member of Israel’s security cabinet, said the complicated mechanism created by the agreement to regulate the inspection of hitherto undisclosed military sites gives Iran about a month to hide any wrongdoing.

“Unfortunately, when you examine the details, you discover that the inspection [mechanism for undeclared military sites] is actually just a mirage,” he said.

If Western or Israeli intelligence agencies produce evidence of an Iranian violation at any given undeclared location, inspectors will not be able to conduct surprise visits. Rather, they will be forced to “provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification,” according to the Vienna agreement.

If Iran’s explanations do not adequately assuage the IAEA’s concerns, the agency “may request access to such locations” to make sure no illicit activity has occurred there. “The IAEA will provide Iran the reasons for access in writing and will make available relevant information,” the deal stipulates.

Should the Iranians and the inspectors prove unable to “reach satisfactory arrangements,” Tehran will resolve any concerns “through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA,” the deal says. If there is still no agreement two weeks after the initial inquiry is filed, a so-called Joint Commission — consisting of the six world powers and Iran itself — will vote on how to resolve the crisis.

Altogether, it will take at least 24 days until the Iranians have to grant the IAEA access to any suspect site. “Actually, because there will naturally be some delays, it could even take a month,” Steinitz said.

“This is not just a worthless inspection method — it serves the Iranians. It’s backfiring. It’s counterproductive. It’s better to have an agreement without it,” Steinitz said. The fact that the Iranians have about a month before inspectors can enter a site suspected to host violations will actually embolden them to cheat, the minister argued.

Worse yet, before the deal, Western or Israeli intelligence documenting illicit nuclear activity by Iran “might serve as a smoking gun,” Steinitz said. “But after the agreement, the Iranians will come to the world powers [if confronted with evidence of violations and say], ‘You have to go through the procedure, you can’t just make claims.’”

Hence, the international community will no longer be able to use indications of Iranian illicit nuclear projects against them, but will have to submit all evidence to the Iranians and give them enough time to clear their tracks. “Such an inspection is not only worthless, it’s even worse. It serves only the Iranians,” Steinitz said.

“Israel is like the little child that is pointing its finger and saying, ‘The king is naked, this agreement is naked,'” Steinitz also said. “Those who think that giving Iran $150 billion will have no effect on the Middle East are naive,” he added. “It’s like pouring fuel on the burning Middle East.”

Netanyahu on Wednesday called the agreement’s inspections regime “absurd,” echoing Steinitz’s arguments.

“It’s like giving a criminal organization that deals drugs a 24-day warning before inspecting its drug lab,” Netanyahu said during a speech in the Knesset. “The agreement also requires the world powers to do something else — they must show Iran the very intelligence for which they want to conduct the inspections in the first place.”

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