Nimra DawoodFebruary 18, 2021
The recent cyber-attack on eight meter underground Natanz nuclear facility of Iran caused damage to the centrifuges operating in the installment, for which they allegedly blamed Israel, is seen as a threat for the revival of negotiations between P5+1 and Iran on JCPOA. Iran terms it as “nuclear terrorism” for which it will respond by increasing the nuclear enrichment up to 60%, though not enough for producing nuclear weapon but is very huge deviation from the 3.76% enrichment allowed under JCPOA. This article tries to understand the possible reasons behind these attacks along with the impacts that would be caused on the revival of JCPOA through such attacks.
JCPOA under Trump Administration:
JCPOA was thought to be a great success of Obama administration as it enabled a formal negotiation among P5+1 members and Iran that would prevent another state from acquiring nuclear power. This concern was more prominent in context of Iran because after 1979 revolution, it was thought that Iran cannot properly handle such a big responsibility especially when it sponsors extremist groups and militias in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. Along with this, the tussle between Iran and its regional rivals like Saudi Arabia and its allies particularly Israel, from which it is fighting through groups like Hezbollah and Hamas was also a reason. Trump after becoming President withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 due to the flaws in the deal itself. According to him, the nuclear deal did not mention permanent solution to get rid of Iran’s nuclear designs and also had no mention of the development of ballistic missiles and support to militias in the Middle East. The imposition of sanctions on Iran caused an internal pressure for Iran which was mitigated by carrying out secret and covert sites for the enrichment of uranium. Such sites were exposed by Israel in 2018 by leaking out thousands of secret documents containing details of Iranian ambitions and deviation from the terms and conditions of JCPOA.
Why is Israel against this deal?
If JCPOA is a deal that would curtail the nuclear ambitions of Iran then why would it’s archrival, Israel condemns this deal with several attempts (claimed by Iran) to sabotage the key nuclear sites and assassinate the scientist of Iran? Netanyahu has mentioned frequently that this deal comprises of several flaws including short term agreements, no mention of ballistic missiles, weak focus on checks and inspections by IAEA and an upper hand to Iran on economic front after the implementation of this deal which can result in heavy support of militias against Israel or re-operationalization of covert struggles for acquiring nukes. This would also threaten the strategic military edge of Israel and its regional nuclear hegemony.
Non-Compliance by Iran:
IAEA has verified that Iran had crossed the limits set under JCPOA to maintain the stockpiles of uranium and heavy water in Nov, 2019 and since then has increased the amount of uranium percentage from 3.67 to 4.5 percentage per Uranium-235. Later on, under the new nuclear law passed by the Iran Guardian Council the enrichment percentage of uranium up to 20 with abundance of stockpiles was permitted. Iran has responded to the concern shown by other members of the deal by affirming reversal from this law if US rejoins JCPOA along with the withdrawal of all sanctions. We can say that these changes are made by Iran to get attention from the major powers in order to get US again into the deal, ensuring an end to the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Iran wants to have good economic conditions but no state is willing to trade and start developmental project due to the pressure from US. Same was the case of India which had to stop work on Chahbahar port in Iran although it was very crucial for it to develop trade links with central Asian republics and balancing the effects of CPEC.
In 2010, the world first digital weapon was discovered which was used to disrupt the Iranian centrifuges in the Natanz site. The virus was known as Stuxnet that caused a physical damage to the computer rather than mere hijacking and controlling. It is now widely accepted that Stuxnet was a joint venture of Israel and USA that started under President Bush and continued during the Obama presidency. The attack however was never accepted by officials of both countries but a video surfaced in 2011,celebrating the retirement of Israeli Defense Forces head which declared Stuxnet as one of his great successes. The purpose of that attack was to derail the Iranian program for achieving its aim of forming a nuclear weapon. Similarly, the purpose of recent attack was to weaken the position of Iran in the negotiation talks occurring in Vienna and expose the vulnerability and economic costs of standing against major powers.
The Foreign Minister of Iran, Saeed Khitabzadeh responded to the concerns put forth by the GCC countries, demanding a proper response to the latest announcement of Iran for the enrichment of Uranium as “immature and irresponsible.” And various sources have confirmed that second round of nuclear deal negotiation are taking place as it was scheduled earlier, with apparently no impact of recent attacks on Natanz. However, Israel is not a participant to these talks and extreme internal pressure is exerted on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take constructive measures against their “existential threat” and confront the reality.
It has become crucial for all involved parties to act proactively and gain maximum interests out of it, where Iran on one side does not want to appear aggressive for uplifting the sanctions and reviving the talks with USA, they are also facing severe economic downfall with rapid declining foreign investments and oil trade. This deal is needed to mitigate both internal pressure as well as for running the proxies in various countries of the Middle East. Biden had run his election campaign by stressing on the importance of multilateralism and regaining the role of US in the world. This would require it to play a significant role in the revival of JCPOA and most importantly making it favorable for the US. In between these two states, Israel is facing a dilemma as its involvement in any substantive or military engagement with Iran can make the situation worse but remaining silent would affect their stance of Iran and its approach to Iranian Nuclear deal. In case of sabotaging the nuclear deal, Israel will cause harm to the national interest of US, which Netanyahu would not want to do in context of Israel’s internal political situations. So it can be concluded that the current negotiations will continue despite these attacks but to predict the nature and objectives of the new draft resolution is difficult and immature.