By James Marlow
Israel’s public broadcaster this week reported that an Iranian plot to target Israeli Embassies in East Africa was thwarted last month. According to Kan News and citing western intelligence services, Iran sent agents with European and Iranian citizenship to an unnamed African country, with an objective of collecting as much information as possible about the Israeli, American and Emirates Embassies.
The Iranian move is seen as an attempt to retaliate for the assassinations of Qassem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Soleimani was the Iranian major general in the Islamic Guard Corps and commander of the Quds Force, assassinated by the Americans in January 2020. Fakhrizadeh was the masterful Iranian nuclear scientist, assigned to the role of producing a nuclear bomb, who was killed by a spectacular remote control operation last November.
The plot in Eastern Africa comes against the backdrop of a bomb blast last week in New Delhi, next to the Israeli Embassy building. Indian investigators told local media that the explosives used in the attack were hard to obtain and had been previous used by terror groups, such as Al-Qaeda. Israel believes Iran was behind the blast.
This week it was announced Iran had accelerated enrichment of uranium with a large number of advanced centrifuge machines, at an underground plant.
Iran began breaching the deal in 2019 when it enriched with a cascade and the more efficient IR-2m machines, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Last December, the regime installed three more cascades and in January it went even further by feeding the cascade with UF6.
Unless you are a nuclear scientist, all this is probably going over your head, but the point is Iran is close to the unthinkable.
The 2015 Accords allow Iran to refine uranium only at its main enrichment site, at the underground plant in Natanz, with first generation IR-1 centrifuges. But this startling new development, puts huge pressure on President Biden to engage with Iran and sign a brand new agreement. However each side is now waiting for the other to make the first move.
Speaking on NBC, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Iran could be just weeks away from producing enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, if it continues to violate the JCPOA nuclear deal. Israel believes it will take at least six months, or more before Iran produces the bomb.
But Blinken speaking so publicly, could be a sign that the new administration is positioning itself to enter into fresh talks with the Iranian regime under a “blackmail scenario,” and that can’t be good. History teaches that appeasing the aggressor, which so many countries did back in the thirties, just means you are postponing the inevitable.
Likud Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi said on Tuesday night, what many in Israel now believe: “The US will never attack Iran’s nuclear program and Israel will have to decide whether to launch such a strike alone, or come to terms with a nuclear armed Islamic Republic.”
Even though five American Presidents have said the words, “We will never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons,” when push comes to shove, the Americans simply do not have the “stomach” to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In any case, Iran last Sunday rejected any new negotiations or changes to the nuclear deal with world powers, after French President Emmanuel Macron, suggested new talks should include Saudi Arabia. The suggestion that Iran’s arch-enemy would have a say in the deal, infuriated Tehran.
Robert Malley has now been named special US envoy to Iran. He was a key member of former President Barak Obama’s nuclear negotiating team and was viewed by many in Israel as soft on Tehran, but extremely tough on Jerusalem. Again, another bad sign for Israel and the region.
Late last year, Israel’s defence establishment set out four objectives vis-a-vis Iran. The first being if there was quiet in Lebanon, Israel would not resume any campaign, unless Hezbollah acquired a critical mass of precision missiles, as Hassan Nasrallah claimed it would. But the Israeli policy remains defensive.
The second was to stop Iranian backed militias creating a “Hezbollah II” scenario in Syria. The militias would remain loyal to Iran, be very well equipped and could open fire against Israel at any time, because the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad had little power. Israel had targeted hundreds of sites in Syria in the past few years and the United States does not object.
The third objective was to carefully watch Iran with diplomatic activity, technical efforts, gather intelligence and stop the Islamic Republic from producing nuclear weapons at any cost.
Now Israel comes to stage four and perhaps the most difficult: To persuade the United States, that if they were to renegotiate a deal with Iran, it must be a sensible deal for the region and nothing like the one signed in 2015.
The Gulf States and Israel speak as one voice on this issue. But if America enters into another bad deal or is not prepared to strike Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, which are spread out across the country, Israel will be forced to act independently, to remove the imminent danger.
James Marlow is a broadcast commentator and communications trainer Facebook: James Jeremy Marlow Twitter: @James_J_Marlow