A number of Arab and foreign strategic experts pointed out that Iran has pursued to become a “nuclear threshold” state and exploited Vienna talks - which started after American President Joe Biden’s administration took office - to achieve this goal.
Those experts were taking part in a webinar held on Monday by the Emirates Policy Center (EPC) titled “Preventing a Nuclear Iran: Choices of Regional and Global Powers”. In her opening remarks, EPC President, Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi said that Iran is getting closer to the nuclear threshold when it announced last April that it has started Uranium enrichment at 60% which is used in making nuclear weapons compared to the 20% of enrichment reached by Iran in the past.
Dr. al-Ketbi added that this escalation could be part of Tehran’s efforts to gain more concessions from the West during talks to return to the nuclear deal.
However, some information indicates that this issue goes beyond the negotiation game with the West and can be interpreted as part of Iran’s growing ambitions to become a nuclear threshold state, she pointed out, adding that this has revived speculations about the time left for Iran to get the nuclear bomb.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Yosef Kuperwasser, Senior project manager on regional affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs said Iran has threatened to reach Uranium enrichment at 90%; the percentage required to make the nuclear bomb. He added that Tehran has made a lot of progress to surpass the “nuclear threshold”, which means that what separates Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is a political decision and a few months.
Gen. Kuperwasser, however, affirmed that Tehran’s threat is a political maneuver to pressure the ongoing talks in Vienna. He pointed out that the Iranians realize that Western countries, notably the U.S., will not tolerate their attempts to cross the nuclear threshold.
Kirsten Fontenrose, Director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council agreed that Iran is brandishing that it is close to the nuclear threshold to pressure the Americans and Europeans. Fontenrose pointed out that Iran is also trying to achieve another key goal which is reducing Western pressure on Tehran’s other malign activities such as the missile program, Drones and its support for militant groups in the region.
She added that the Iranian regime is trying to lift American sanctions; therefore, Tehran wants to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) without any changes or new concessions. So, the regime in Tehran has threatened to reach the nuclear threshold, end its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and target American bases and installations through its proxies in Iraq.
Ambassador Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former director general of the Israeli foreign ministry said Iran is trying to become a regional super power. Therefore, Tehran is moving on three parallel tracks: acquiring nuclear capabilities, missile capabilities and supporting militias in the region, Gold added.
He criticized European countries and the U.S. for giving more importance to Iran’s nuclear program than Tehran’s destructive regional activities. Gold recalled what has happened in the wake of singing the 2015 nuclear deal when Tehran exploited the deal to expand its influence and support of “proxy wars” by providing its allied militias with missiles and Drones; thus, more regional instability.
Ambassador Gold referred to Iranian Drones, how they have become part of the new strategic landscape and turned into a dangerous threat to the security of countries in the region. Israel, in cooperation with the U.S., have developed laser defensive capabilities to counter these new weapons, Gold added.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Udi Dekel, Managing Director and Senior Research Fellow of the Institute for National Security Studies said that Iran has exploited the six rounds of talks in Vienna to enhance its nuclear capabilities. To this end, Tehran was not in a hurry to return to the nuclear deal, Dekel added.
He pointed out that it is in Iran’s interest to stop short acquiring a nuclear weapon to blackmail the international and regional communities and continue its malign activities all over the Middle East.
Marc Finaud, Head of ‘Arms Proliferation’ and ‘Diplomatic Tradecraft’ at Geneva Centre for Security Policy, thinks that Iran is still far from crossing the nuclear threshold, pointing out that Tehran realizes that it is in its best interest not to do so. Finaud said that the JCPOA in its current form is still valid to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear capabilities beyond civil purposes. Therefore, it is in the best interest of all sides to revive this deal which represents a starting point to build on in the future to ensure non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, he added.
Finaud pointed out that the Middle East is not the only region suffering from nuclear proliferation; you have the Korean peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. The international community must deal with these conflicts; therefore, it must support dialogue between regional parties themselves to solve these conflicts, he said, adding that the Abraham Accords, for example, are an important step to solve one of these historical conflicts.
Dr. Cornelius Adebahr, Nonresident fellow at Carnegie Europe stressed the importance of regional security initiatives presented by Europe, Russia and even China. Adebahr, affirmed that some of the partial or bilateral initiatives are encouraging in this regard such as the Emirati-Iranian dialogue on maritime security or the Saudi-Iranian dialogue on bilateral disputes.
On the international and regional options to face nuclear Iran, participants said that the international community must shoulder its responsibility regarding non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. They added that Washington has a responsibility of fulfilling its commitments to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Finally, comes the role of regional cooperation among all countries affected by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, notably Israel and Arab Gulf countries, participants concluded.
In the second session of the webinar, which focused on discussing “Choices of the Arab Side in Facing Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions”, Dr. Mohammad Alzghool, Head of Iranian Affairs Department at EPC, said that the way things are moving shows that negotiations are the only possible way to actually stop Iran’s nuclear program. The international community is engaged in the negotiation track, while regional parties are absent from this track although they are the most affected, he added.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Nahas, member of the Saudi Shura Council, and professor of political science at King Saud University, said that the government of the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will seek to return to the nuclear deal because the Iranian people are suffering as a result of sanctions. Dr. Al-Nahas added that the regime is looking for economic recovery, however, what is at stake is what the regime in Tehran would do to curb its interventions and reassure its neighbors.
Dr. Zafer Al Ajmy, the Kuwaiti political analyst, stressed that a unified GCC position will remain our first line of defense in face of Iran’s policies for regional hegemony.
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