Top Israeli Official Takes Hard Line On Iran Ahead Of Nuclear Talks


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Yuval Steinitz in 2011.

A senior Israeli intelligence official on Monday said that Israel would not accept a nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and its international partners that allows Tehran to enrich uranium, even for civilian purposes.

Israel will only endorse “a solution that we can trust,” said Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz at a discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress. Steinitz — who has previously downplayed any negative consequences of a military attack on Iran — said that he believes the Iranians would like to become a nuclear weapons threshold state that is “one or two steps away from a bomb.”

He said that with its current stockpile of 5 percent low-enriched uranium (the interim nuclear agreement eliminated Iran’s 20 percent medium enriched stockpile), Tehran could enrich it to weapons grade levels (90 percent) “in less than six months” and less than a year if it “started from scratch.”

Therefore, he said, “The only justification for maintaining centrifuges is to remain a nuclear threshold state.”

“We think this is a very bad deal,” he said. The two biggest worries for Israel, Steinitz said, is that Iran would become a nuclear weapons threshold state which would then result in a nuclear proliferation crisis across the region.

Steinitz’s comments come as the P5+1 (the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany) and Iran resume talks in Vienna this week, where they are expected to begin drafting language to resolve the standoff on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Israeli officials, the New York Times noted on Tuesday, “publicly set an enormously high bar that they knew American negotiators could not clear.” Indeed, while top American officials, including President Obama, have suggested that Iran may be allowed some kind of uranium enrichment capacity as part of the final agreement, Steinitz has taken a hard line on the Iranian nuclear issue and said at CAP on Monday that Israel would not accept a deal that allows Iran any ability to enrich.

Some American experts have questioned whether a nuclear armed Iran would lead to other countries in the region to begin developing nuclear programs of their own, and others, like Robert Einhorn, who recently served as a key member of the State Department’s Iran negotiating team, disagree that Iran must dismantle its entire program as part of the final deal.

“Eliminating Iran’s current nuclear capability or banning its enrichment program is neither achievable nor necessary to achieve a sound agreement that serves the security interests of the United States and its friends in the Middle East,” he wrote in a report released in March. “The challenge for the United States and its partners is to construct an agreement that makes clear to the Iranians that any effort to break out of the agreement and acquire nuclear weapons would be a detectable, lengthy, and risky process that would not only fail but would inevitably result in Iran paying a very high price in terms of its national interests.”

Back in December, Obama explained why the option of totally dismantling Iran’s nuclear program is “not available.”

“Because the technology of the nuclear cycle, you can get off the Internet; the knowledge of creating a nuclear weapons is already out there,” he said.

“[T]he technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world. And they have already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge, we’re not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that American and European officials are optimistic that a comprehensive deal can be reached before the July 20 deadline.

“People are less pessimistic than they have been in the past—certainly,” one European official said, according to the Journal. “There are certain areas where some kind of consensus” is emerging. “But in certain areas, there is still a huge gulf.”