New deal likely to remove ‘freedom of action against Iranian nuclear infrastructure’

Former Military Intelligence Research Division head Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser warns that new deal under consideration is even worse than the current, no-deal situation.

By Yaakov Lappin, JNS

The revival of a nuclear deal with Iran will most likely hamper the future freedom of action by Israel and the United States to act against Iranian nuclear infrastructure, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer has warned.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, an ex-Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Research Division head and a former director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told JNS that while there are “advantages and disadvantages” to the two main scenarios of a deal and no deal, “it is clear to me that the current reality is much better than the reality in which a deal would be signed.”

Kuperwasser, today the director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said the primary reason for this is that while Israel and the United States currently have freedom of action to derail the Iranian nuclear project and paralyze its infrastructure, that freedom would vanish after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—originally signed in 2015 and exited in 2018 by the Trump administration—is revived.

“Now, there is freedom to act for those who want to move against the Iranian nuclear program and to prevent them from achieving an ability to build nuclear weapons. This freedom exists for both Israel and the United States,” said Kuperwasser.

“Certainly, every military maneuver against Iran would have a price; there are no free meals. But there is nothing to prevent such action, which would be aimed at disrupting the creation of a strategic threat to the world and to Israel’s security,” he stated.

On the other hand, once the JCPOA is revived, “not even the U.S. will be able to prevent Iran from having the capability to produce a big arsenal of nuclear weapons” since by the time the sunset clauses expire in eight years, Iran will be too far advanced in its nuclear program to stop it militarily, argued Kuperwasser.

At this time, Iran is struggling to enrich sufficient quantities of uranium to build a small quantity of uranium-fueled atomic bombs and has not yet built nuclear explosive devices, he said. But in eight years, Iran will reach the position of being able to build a large number of nuclear bombs and will be too far along in its program to stop with military force.

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“Hence, while a reality with a signed deal will remove the immediacy of the threat of Iran building a nuclear weapon and will delay that threat by a number of years, when the sunset clauses expire, Iran will have the legitimacy to produce an enormous quantity of 90% military-grade-level enriched uranium,” said Kuperwasser. “It will not stop developing missiles [the delivery systems] at any stage, and it will be able to quickly develop nuclear weapons after that.”

Kuperwasser added that the delay that a new deal would bring would be utilized not only by Israel, which is building up its own military capabilities to be able to strike Iran in the future, but by Iran and its regional axis.

“Who will exploit this time better? That is a valid question. I believe the Iranians will utilize the time in the most effective manner. They can build up their air-defense systems and their capacity to attack Israel with lethal firepower. They will have access to so many funds that this readiness will be considerably easier for them to build up,” assessed Kuperwasser.

This, in turn, will serve to boost Iran’s regional hegemonic objectives, which it pursues by supporting, arming and funding a network of radical terror armies—from Hezbollah in Lebanon to militias in Syria and Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“This is ultimately why Iran wants nuclear weapons—to become a regional power,” said Kuperwasser.

“I believe the situation under a signed deal now would be worse than in 2015,” he added, since, according to Iranian media reports, the sanctions snapback measure, which could be activated by any party to the 2015 agreement, is now absent.

‘More money translates into more weapons’

Kuperwasser further explained that while in 2015, the international community entered into a nuclear deal under the self-delusion that it received replies to demands for information on Iran’s nuclear activity prior to 2003, today it is clear that “we have no idea what happened” in Iran’s nuclear program in those earlier years.

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“We are unaware of the time Iran needs to turn the fissile material into a weapon. The 2018 Mossad raid on the Iranian nuclear archives exposed that fact,” he said.

The insistence by Iran that the IAEA close the open files about the undeclared locations in which nuclear activity was conducted clarifies how crucial it is to force Iran to provide the full details about what it was doing in these sites.

Domestically, said Kuperwasser, the Iranian regime armed with a new agreement will be able to undermine dissidents and opposition movements more easily, due to its new increased financial resources, which Tehran can partially invest in consolidating its regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ grip on the Iranian economy.

The IRGC is estimated to control some 40% of the Iranian economy, and a new arrangement within the nuclear deal would leave sanctions in place on the IRGC but would exclude Iranian companies that have ties to it, making the sanctions toothless.

“This ensures that even if the U.S. leaves the deal again in the future, foreign companies will continue to economically work with Iran, thereby bolstering Iran’s economy, which was severely damaged by sanctions,” said Kuperwasser.

Regionally, the Iranian-led axis will present the deal as a major achievement, and as “proof” of Tehran’s ability to stand up to challenges, as well as “Divine evidence” of American weakness, he added.

“This is a part of their worldview and belief system. The pragmatic Sunni elements in the Middle East that do not view the U.S. as ‘Satan’ will be challenged. Radical Islamists could also be energized by this development,” said Kuperwasser.

“Militias dependent on Iran, from Hezbollah to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, will be far more daring in raising their heads. They will receive more money, and that will translate into more weapons. We are seeing the first signs of this new daring today,” said Kuperwasser.

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In response to this troubling assessment, Kuperwasser said, Israel must continue to explain to the Americans why signing the deal is a massive error that can lead to extremely negative consequences, though such explanations are unlikely to impact American calculations due to Washington’s determination to avoid confrontation with Iran in spite of its dangerous policies and to remain committed to the Obama-Biden legacy that is focused on achieving the JCPOA.

‘Refresh concepts and formulate new alternatives’

Col. (res.) Udi Evental, former head of the Strategic Planning Unit of the Political-Military and Policy Bureau of the Israeli Defense Ministry, as well as a former Israeli intelligence attaché in Washington, tweeted in recent days that Israel’s influence on the negotiations between Iran and the United States is low.

This is primarily due to U.S. strategic interests in place to close a deal in order to focus on power competition with Russia and China, he said.

In his series of tweets, Evental said the overall strategic balance is tilting against Israel: “It seems that the time has arrived to refresh Israel’s concepts and to formulate new alternatives to the policies of blocking the Iranian nuclear [project].”

If a deal is signed, said Kuperwasser, Israel must be able to prove when possible that Iran is breaching the agreement’s “margins” by sharing intelligence.”

“Moreover, Israel must acquire a boosted capacity to deal with Iran’s nuclear program with an emphasis on covert activity. Clearly, kinetic operations [an open-air assault] would result in a direct diplomatic confrontation with the U.S. covert operations could possibly also increase tensions with the U.S., but only if there was an ability to extend an area of deniability,” he added.

In a revived deal reality, Israel must develop such capabilities and use them prudently in order to prevent Iran from building nuclear bombs, according to Kuperwasser. “It is easier said than done, and not only from an operational standpoint. We must also preserve and strengthen our connections with Gulf Arab countries,” he said.