Israeli PM Netanyahu accuses UN nuclear watchdog of weakness on Iran

Israel's Prime Minister has deemed 90 per cent uranium enrichment by Iran a 'red line' that could trigger pre-emptive strikes

Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a cabinet meeting in Jersusalem. EPA
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, risks becoming a political organisation ahead of its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear research.

Last week, excerpts of the report were released to news outlets saying that two investigations had been resolved by the organisation, looking into the presence of unexplained, man-made uranium particles at two nuclear research sites in Iran.

The IAEA will be holding a press conference on its latest findings on Monday.

“Iran is continuing to lie to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency's capitulation to Iranian pressure is a black stain on its record,” Mr Netanyahu told his cabinet in televised remarks.

“If the IAEA becomes a political organisation, then its oversight activity in Iran is without significance, as will be its reports on Iran's nuclear activity.”

The agency has been investigating four sites in connection to enriched uranium and repeatedly said Iran must provide “credible explanations” for the presence of the particles, some of which showed evidence of high enrichment, above 80 per cent.

Experts say this is close to the “weapons grade” enrichment required for a nuclear bomb. Iran now has record stocks of 60 per cent enriched uranium, said to be enough for two nuclear weapons – assuming Iran could successfully build and test the devices.

One theory surrounding the presence of particles at a site in Mirivan is that they date back to Soviet-Iranian co-operation at a mine and research facility.

In an apparent reference to this, Mr Netanyahu said: “Iran's excuses … regarding the finding of nuclear material in prohibited locations are not only unreliable, they are technically impossible.”

After former US president Donald Trump quit the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran ramped up uranium enrichment. Israeli and western officials say it could switch from enrichment at 60 per cent fissile purity to 90 per cent – weapons-grade – within a few weeks.

In a 2012 UN speech, Mr Netanyahu deemed 90 per cent enrichment by Iran a “red line” that could trigger pre-emptive strikes. Experts are divided, however, on whether Israel – despite having an advanced military believed to be nuclear-armed – can deal lasting damage to Iran's distant, dispersed and well-defended facilities.

“In the event that we reach decision point, where the two options are the Iranians breaking out to a bomb or us taking action, we will take action,” Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz, a member of Mr Netanyahu's national security cabinet, said.

“We are making all of the preparations at this very moment,” Mr Katz told Galey Israel radio.

Updated: June 04, 2023, 5:59 PM