Iran nuclear move puts pressure on EU but Israel is ‘wild card’

Experts say Iran is not ‘dashing’ to secure a bomb but warn of long-term instability and possible Israeli air strikes

FILE - In this March 30, 2005 file photo, an Iranian security official in protective clothing walks through part of the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the Iranian city of Isfahan. Iran threatened Wednesday, May 8, 2019, to resume higher enrichment of uranium in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its 2015 nuclear deal, an agreement that capped over a decade of hostility between Tehran and the West over its atomic program. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
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Iran’s announcement on Monday that it has breached the limitation set on its low-enriched uranium by the nuclear deal in 2015, is an attempt to gain leverage and throw the ball into Europe’s court, experts say.

But with neither the Europeans nor the United States fulfilling Iranian demands on easing sanctions, the move heightens the risk of escalation longer term and could introduce the threat of Israeli strikes to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Here is how experts on Iran and nuclear proliferation reacted to the announcement:

Kelsey Davenport Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Network

"Iran is seeking leverage, [but] not dashing for a bomb. It's critical that [US President Donald] Trump and the P4+1 do not overreact to this announcement. It would still take around 12 months for Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a weapon if they decided to go down that road. There is time to bring Iran back into compliance."

Ryan Bohl, Middle East and North Africa analyst at US intelligence firm Stratfor

“The Iranians are betting that the violations are both small enough and justified - with the US pulling out of the deal in the first place in 2018 - and that the Europeans won't immediately react with snapback sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. The Europeans want to give [the financial trading mechanism with Iran] INSTEX time to work, but if it doesn't appear to satisfy Iran, the hawks in Europe will gain the upper hand.

"The wildest card is Israel, as they will not tolerate a viable path to an Iranian nuclear bomb especially with a US administration that would back Israel in case of a military strike," Mr Bohl told The National.

Ariane Tabatabai, Iran analyst, the RAND corporation

“Unless Iran returns to the full implementation of the deal, the [US] Democrats calculus that they’ll return to and build on the JCPOA if they take back the White House will become a lot harder. If Iran continues on this path and takes some of the steps it’s floated around, we may end up with a more urgent non-proliferation issue on our hands (especially, if the level of enrichment goes up along with a growing stockpile).”

Eric Brewer, deputy director and fellow at CSIS’ project on nuclear issues

“In the immediate term, the ball is back in Europe’s court and they have some big decisions to make about how hard they want to press Iran on this, with the obvious risk that harsher action could spur further Iranian nuclear escalation, and doom the deal.  Iran has threatened, however, that as soon as July 7 it could begin enriching to higher levels - which would be far more problematic and provocative than breaking 300kg - if insufficient action is taken by remaining deal participants. Decisions in the coming weeks will be hugely important to determining whether we’re on a path to further escalation, or whether it’s possible to seize an off ramp.”

Mr Trump after withdrawing from the deal in May 2018, has pledged to deny Iran “all paths to a nuclear weapon" and has called on Tehran to come to the table and negotiate a new deal.