Can Israeli PM Netanyahu achieve his stated war objectives with Rafah assault?

Analysis Can Israeli PM Netanyahu achieve his stated war objectives with Rafah assault?
For the Netanyahu government, however, Rafah represents a last opportunity to declare the war won and, in the process, to ensure Netanyahu has a political future. (AFP). (AP)
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Updated 13 May 2024
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Can Israeli PM Netanyahu achieve his stated war objectives with Rafah assault?

Can Israeli PM Netanyahu achieve his stated war objectives with Rafah assault?
  • Despite claim there are four brigades in Rafah, it is unclear how many operational fighters Hamas still has
  • Some Israeli analysts say Israel needs to make Hamas ideologically and politically irrelevant, not do the opposite

LONDON: This week, before-and-after imagery released by US commercial satellite company Planet Labs showed the extent of the damage inflicted in just one day by Israeli forces on the outskirts of Rafah, close to the Egyptian border.

This is not the city of Rafah itself — yet. Awaiting a resolution of the political standoff between their government and the US, which has threatened to stop supplying ammunition if Israel invades Rafah, the 98th Airborne and the 162nd Armored divisions are massing to the south of the city.

In the satellite imagery captured on Tuesday, groups of tanks can be seen in the vicinity of the Rafah crossing, which Israeli troops occupied and closed on Monday, and grouped in several other strategic locations.

While they are waiting, however, they have been laying waste to much of the surrounding infrastructure and indulging in some symbolic wanton vandalism: in a video released on Tuesday a tank rolls over a “I love Gaza” sign near the crossing.




Netanyahu has gambled his political future on two objectives tied to a continuation of the devastating and murderous assault on Gaza — the destruction of Hamas and the killing of its top commanders. (AFP)

The contrast between the satellite images taken on Monday and Tuesday is striking. In the course of one day, hundreds of homes, commercial buildings, agricultural plots and other structures on dozens of sites either side of the Salah Al-Din highway were destroyed.

“This,” said a spokesman for the Israeli government on Tuesday, “is the beginning of our mission to take out the last four Hamas brigades in Rafah.”

But although Netanyahu has gambled his political future on two objectives tied to a continuation of the devastating and murderous assault on Gaza — the destruction of Hamas and the killing of its top commanders — after seven months of all-out warfare those objectives seem increasingly unattainable.

Despite the Israeli claim that there are four brigades in Rafah, it is unclear exactly how many operational fighters Hamas still has, or exactly where they are. It is also not clear if they have chosen, as some commentators have suggested, to make a “last stand” in Rafah, or even, after seven months of war, if they have the weapons and ammunition necessary to do so.




Groups of tanks were seen in the vicinity of the Rafah crossing. (AFP)

Even less certain is the location of Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar, from whom nothing has been heard since the invasion of Gaza began.

Sinwar, Israel’s public enemy number one, has become a ghost, so much so that on Thursday US National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby made a public plea for him to “come clean about what his intentions are.”

Writing in The Spectator this week, Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer suggested that, “contrary to what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might wish, Sinwar, his brother Mohammed, and the Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif are almost certainly not currently besieged in a bunker in Rafah, surrounded and obliged to either agree to the Egyptian (ceasefire) proposal or be crushed beneath the treads of the 98th and the 162nd.”

In fact, added Spyer, director of research at the Middle East Forum, “it is not even certain if the Hamas leaders and their hostages are even still in the Rafah area, or ... in some other part of the strip.”

Gaza, although barely larger than the small Mediterranean island of Malta, has nevertheless proved to be a frustrating landscape for Israeli operations.




“The only way to defeat the Hamas ideology is with a better ideology, and that is to make the two-state solution real to Palestinians,” said Gershon Baskin. (AFP)

On Thursday it emerged that even before the Oct. 7 attack, Israel had tried, and failed, to assassinate both Sinwar and Al-Deif, the commander-in-chief of Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades.

In remarks made to a Jewish organization in the US and broadcast on Israeli television’s Channel 12, Israel’s former military chief of staff Aviv Kochavi said a perceived “change with Hamas” in 2021 had led to the decision to try to kill the two men.

“We tried, and it’s hard,” he was reported as having said.

“In a densely populated, heavily built-up area it is very hard. So, we had been working for months in order to procure the operation but we couldn’t.”

Kochavi also added his voice to the growing chorus in Israel critical of Netanyahu’s increasingly unpopular determination to continue military operations in Gaza.




Yahya Sinwar, Israel’s public enemy number one, has become a ghost. (AFP)

“I don’t think there is a way to bring back the hostages without halting for the time being the war,” he said. Furthermore, he added, “I don’t think we can achieve complete victory in months — forget it, it will take years.”

For the Netanyahu government, however, Rafah represents a stage for political theatre — a last opportunity to declare the war won and, in the process, to ensure Netanyahu has a political future.

INNUMBERS

• 120 People taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7 still unaccounted for.

• 252 Israelis and foreigners taken hostage in the attack, according to Israel.

• 80,000 People known to have fled Rafah since last Monday after Israeli warning.

“They're looking for a victory,” said Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at London-based policy institute Chatham House.

“They are looking for a photo op: ‘Here is his head, we’ve cut off the head of Hamas, now it’s all over’.”

Although the message from Biden “is very clear — for the United States to even suggest imposing an arms ban on Israel is a huge thing,” Netanyahu is also facing a potential internal revolt by his right-wing cabinet members, such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Givr and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who oppose any ceasefire with Hamas.




Despite the Israeli claim that there are four brigades in Rafah, it is unclear exactly how many operational fighters Hamas still has. (AFP)

Ultra-religious, “they are on a different planet,” said Mekelberg. “It’s not between them and other human beings, it's between them and God. And they are telling Netanyahu if he compromises too much with Hamas they will leave the government, and that there is no point in them staying in government if we don't enter Rafah.”

Whether they would find Sinwar there is anybody’s guess, says Gershon Baskin, a former adviser to Israeli, Palestinian and international prime ministers on the Middle East peace process.

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“I'm sure that he's not just sitting and waiting,” he said. “He has certainly booby-trapped tunnels and bunkers in the whole area between Rafah and Khan Younis, and maybe they also have access to places north of there. We don’t know.”

But if Sinwar is in Rafah, “from my experience with the man there is no way he is going to surrender. He will fight to the death. I think that he believes that he will never survive this war. He’s not afraid of death. In fact, he believes that it’s his duty to become a martyr and he will try to kill as many Israelis along the way as possible.”




For the Netanyahu government, however, Rafah represents a stage for political theatre. (Reuters)

According to Baskin, an all-out ground attack on Rafah would be “catastrophic, for any hostages and the civilian population. There’s no doubt about it. I have heard there are about 40,000 people left in the quadrant that Israel said they wanted people to move out of, and you have another 1.2 million at least in the city of Rafah and its surroundings.”

Humanitarian considerations aside, Mekelberg believes that, even if Rafah is attacked and razed to the ground, Sinwar is killed and victory declared, assaulting the city would be a strategic mistake — and would not deliver the hoped-for existential blow to Hamas.

“The main threat to Israel from Hamas comes from its ideology and politics, not from its military,” he told Arab News.




The contrast between the satellite images taken on Monday and Tuesday is striking. (AFP/Maxar Technologies)

“The military you can deal with. But the Israelis need to convince people that this ideology doesn’t serve the Gazan people or Palestinian people generally, and that there is an alternative that offers hope, and it is doing very badly at that right now.

“Israel needs to make Hamas ideologically and politically irrelevant and it is doing exactly the opposite, making them more and more relevant.”

Baskin agrees.

“The only way to defeat the Hamas ideology is with a better ideology, and that is to make the two-state solution real to Palestinians, to show them that their fight, their struggle for independence and dignity, is on the road to victory,” he told Arab News.

That, he added, “is the only way to defeat Hamas” and, with the right leadership in Israel, and an alternative to Mahmoud Abbas for the Palestinians, doing so would be “easy.”

“All Israel has to do is declare that it recognizes the state of Palestine, and then every other country in the world would do that as well,” he said.




“The main threat to Israel from Hamas comes from its ideology and politics, not from its military,” Yossi Mekelberg told Arab News. (AFP)

“Then what I would do is organize a regional conference, including all of our neighbors, hoping that the Saudis would participate, and asking the Americans and Europeans to join in but not to run the show, and negotiate borders and Jerusalem and refugees and economic relations.”

The stumbling block to all this, he says, is Netanyahu, “who since 2009 has done everything he can to avoid the possibility of a two-state solution and for whom this war is definitely about his own personal political interest.”

 


Washington stepping up defense cooperation with GCC states: US official

Washington stepping up defense cooperation with GCC states: US official
Updated 7 sec ago
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Washington stepping up defense cooperation with GCC states: US official

Washington stepping up defense cooperation with GCC states: US official
  • ‘The threats from Iran and its proxies are pervasive,’ Dan Dhapiro tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • ‘The US has an interest in deepening the partnerships we’ve forged with our Gulf partners’

LONDON: The US is stepping up defense cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council countries in a bid to address one of the region’s “most challenging periods in recent years,” Dan Shapiro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, told a press briefing attended by Arab News on Wednesday.
Gulf military representatives on Wednesday met senior US officials at the GCC headquarters in Riyadh as part of the partnership’s maritime and missile defense working groups.
It comes a month after Iran launched a massive drone and ballistic missile strike at Israel, and amid simmering regional tensions over the Gaza war.
Conversations between GCC and US officials are “more important than ever,” said Shapiro. “The US-GCC defense working groups are rooted in a strong US partnership with the GCC and our collective commitment to cooperating on regional security issues,” he added.
“For over a decade, we’ve worked together to address pressing threats and crises. The US has an interest in deepening the partnerships we’ve forged with our Gulf partners.”
Shapiro, who previously served as US ambassador to Israel and Abraham Accords envoy, warned that “the threats from Iran and its proxies are pervasive” in the region.
He said Yemen’s Houthi militia is carrying out “utterly illegitimate acts of terrorism” in its Red Sea campaign against civilian shipping.
The working group meetings saw US and Gulf officials explore ways to “bolster information sharing, counter proliferation, and increase the effectiveness of combined interdictions of illegal maritime shipments to the Houthis,” he added.
The April 13 Iranian attack on Israel, which Shapiro said was a “watershed moment in the Middle East,” also loomed large in the meetings.
“In the wake of Iran’s unprecedented attack and our successful defeat of this attack, the US and our Gulf partners agreed that taking steps to deepen the integration of our air and missile defenses across the Middle East is more important than ever,” he added.
“On April 13, we showcased what we’re collectively capable of when we work together on defeating regional security threats.
“It was a proof of concept of integrated air and missile defense, showing that our work to build this architecture isn’t theoretical.
“It has real-world, real-time impact. It saves lives and it keeps conflicts from escalating. And it showed we’re stronger when we act together.
“Ironically, Iran’s attack on April 13 was ultimately successful in sparking deeper cooperation on integrated air and missile defense.”
Shapiro said Washington’s Gulf partners, by increasing integrated air and missile defense in the near term, hope to lay the foundations for a GCC-wide air defense system.
US officials at the working group meetings also proposed joint military training “to ensure that our forces share a common operational language,” he added.
At the press briefing, a senior US defense official said on condition of anonymity that Washington’s Gulf partners are “laser focused” on understanding the nature of the Iranian threat, adding: “Having that conversation with the GCC in May 2024 is completely different from any conversation you could’ve had with any partner in the region before April 13, 2024.”
The Iranian strike produced a “galvanizing effect” across the Gulf, encouraging states to boost their commitment to building shared defense systems, the official said.
On the flare-up in the Red Sea, Washington does not view its campaign against the Houthis as a “purely military challenge,” instead accepting that “military solutions are necessary but not sufficient,” the official added.
“It’s a whole-of-government challenge from the US perspective. And it’s an international challenge from the world perspective.”
The working group meetings in Riyadh also saw discussions on “some of the non-military ways” to target the militia, including “delegitimization, sanctions and condemnation, and designation as a global terrorist organization,” the official said.


Drone war continues in southern Lebanon, Burkan missiles target Israeli sites

Drone war continues in southern Lebanon, Burkan missiles target Israeli sites
Updated 13 min 6 sec ago
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Drone war continues in southern Lebanon, Burkan missiles target Israeli sites

Drone war continues in southern Lebanon, Burkan missiles target Israeli sites
  • Israeli hacks Lebanese phone network to book hotel in Beirut for 50,000 settlers ‘displaced by Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran’
  • Israeli combat drones raided the towns of Mays Al-Jabal and an area between the towns of Alma Al-Shaab and Dhayra

BEIRUT: Hezbollah mourned two of its members on Wednesday, the 228th day of confrontations between the group and the Israeli army in southern Lebanon.
The total number of Hezbollah fatalities, along with its affiliated medics and members of its ally, the Amal Movement, has reached 330.
Confrontations continued between the two sides through airstrikes, with both sides employing combat drones in addition to conventional warfare methods.
Israeli combat drones raided the towns of Mays Al-Jabal and an area between the towns of Alma Al-Shaab and Dhayra. Two missiles fired by an Israeli combat drone targeted the town of Aita Al-Shaab.
Israeli artillery shelled the town of Markaba, causing a large fire that civil defense teams worked to extinguish.
The town of Hula was also subjected to Israeli artillery shelling, as were the outskirts of the towns of Tayr Harfa and Alma Al-Shaab.
The two Hezbollah members were killed on Tuesday night in an airstrike by an Israeli drone that targeted the town of Odaisseh; Mohammed Ali Bou Taam (born in 2000) from the town of Taybeh in southern Lebanon, and Ali Hassan Sultan (born in 1991) from the town of Souaneh in southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah targeted several Israeli military sites, including the Ramim barracks, with Burkan missiles, and the Al-Sadah site, and said in a statement that it “directly hit it with artillery shells.”
Brig. Gen. Mounir Shehadeh, the former Lebanese government coordinator to UNIFIL and former head of the military court, said that the escalation on the southern front carried two messages from Hezbollah. The first, he said, was “a response to the repeated threats from Israeli officials to launch a major military operation in southern Lebanon to push Hezbollah to withdraw to the north of the Litani Line. The second message is that the party is ready to escalate if Israel decides to enter Rafah and commit more massacres.”
Shehadeh said that Hezbollah was using new tactics and weapons. He said that targeting the newly established Israeli military sites was an indication of the capabilities it possessed, especially in intelligence and reconnaissance. He added that repeatedly targeting the Meron base and downing two balloons had caused Israel to lose control and air superiority over the northern front, especially as Hezbollah said that it has so far used only 20 percent of its qualitative capabilities.
The Israeli army has rigged combat drones; on Tuesday, a small drone launched by the Israeli army exploded in the direction of a house in the town of Naqoura.
Meanwhile, Israeli Channel 12 website noted “an increase in the use of drones by Hezbollah,” considering that “its lethal capability has increased.”
The website reported that a study conducted by the Alma Center, which specializes in researching the security challenges facing Israel in the north, stated that “24 incidents of drones entering Israeli airspace occurred in March, the number increased to 42 incidents in April, and 20 incidents were recorded in May.”
The website quoted officials at Alma Center as saying: “There is a difficulty related to the way drones fly toward the target.”
Tal Barry, director of research at Alma Center, told Channel 12 that “Hezbollah is using the current battle to evaluate the offensive and defensive capabilities of the Israeli army, and also to compare its capabilities with those of the Israeli army.”
Amid the tension on the southern front and increasing protests by Israeli settlers who were evacuated from settlements in the north, a video spread across Israeli websites, shared on social media, showing an Israeli man appearing on Israeli Channel 12. In the video, the man calls what he claimed to be Caesars Park Hotel (in Beirut), demanding evacuation for himself and thousands of Israelis.
The Israeli caller, speaking in Arabic, asked the person who answered from the hotel: “I am calling from Israel. There are 30, 40, 50 thousand people who need to come to Beirut because of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran. Do you have any available space?”
The hotel employee responded with surprise, “Where are you from?” The Israeli caller answered in Arabic, “We are from Israel, we are 50, 60 thousand people, we want to come to Beirut to your hotel.” The employee angrily replied, “Go to hell,” and hung up.
The Lebanese hotel employee’s response angered the Israeli caller, who insulted the person on air.
Arab News contacted the hotel on Hamra Street in Beirut to confirm the Israeli call. A hotel source confirmed that the call was received by the employee “through the landline.”
The Israeli caller claimed on the Israeli TV channel that he had previously visited Beirut and stayed at the hotel, but the hotel source strongly denied this.
This Israeli infiltration via phone call was preceded by a similar infiltration at the start of the confrontations. Israelis used the Lebanese phone network to contact dozens of southerners who had evacuated their homes in border regions, inquiring whether they were in their residences or had abandoned them, pretending to be from financial institutions or relief associations. It was later revealed that based on people’s responses, the Israeli side was tracking the movement of Hezbollah members in order to demolish their homes.
The Secretary-General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah revealed these communications and urged people to avoid using the Internet in the border region and to remove external surveillance cameras from homes because of Israeli infiltration. The Israeli army managed to kill a significant number of Hezbollah members by this method.


Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause

Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause
Updated 22 May 2024
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Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause

Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause
  • “We hope that the whole world will recognize Palestine, and we are happy with this decision... It is a beautiful feeling,” said Alaa Ghozlan
  • Israel was enraged by the move announced Wednesday by Ireland, Norway and Spain, arguing that it amounts to “rewarding terrorism”

SHATILA, Lebanon: In Beirut’s impoverished Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila — a maze of alleyways where posters honor fallen martyrs — residents expressed joy Wednesday after three European countries said they would recognize a Palestinian state.
“We hope that the whole world will recognize Palestine, and we are happy with this decision... It is a beautiful feeling,” said Alaa Ghozlan, 26, whose family is originally from Haifa, now in northern Israel.
“We now have hope to return to our country — a country I was not born in and was deprived of but which lives inside me despite everything,” he told AFP on a winding street in the camp.
Israel was enraged by the move announced Wednesday by Ireland, Norway and Spain, arguing that it amounts to “rewarding terrorism” after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched its unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that sparked the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Seven other European countries including Sweden have already recognized Palestinian statehood.
Lebanon hosts an estimated 250,000 Palestinian refugees, many living in poverty in the country’s 12 official camps, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Most are descendants of survivors of what Palestinians call the Nakba — the “catastrophe” — when about 760,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes by the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.
Shatila resident Samah Omari, 50, a housewife, said she was “very happy” with the decision, and expressed hope that it would eventually impact her and her family.
“People are dying in Palestine. We demand our rights and defend our land so that our state can be recognized by all countries,” she said.
“We hope to return to our country and not be refugees anymore,” she added.
The camp’s tumbledown walls are adorned with Palestinian flags and posters in support of militant groups including Hamas and their leaders.
Men on motorbikes and tuk-tuks squeeze past women shopping and schoolchildren making their way through the streets.
Above, matted electricity wires and plastic water tubes are bound precariously with rope or cables, some weighed down by clothes that have fallen from washing lines.
The United States and most Western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognize Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement is reached on thorny issues like final borders and the status of Jerusalem.
But Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza, with its mounting death toll, has given the issue new impetus.
Suliman Abdel Hadi, 70, an official at the camp, said the timing of the decision was “important after October 7 because of the massacres carried out by the brutal Zionist enemy.”
“We see a bright future for the Palestinian cause,” said Abdel Hadi, whose family is from the Acre area, now in northern Israel.
“What happened today is the result of sacrifices made by the Palestinian people over 76 years of persecution, killing and destruction,” he added.
Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
On another street in Shatila, a man who gave his name as Abu Majdi, and whose father originally hailed from Haifa, called the decision “great” and said it was “baptised in the blood of martyrs.”
“This recognition will change the future of coming generations and the future of the Palestinian cause,” said the 63-year-old man, a Palestine pendant hanging from his neck.


Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements

Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements
Updated 22 May 2024
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Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements

Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements
  • The military announced the move on the day three European states said they would formally recognize the State of Palestine
  • A fourth settlement, Homesh, was cleared for entry last year

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military has approved permission for Israelis to return to three former West Bank settlements they had been banned from entering since an evacuation ordered in 2005, the defense ministry said on Wednesday.
The three settlements, Sa-nur, Ganim and Kadim, are located near the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus, both of which are strongholds of armed militant groups in the northern West Bank.
A fourth settlement, Homesh, was cleared for entry last year after parliament passed an amendment to the so-called “disengagement law” of 2005. Permission from the military, which has overall control of the West Bank, was required for any return to the other three former settlements.
The military announced the move on the day three European states said they would formally recognize the State of Palestine, and as Israel’s military offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas continued in the Gaza Strip.
It took the decision despite international pressure on Israel to curb settlement expansion in the West Bank, which Palestinians want as the core of a future independent state alongside Gaza.
“The Jewish hold on Judea and Samaria guarantees security, the application of the law to cancel disengagement will lead to the development of settlement and provide security to residents of the area,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement, using the Biblical names for the West Bank that are often used in Israel.
There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority.
Last year’s amendment to the disengagement law was seen as opening the way to re-establishing former West Bank settlements evacuated in 2005 under a plan overseen by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Under the plan, which was opposed by the settler movement at the time, all 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza were ordered to be evacuated. Most settlements in the West Bank were unaffected apart from the four that will now be accessible again.
More than 500,000 Jewish settlers are now estimated to be living in the West Bank, part of territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, with a further 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.
For Palestinians and most of the international community, the settlements are considered illegal. Israel disputes this, citing the Jewish people’s historical, biblical and political links to the area as well as security considerations.
Despite international opposition, settlements have continued to expand strongly under successive Israeli governments.


Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says
Updated 22 May 2024
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Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency faces a range of challenges in Iran
  • Nuclear watchdog has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities

HELSINKI: The deaths of Iran’s president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash have caused a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog’s talks with Tehran over improving cooperation with the agency, the watchdog’s chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters on Wednesday.
“They are in a mourning period which I need to respect,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Grossi said in Helsinki, where he spoke at a nuclear conference.
“But once this is over, we are going to be engaging again,” he said, describing it as a “temporary interruption that I hope will be over in a matter of days.”
Grossi said the IAEA was planning to continue technical discussions with Iran but they had not yet taken place due to last weekend’s helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
The IAEA faces a range of challenges in Iran, from Tehran’s recent barring of many of the most experienced uranium-enrichment experts on its inspection team to Iran’s continued failure to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites despite a years-long IAEA investigation.
The IAEA has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities while the country’s uranium-enrichment program continues to advance. Iran is enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to the 90 percent of weapons-grade, which no other country has done without developing nuclear weapons.
Tehran says its aims are entirely peaceful.
Iran currently has about 140 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. According to an IAEA definition, that is theoretically enough, if enriched further, for three nuclear bombs. The IAEA’s last quarterly report in February said Iran had 121.5 kg, enough for two bombs.
Iran is still producing about nine kg a month of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. It is also enriching to lower levels at which it has enough material for potentially more bombs.
Grossi, who two weeks ago said he wanted to start to see concrete results on improved cooperation from Iran soon, repeated that hope but said a more wide-ranging deal would require “a bit more time.”
For now, his team had not made progress on the main issues, he said.
“It is high time there is some concrete issuance and if not resolution, some clarification of what is this,” Grossi said of the uranium traces at undeclared sites.
“And I would say, confidence in many parts of the world (in Iran on the nuclear issue) is growing thinner.