Iran Plays Hide-And-Seek with the IAEA

Will we ever find out what is going on at the new plant in Isfahan?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the body responsible for monitoring and inspecting Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has in the past has kept hidden from the IAEA certain sites, of whose existence the agency became aware only after the Mossad managed to locate and bring to the West in 2018 Iran’s entire nuclear archive, which provided the evidence of those top-secret well-hidden sites. But even where the IAEA knew of the existence of sites where Iran’s nuclear program was proceeding, its inspection teams were in some cases required to give Iran a long lead time of warning before going to a particular site, which allowed Iran to remove any incriminating evidence of activities it was not permitted to engage in, including the enrichment of uranium to a level of 60%, just below weapons grade. And Iran continues to keep certain sites off-limits to the IAEA inspectors altogether, like the facilities built deep inside the mountain at Fordow, or underground at Natanz.

This past December, after months of wrangling, the IAEA was at long last allowed to inspect the site at Karaj, where Iran had a workshop that made centrifuge parts. It seemed like a clear victory for the IAEA, but it was short-lived. For now Iran has moved all of its machines out of Karaj to its site at Natanz (it’s not clear if it is an aboveground, or underground, facility). In addition, Iran has set up a another site in Isfahan, where it will also produce parts for advanced centrifuges. A report on these sites, and Iran’s managing to play hide-and-seek with the IAEA, is here: “Iran moves equipment for making centrifuge parts to Natanz – IAEA,” Reuters, April 6, 2022:

Iran has moved all its machines that make centrifuge parts from its mothballed workshop at Karaj to its sprawling Natanz site just six weeks after it set up another site at Isfahan to make the same parts, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.

Iran granted International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to Karaj in December to re-install surveillance cameras there after a months-long standoff that followed what Tehran said was Israeli sabotage destroyed one camera and badly damaged another, prompting Iran to remove all four cameras.

But why would Israel want to damage or destroy cameras that allowed the IAEA to keep an eye on part of Iran’s nuclear program? This makes no sense. Of course the destruction of one camera, and the severe damage to another were Iran’s handiwork, and gave it all the excuse it needed to remove “all four cameras” at the site lest, we are supposed to believe, “the Israelis sabotage all of them.”

A month later, Iran told the IAEA it was moving production of the parts for advanced centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, to a new location in Isfahan, and the IAEA set up cameras there to monitor that work.

Little is known about the Isfahan workshop. Diplomats have said it is slightly larger than the Karaj one. On Wednesday, the IAEA said Iran had moved all the equipment from Karaj to an unspecified location at Natanz, raising the question of whether it will increase output by using both Natanz and Isfahan.

If Iran is about to make an agreement about its nuclear program that would require it to mothball all of its advanced centrifuges, why would it go to the trouble of moving those it now has to Natanz, and what’s more, to more than double the number of its workshops to make parts for advanced centrifuge by opening another such workshop in Isfahan? Could it be that with or without an agreement in Vienna, Iran has no intention of slowing down its manufacture of advanced centrifuges, but will speed it up by this doubling of workshops, from the single one at Karaj to two new ones, at Isfahan and at Natanz?

On the same date (April 4), agency inspectors verified that these machines remained under agency seal at this location in Natanz and, therefore, were not operating,” the IAEA said in a statement summarizing a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters.

For now, the machines that had been moved from Karaj to Natanz remain “under agency seal” so that they cannot be put to use without the IAEA inspectors, who were apparently allowed to freely inspect the facilities where the Karaj machines had been transferred. But that is right now, when Iran is presumably on its best behavior while the nuclear agreement it wants is still being negotiated. What will happen if, in the future, Tehran decides to end inspections at Natanz? Or if it does not allow the IAEA to inspect the other facilities built deep inside the mountain at Fordow? It has happened before, at other sites. There is no mechanism for forcing Iran to comply with its promises to the IAEA. And judging by Iran’s past behavior – think of those hidden sites that were revealed only after Mossad managed to get hold of Iran’s nuclear archive and bring it back to the West – isn’t it likely that it will engage in similar deception in the future?

Neither the statement nor the report described the location at Natanz, a site that includes a large underground enrichment plant and various buildings above ground.

Under an arrangement that is more than a year old, the IAEA does not have access for the time being to the data collected by some of its cameras, such as those at the new Isfahan workshop.

If the IAEA does not have access to the data collected by its cameras, then what good are they? What can Iran do to that data, to damage or erase the information it collected, before giving the IAEA access?

“Without access to the data and recordings collected by these cameras, the agency is unable to confirm whether the production of centrifuge components at the workshop in Isfahan has begun,” the report to IAEA member states said.

In other words, the IAEA admits in its report to its members, we simply do not know what is going on at the new plant in Isfahan, and don’t even know when we might – if ever – find out. All the IAEA knows is that once it started to monitor what was going on at the workshop for the production of parts for advanced centrifuges at Karaj, two of the four cameras were put out of commission – one destroyed, and another so badly damaged it was useless. Iran blames, preposterously, Israeli saboteurs, but Israel had no desire to keep the IAEA from monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities.

For the past year, Iran has not permitted the IAEA to have access to the data collected by some of its cameras, including those at the new Isfahan workshop. Why should anyone believe that Iran will not fiddle with those Isfahan cameras, or continue to deny the IAEA access to the data those cameras collect? In the end, the only way the IAEA will learn about what is really going on with Iran’s nuclear program is from those exceedingly daring, clever, and inventive Mossad agents who appear to be everywhere in Iran, working hand-in-glove with those dissident and preternaturally brave Iranians who have worked with Mossad before.

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