Iran May Resume Uranium Enrichment, Israeli Intel Assesses

Israel's 2019 military intelligence estimate says Iran has not violated the nuclear agreement, but pressure from economic sanctions and the American withdrawal from the deal may change that

Iran's President Hassan Rohani speaks during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution
Presidential Website/Handout via Reuters

The Israeli army's intelligence assessment for 2019 states that Iran could adopt a more defiant approach on its nuclear project. Nevertheless, the intelligence branch of the army's general staff says Iran has not yet decided to blatantly violate its nuclear accord with the major powers, an accord from which the United States withdrew last May.

The army's Intelligence Corps sees a historic opportunity in the coming year, in which the West can increase pressure on Iran and curb Tehran's actions. It also describes the Iranians as the “cornerstone” of the security challenges facing Israel.

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As Haaretz reported in October 2018, military intelligence officials believe that the economic pressure being applied on Iran by the United States via the resumption of sanctions is working well and having a major impact on the Iranian economy and the Iranian regime's circumstances. The renewed sanctions are putting unprecedented pressure on the regime and creating a level of crisis unlike anything it has experienced in the 40 years since the Islamic Revolution. In recent months, the price of meat, for example, has gone up by 50 percent and prices for some fruits and vegetables have more than doubled.

The Intelligence Corps does not foresee a popular uprising against the regime, but it has seen an increase in the number of protests in which a large number of professional associations have been involved. Some of the demonstrations are occurring in areas that up to now had been considered power centers of the Iranian authorities. These domestic developments are believed to reflect a significant change in the situation in Iran, as military intelligence sees it, but the regime has so far been able to cope skillfully and effectively.

The intelligence assessment is that Iran has not violated the international nuclear accord so far. If Tehran does decide to stray from the accord, it will take it at least a year to produce enough fissile material to manufacture a nuclear bomb and a total of two years to make a bomb.

There is disagreement among Iranian leaders about whether they should signal their displeasure with the sanctions and the situation that followed the American withdrawal from the accord by renewing enrichment activity, in violation of the pact. If the sanctions pressure continues, a decision could be made to go ahead with enrichment.

But some in Tehran predict that Donald Trump will be a one-term president and that the best approach is to wait until he leaves office in 2021 and avoid a direct confrontation with the world powers over a violation of the accord. Military intelligence officials see an intention on Iran's part to expand the operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq, which is also an alternative path of influence in light of how the Iranians’ efforts to entrench themselves militarily in Syria are being thwarted by Israeli actions. In western Iraq, the Iranians are seeking to deploy Shi'ite militias, medium-range missiles and other weaponry that will enable them to threaten Israel from there and at the same time safeguard a land corridor for the transfer of weapons and forces from Iran to Syria and Lebanon.

Israeli officials are pleased with the relative success of the efforts against Iran in Syria. The economic crisis in Iran caused by the sanctions has also led to a sharp reduction in the monetary assistance sent to the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia group. That is causing hardship in the ranks of the group, providing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah less room for maneuver.