US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


In the four months since the Iran nuclear deal went into effect on January 16, the first signs of how the deal is going to play out in practice are appearing. Pointing to the treaty’s various holes, critics wonder where the deal will stand next Passover, just slightly more than one year into the 8-10-15-25 year deal.

Before getting into how the holes may play out, it is important to also understand the benefits – at least short term – as they will impact how the key parties view those holes.

First, surprising many critics, Iran essentially followed the letter of the law for the deal and, whether the deal is good or bad, stepped backward delaying for at least some months how soon it could produce a nuclear bomb.

It shipped out around 8,000 of 8,306 kg of uranium ready to be enriched to higher levels (which could have been enough for at least seven nuclear bombs) to Russia, despite having vowed at earlier stages that it would never do this. It dismantled around 13,000 out of around 19,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium despite having also made a vow never to do that. It disabled key parts of its plutonium producing facility in Arak.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has said that Iran’s concessions have positively altered the IDF’s planning and budget decisions for the next three to five years. The IDF can move from being constantly ready for a potential Iran strike to a lower level of readiness so that the funds can be used for other challenges, he said.

The funds are needed for more training for reserves, cyber operations and addressing other threats like Hamas’s attack tunnels, and Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s rockets.

None of this means that the holes that have been noted are not there. But it does mean that critics are recalibrating to focus on the long-term issues with the deal which critics highlighted when the deal was announced.

On March 8 and 9, Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 banning missile tests involving missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons (even if they can also serve as standard conventional missiles also.) From a strictly technical perspective, these tests did not violate the nuclear deal, which mostly concerns itself with limiting the amount of enriched uranium Iran can stockpile, limiting the number of operating centrifuges and limiting activities which have solely nuclear applications.

But the Western powers agreed that Iran has a political obligation not to test either conventional or nuclear missiles for eight years.

Absent complying with this political ban, there are heavy suspicions that Iran will solve all remaining obstacles it was facing to mounting and delivering a nuclear payload on such missiles, while using refraining enriching uranium as a fig leaf to pretend that it is not moving forward to a nuclear bomb.

Critics say that since Iran has mastered the process of enriching enough uranium for a bomb and has only disassembled but not destroyed its centrifuges, that it could continue to work on solving missile delivery problems and after solving those issues, could then more easily breakout.

Western reactions were weak, with Russia and China fighting sanctions and only the US and possibly a few European countries imposing ineffectual sanctions as a response.

By next Passover, we will know if March 8-9 was a blip, and Iran was just doing face-saving tests to assuage domestic criticism for having rewound its nuclear program significantly, or whether it is part of a pattern pushing the envelope on the deal’s limits and daring the West to endanger the deal by confronting it.

Last week, Iran unveiled parts of its long-awaited S-300 missile defense system from Russia.

In the worst case scenario, the S-300 could complicate efforts by the US or Israeli air forces to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities should it suddenly try to break out beyond the nuclear bomb threshold. But this development, could be a serious hole in the ability of the US and Israel to enforce the nuclear deal with the military option or threatening it.

Russia has promised to send the rest of the parts of the system by the end of this year, which means that by next Passover it may finally be clear how much the new missile defense system impacts the military option.

On April 21, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a regular critic of the deal, issued a report warning of possibly the most worrisome abuse of holes in the deal to date.

The deal has a “Procurement Channel” which allows states to sell goods to Iran once the transactions have been vetted by a Joint Commission including Western powers. The purpose is to make sure that there are not hidden violations with exporting goods connected to Iran’s authorized nuclear program and related programs.

Ideally, the institute said, the procurement channel can be a valuable tool to verify that Iran is not acquiring good for undeclared nuclear activities or secretly surging in building up nuclear capabilities.

Russia and China negotiated that renovations they do at the Fordow and Arak facilities are exempt from the procurement channel.

The report said that sensitive centrifuge technology could be transferred to Iran inside Russia, while aspects of the transaction take place on Russian soil without oversight. The same is true for China.

By next Passover, it will become clearer if the joint Iran-Russia-China moves merely are to cut through bureaucracy or are a means to exploit the deal’s holes in ways which could make Iran breaking out a concern long-before most of its provisions expire in around 10 years.

In short, as many predicted, Iran, along with Russia and China, only a few months into implementing the deal have proven adept at finding loopholes which could become chasms.

Next Passover, it will be clearer whether the West’s current grudging tolerance of these moves is flexibility to preserve a deal that at least has short-term benefits or a dangerous weakness that could endanger the deal’s goal of preventing Iran from going nuclear.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post