Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the International Atomic Energy Agency on Sunday of ineffectually policing Iran’s nuclear activities and suggested the UN watchdog risked becoming politicized and irrelevant.
The unusual criticism followed an IAEA report last week that Iran had provided a satisfactory answer on one case of suspect uranium particles and re-installed some monitoring equipment originally put in place under a now-defunct 2015 nuclear deal.
With Iran having enriched enough uranium to 60% fissile purity for two nuclear bombs, if refined further – something it denies wanting or planning – Israel has redoubled threats to launch preemptive military strikes if international diplomacy fails.
“Iran is continuing to lie to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency’s capitulation to Iranian pressure is a black stain on its record,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in televised remarks, according to Reuters.
“If the IAEA becomes a political organization, then its oversight activity in Iran is without significance, as will be its reports on Iran’s nuclear activity.”
The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, it reported that after years of investigation and lack of progress, Iran had given a satisfactory answer to explain one of three sites at which uranium particles had been detected.
Those particles could be explained by the presence of a Soviet-operated mine and lab there and the IAEA had no further questions, a senior diplomat in Vienna said.
In an apparent reference to this, Netanyahu said: “Iran’s excuses … regarding the finding of nuclear material in prohibited locations are not only unreliable, they are technically impossible.”
However, the Vienna diplomat also told Reuters the IAEA’s assessment remained that Iran carried out explosives testing there decades ago that was relevant to nuclear weapons.
After then US President Donald Trump quit the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran ramped up uranium enrichment. Israeli and Western officials say it could switch from enrichment at 60% fissile purity to 90% – weapons-grade – within a few weeks.
In a 2012 UN speech, Netanyahu deemed 90% enrichment by Iran a “red line” that could trigger preemptive strikes. Experts are divided, however, on whether Israel – despite having an advanced military believed to be nuclear-armed – can deal lasting damage to Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended facilities.
“In the event that we reach decision-point, where the two options are the Iranians breaking out to a bomb or us taking action, we will take action,” Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s national security cabinet, said.