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Thursday , March 30 2023

Israelis bracing for Iran escalation

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FILE – In this April 9, 2018, file photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledged Monday, July 1, 2019, Iran had broken the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by the 2015 nuclear deal, marking its first major departure from the unraveling agreement a year after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

PARIS/JERUSALEM, July 2, (Agencies): Israel is preparing for its possible military involvement in any escalation in the Gulf confrontation between Iran and the United States, the Israeli foreign minister said on Tuesday. The unravelling of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal under US diplomatic pressure, Iran’s downing of a US drone and its alleged role in the holing of oil tankers in the Gulf have driven up tensions and stirred war worries.

Israel has encouraged the Trump administration to press ahead with sanctions against its arch-foe, predicting that Tehran will eventually renegotiate a more limiting nuclear deal. But Foreign Minister Israel Katz told an international security forum that Iran might accidentally stumble out of what he termed the “gray zone” of contained confrontation. “It should be taken into account that mistaken calculations by the (Iranian) regime… are liable to bring about a shift from the ‘gray zone’ to the ‘red zone’ — that is, a military conflagration,” he said in a speech to the Herzliya Conference. “We must be prepared for this, and thus the State of Israel continues to devote itself to building up its military might for the event that it will have to respond to escalation scenarios.”

France, meanwhile, urged Iran to reverse its first major breach of a nuclear pact with world powers as European states signalled they would not seek to reimpose UN sanctions — for now. The UN nuclear watchdog confirmed on Monday Iran had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under the 2015 deal, a move that prompted US President Donald Trump to say Iran was “playing with fire”.

Exceeding the limit could culminate in the return of all international sanctions on Tehran but one European diplomat, asked if Europe would trigger the dispute resolution mechanism enshrined in the accord, said: “Not for now. We want to defuse the crisis.” A second diplomat said Britain, France and Germany would focus on bringing Iran back into compliance and that they wanted to gain more time for dialogue. “In the immediate term, Iran must return to its obligations.

There is room for dialogue,” a French diplomatic source added. Tensions with Iran have escalated since Trump pulled the United States out of the pact last year and moved to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. Washington also blames Iran for bomb attacks on ships in the Gulf, something Tehran denies. European signatories to the nuclear accord have sought to pull back the longstanding foes from direct confrontation, fearing a mistake could lead to war accidentally. At the same time they are under US pressure to reimpose their own sanctions to force Iran to comply with an agreement Washington abandoned against Europe’s advice. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies Iran is in violation of the accord, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond following the US pullout.

China, like France a signatory to the deal, said it regretted Iran’s move but urged all parties to exercise restraint and said the US policy of increasing pressure on Iran was the “root cause of the current tensions”. The nuclear deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear work. It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

Iran’s main demand — in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States — is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels before Washington pulled out of the deal and restored sanctions. Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal. Iran says it will breach the deal’s nuclear curbs one by one until it is able to sell that amount of oil, saying this is the least it should be able to expect from an accord that offered economic gains in exchange for nuclear restrictions.

In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron urged Iran to fully abide by all terms of the accord and “reverse without delay this excess, as well as to avoid all extra measures that would put into question its nuclear commitments.” Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that the Islamic Republic’s enriched uranium stockpile had passed the 300kg (661 lb) limit allowed under the deal. “We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the deal by the abbreviation of its formal title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He referred to a paragraph of the accord dealing with the dispute resolution mechanism. Iran’s parliament Speaker Ali Larijani accused Trump of trying to bully Tehran with his remark about playing with fire, and said such language would only made Iran stronger. Zarif reacted with exasperation to a White House accusation that Tehran had long violated the terms of the deal. “Seriously?” he said in a one-word message on Twitter, after White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “there is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.” Her comment contrasted with CIA Director Gina Haspel’s testimony in January to the Senate Intelligence Committee that “at the moment, technically, they are in compliance.”

Britain is deeply worried by Iran’s announcement of breaking the nuclear agreement’s obligations, and affirmed commitment to the 2015 deal, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday. Britain is “deeply worried by Iran’s announcement that it has broken existing nuclear deal obligations,” Hunt said on his Twitter account. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said earlier Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has exceeded 300 kg, beyond the allowed 3.67 percent cap. The announcement came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that Iran had crossed the 300kg limit.

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