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Millennium Post

A tough deal

Just a day after Iranian President Rouhani inaugurated new centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility on live television, there was an alleged cyberattack that caused a power outage. While specifying that there were no casualties and leaks due to the outage, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran referred to the incident as an act of "nuclear terrorism". Furthermore, the organisation called on the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "to deal with this nuclear terrorism". Israeli newspapers were quick to point out that this was indeed a deliberate act of sabotage carried out by none other than the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Many noted that Israel while making no official confirmations of such reports, did not censor them either and even allowed such claims to be played out on public radio. Experts have pointed out that this attack was somewhat reminiscent of the 2010 Stuxnet computer virus attack on the Natanz facility that was blamed on a joint US-Israel effort. Stuxnet was widely considered to be the first true 'cyberweapon' in the world and is thought to have set back Iran's nuclear progress by several years. It is unknown what the current level of disruption is but it is likely that this will not be the last of its kind that the facility will face. The reason becomes apparent when one considers that both the US and Iran are currently engaged in reviving the Iran Nuclear Deal. When Trump had pulled out of the deal after coming to power, not everyone had been outraged. Indeed Israel and Saudi Arabia had been quite pleased as they openly expressed distrust of Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran has constantly maintained that it only wishes to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and as such agreed to restrictions to keep its uranium enrichment within 3.67 per cent concentration. To use uranium for nuclear weapons, a concentration of around 90 per cent is required. Israel has been increasingly alarmed by President Biden's intention to return to the deal and lift sanctions on Iran. Israel maintains that this would allow Iran to carry out its nuclear enrichment in secret anyway without the threat of sanctions. It has instead urged even heavier sanctions alongside a credible military threat to be presented to Iran if it should further escalate the situation. Israel has thus made clear that it will not be a party to any iteration of the Iran nuclear deal and has vowed to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions no matter the cost. Iran has blamed Israel for several attacks that have been targeted at its nuclear infrastructure. In July last year, a fire had broken out at the Natanz facility which Iran portrayed as an attempt to sabotage its nuclear programme. Then, in a much more serious escalation, Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was gunned down in mysterious circumstances in an attack that was once again blamed on Israel. Though Iran insisted that Fakhrizadeh was involved in 'peaceful' research, western intelligence agencies suspected him to be Iran's top nuclear weapons programme scientist. Overall though, it is the Biden administration that is truly facing pressure at the moment from this entire situation. On the one hand, both the US and Iran see a common interest in re-entering the deal. On the other hand, neither can be seen to be acquiescing too readily to the demands of the other in making the deal. This is why the US wants Iran to first return to the terms of the deal before the sanctions are lifted and Iran wants the sanctions to be lifted first before the deal can be returned to. This is already a complicated issue by itself but is further complicated by other state actors who enter the equation. The US has to deal with Israel and Saudi Arabia on its side, both of which are likely to be an impediment to the deal in one way or another. The US also has to contend with the fact that China is opportunistically giving support to Iran in this deal, making it harder for the US to achieve its desired outcome. If Biden wants to make a deal, getting Israel to back off maybe a tough but necessary part of the whole process.'Behave responsibly', urges UK PM as Covid lockdown eases

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