Jul 11, 2019

UN finds evidence of radioactive material in Iranian warehouse, Israeli officials say

Photo: Xinhua/Qin Lang via Getty Images

UN inspectors have found evidence of illicit nuclear activity in an Iranian warehouse which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed in an address to the UN last September was used to store nuclear equipment and material, four Israeli officials told me.

Why it matters: The Iranians claimed at the time that the warehouse in Tehran was a carpet factory, and denied Netanyahu's accusations that it was tied to Iran's covert military nuclear program. Storing nuclear materials secretly without reporting it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is a violation on the nuclear proliferation treaty to which Iran is a party.

Flashback: Netanyahu claimed in his speech that Iran had removed 15 kilograms of undeclared enriched uranium from the facility in August 2018. He said that was an attempt to "clean up" the secret site and hide their illicit activities from the IAEA.

  • Israel passed information about the warehouse to the IAEA, and UN inspectors visited the site several months ago, Israeli officials tell me. Their last visit was in March.
  • IAEA inspectors took soil samples to try and find evidence of radioactivity. The IAEA has since been analyzing the results and preparing a report.
  • The tests came back positive, according to the Israeli officials, and in the last few weeks it became clear that the remains of radioactive material were found at the site. The officials say that indicates Iran was storing undeclared nuclear equipment or materials.

The backdrop: The news comes ahead of an election re-run in Israel, and amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Netanyahu has been advocating for tough actions from the White House.

  • Yesterday, Netanyahu held his second phone call with President Trump of the past week. The call focused on Iran, and Netanyahu thanked Trump for his intention to announce new sanctions.

What's next: The officials told me Israel and the U.S. hope the IAEA will publish a report about its findings at the site and circulate it to all the member states in its board of governors soon.

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Scoop: Israel scrambles to avoid Trump blowback over Chinese investments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Xinhua/Rao Ainmin via Getty Images

Officials from Israel's Foreign Ministry warned in a classified Cabinet meeting last month that if the Israeli government doesn’t create a strong monitoring mechanism on Chinese investments, it could lead to a harsh confrontation with the Trump administration, 2 ministers who attended the meeting tell me.

Why it matters: The Foreign Ministry warning, which came on July 24, led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to postpone a vote on forming such a mechanism that was apparently too weak. Chinese investments in Israel have become the main source of tension with the Trump administration over the last 2 years.

Go deeperArrowAug 5, 2019

Iran nuclear deal crisis talks held amid U.S.-Tehran tension

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi (2nd L) after talks in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Diplomats from Iran, Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union recommitted Sunday to saving Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal after "constructive" talks in Vienna, a senior Iranian official said, according to AP.

Why it matters: The talks come at a time of heightened tension between the West and Iran, after the U.S. withdrew from the deal and hit Tehran with sanctions. Hours before the talks, the U.S. and Israel said they tested a missile defense system in Alaska. The goal is to intercept long-range missiles from Iran, Barak Ravid writes for Axios.

What they're saying: Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi told reporters after that while not every issue was resolved, those present were "determined to save this deal," per AP.

The big picture: The United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirmed this month that Iran has followed through on its threat to enrich uranium beyond the purity limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal.

What's next: There was a general agreement at Sunday's talks to organize a higher-level meeting of foreign ministers soon, though no date had been set, according to AP.

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Keep ReadingArrowJul 29, 2019

Iran says it seized foreign oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Photo: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian state TV announced Thursday that the country's Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign tanker with 12 crew members onboard in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, accusing the ship of smuggling fuel, per the AP.

The big picture: While the Iranian report did not identify which country the ship belonged to, a U.S. official told the AP that it was likely a small, Panamanian-flagged tanker that operated around the United Arab Emirates and had turned off its tracking equipment on Sunday.

Go deeperArrowJul 18, 2019