In Iran, IAEA Head Says Attacks on Nuclear Facilities Are Outlawed; ‘Which Law?’ Asks Netanyahu


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (Photo by Ronen Zvulun / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)

( – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday chided the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog after he said – while visiting Iran – that military attacks on nuclear facilities anywhere are “outlawed.”

“Nothing will deter us from defending our country and preventing our enemies from eliminating the state of the Jews,” Netanyahu said during a weekly cabinet meeting.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi made the comment while visiting Tehran to follow up concerns about the IAEA’s discovery at an Iranian nuclear installation of small traces of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade level.

“Any military attack on a nuclear facility is out – is outlawed, is out of the normative structures that we all abide by,” Grossi told reporters in Tehran on Saturday, speaking alongside Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) head Mohammad Eslami.

He said that the IAEA hoped it would be able to protect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, “which is under threat now” as a result of Russia’s war.

“But this is valid and applicable to every nuclear facility in the world,” Grossi added.

Israeli leaders have long warned that they will take whatever steps necessary to prevent the Iranian regime, Israel’s foremost foe, from developing nuclear weapons under the cover of an ostensibly civilian nuclear energy program.

Explosions at the regime’s key uranium-enrichment facility in 2021 were widely attributed to an Israeli attack.

Although Israel never claimed responsibility for that incident, or for others targeting the nuclear program – including cyber attacks and the assassination of nuclear scientists – Netanyahu’s comments on Sunday were strikingly direct.

“Rafael Grossi is a worthy gentleman who said something unworthy,” he said. “Against which law? Is Iran, which openly calls for our destruction, permitted to defend the destructive weapons that would slaughter us? Are we permitted to defend ourselves?”

“It is clear that we are and it is clear that we will do so. And we will do so in discussions or actions around the clock, which I will not detail here, of course,” Netanyahu said. “I say this because nothing will deter us from defending our country and preventing our enemies from eliminating the state of the Jews.”

He concluded his remarks by noting that the Jewish holiday of Purim, beginning at sunset on Monday, marks the failure of an enemy to destroy the Jews in Persia – today’s Iran – 2,500 years ago.

“They did not succeed then, neither will they succeed today.”

Purim commemorates the Jews’ salvation from a genocidal plot concocted by Haman, a royal court vizier in 4th century BC Persia, as recounted in the biblical book of Esther.

In a recent report to member-states, the IAEA confirmed that when it tested traces of uranium at Iran’s Fordo underground nuclear site in January, it found them to have been enriched to 83.7 percent purity. Weapons-grade uranium is around 90 percent.

In its declarations to the U.N. agency, Iran maintains it is enriching uranium at Fordo to a maximum of 60 percent. IAEA inspectors tested the samples after observing unusual configurations in two cascades of centrifuges at the facility. Iran claimed the 83.7 percent enrichment was “unintended.”

Enriching uranium to 60 percent is already way beyond the 3.67 percent limit Iran agreed observe for a 15-year period under the 2015 nuclear deal, a level that would be sufficient to fuel its nuclear energy reactor.

Iran stopped complying with its commitments after the Trump administration withdrew from the accord in 2018.

‘Ongoing intransigence’

After his weekend talks in Iran, Grossi issued a carefully-worded joint statement with Eslami, the Iranian nuclear agency chief, in which Iran once again pledged to cooperate.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian  in Tehran on Saturday.  (Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP via Getty Images)

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran on Saturday. (Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP via Getty Images)

They agreed that interactions between the IAEA and Iran would be carried out “in a spirit of collaboration”; that Iran would “continue its cooperation and provide further information and access to address the outstanding safeguards issues” at three facilities; and that Iran, “on a voluntary basis” would allow more IAEA inspections, with the details to be worked out later.

Grossi’s visit came on the eve of an IAEA’s board of governors meeting in Vienna this week, the first of five meetings this year of the 35-nation body. It’s not the first time in recent years the regime has offered vague commitments of cooperation ahead of IAEA board meetings.

Some U.S. lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to push at the meeting for a formal finding that Iran is not complying with its nuclear “safeguards” agreement, and refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

“Iran has tested our patience for far too long and must be held to account for its ongoing intransigence in order to maintain the integrity of the IAEA as an international organization,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Russia’s representative to the IAEA has already signaled that his government would likely oppose any such move.

“I hope that the forthcoming session of the IAEA board of governors will refrain from unjustifiable politicization of the Iranian file and will demonstrate a responsible approach to this issue,” said Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov. “The attempts to arrange heated debates on this topic, including 84% enrichment, failed.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in response to a question about Iran and the IAEA board meeting that the administration was in close contact with its allies and partners in Europe and “the broader region.”

“We are going to continue to consult very closely with our partners to do what we believe will be most effective to address this challenge together with our allies and partners in Europe,” he said.

See also:

Iran Dismisses Sample of Near Weapons-Grade Uranium: ‘Cannot Be Even Seen With a Microscope’ (Mar. 2, 2023)

During Recess in Iran Nuclear Deal Talks, Mystery Blackout Hits Key Uranium-Enrichment Plant (Apr. 12, 2021)

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