Archive for July 2021

Iran runs out of water after years of mismanagement

July 30, 2021

Sucks to be you, Iran.

I know of a nearby country that has world class expertise in water management…

25 July 2021

A diver takes the plunge into the deepest swimming pool in the world - reaching 60m below - in the United Arab Emirates, one of five countries to record temperatures above 50C on the same day last month.

Iran is “water bankrupt” after years of mismanagement under the regime, leading to shortages that have triggered deadly protests across the country and discontent in the wider Middle East, an exiled expert has said.

All sources of the nation’s water — rivers, reservoirs and groundwater — are starting to run dry, Kaveh Madani, a scientist and former deputy environment minister now living in the United States, told The Times.

Iran’s energy minister has admitted that the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 82, the supreme leader, has expressed some sympathy with the demonstrators. “We cannot really blame the people,” he said.

At least eight people have died in recent protests, which started in Khuzestan, the southern province which has suffered some of the worst effects, according to Amnesty International.

The water shortage is being replicated across the region, with the marshes of southern Iraq starting to dry out again despite restoration efforts, and eastern Syria suffering a drought.

Farther west, nearly three quarters of Lebanon’s population, including a million refugees, could lose access to safe water in the next four to six weeks after the pumping system started to break down amid a fuel shortage, Unicef said.

The crisis in the Middle East has been brewing for years, with repeated warnings of “water wars”. The problem has been exacerbated by global warming, with average temperatures rising inexorably.

Five countries recorded temperatures above 50C on the same day last month — the UAE, Iran, Oman, Kuwait and Pakistan — and the region’s mega-cities are expected to experience temperatures of up to 55C for days at a time by the middle of the century.

However, water experts say that the underlying problem is mismanagement across the region. In Iran, 600 dams have been built since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the accompanying hydroelectric power plants are now a vital part of the nation’s economy. Experts say that reservoirs in such hot and arid areas lose so much water to evaporation — two billion cubic metres of water a month in Iran — that they have become part of the problem.

“The system is water bankrupt when consumption is more than renewable water availability,” Madani said. He was an academic at Imperial College London before being recruited in 2017 to become deputy head of Iran’s environment ministry. However, his appointment offended hardliners and he was detained by the Revolutionary Guard, accused of spying and eventually forced to leave.

He said Iran had to plan to live with shortages. “Iran cannot fully restore its wetlands, aquifers and rivers in a short period of time,” he said. “So, it has to admit to water bankruptcy and stop denying that many of the damages have become irreversible.”

The crisis was foreseen years ago. In 2005 Reza Ardakanian, 63, now the energy minister, wrote a paper in his capacity as a water management expert in which he warned that Iran’s water extraction was double sustainable levels.

He has pointed out that the present crisis has coincided with one of the driest years in five decades: meteorologists say rainfall in the region is down by as much as 85 per cent.

In Iran, cheap fuel has been used to power pumps to extract vast amounts of groundwater to drive the country’s massively expanded agriculture. The falling levels of groundwater can be detected from space; Nasa says the loss in weight has affected the region’s gravitational field.

Iran is not the only victim. Over-extraction of groundwater has caused droughts in eastern Syria, the country’s breadbasket, while both Syria and Iraq have complained about Turkish dams impeding the flow of the Euphrates and Tigris into Mesopotamia.

The crisis has had diplomatic effects. Egypt has threatened war if Ethiopia continues to fill its Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile unchecked. Israel, by contrast, has offered to double the amount of desalinated water it sells to Jordan as part of efforts by the new government to build ties.

In Lebanon, mismanagement of fuel supplies has contributed to the water crisis. The central bank has subsidised imports but has now run out of dollars, leading to widespread shortages.

Mains electricity is running at a maximum of two hours a day. Operators of the private generators which make up the difference may have to turn them off in the next few days for lack of diesel, raising the extraordinary prospect of a modern country almost entirely without electricity.

Yukie Mokuo, Lebanon’s Unicef representative, said yesterday: “Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function and over four million people will be forced to resort to unsafe and costly sources of water, putting children’s health and hygiene at risk.”

After months of optimism, a return to the Iran nuke deal begins to look unlikely

July 27, 2021

The Islamic Republic’s demands, along with progress in its program, make a return to the JCPOA seem much more difficult than when Biden came into office

By LAZAR BERMAN26 July 2021, 7:48 pm  

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

After months of expectations that a breakthrough in the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program was only a matter of time, the chances of success are now looking increasingly remote.

Earlier this month, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal will not resume until the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi takes office as president on August 5.

Though both sides have significant incentives to return to the deal, Iran’s aggressive negotiating demands and steady progress in its nuclear program have created a gap between the sides that looks increasingly difficult to bridge.

Furthermore, it is not entirely clear now that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei still wants to return to a deal, despite the Biden administration’s clear desire to finalize one.

Back in the box

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, which led the Islamic Republic to step up uranium enrichment to its highest-ever levels in violation of the accord.Then-US president Donald J. Trump signs an executive order on Iran Sanctions at Trump National Golf Club, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The new US administration, in contrast, has been open about its eagerness to restore the nuclear deal.

“Biden had from the start been explicit that he wants to get back into the JCPOA and put the Iran nuclear program in a box so that Biden can deal with a million other problems facing him on day one when he took office, both foreign and domestic policy,” said Jonathan Ruhe, director of foreign policy at The Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

The Biden administration has even shown itself willing to allow Iran access to frozen assets abroad, which Iran has dismissed as empty gestures.

“Clearly the regime is not feeling the economic noose at tightly as they were,” said Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 2, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

The equation for a deal seems straightforward: Iran rolls back its nuclear program to the terms laid out in great detail by the JCPOA, while the US rolls back most Trump-era sanctions.

But Iran — or at least the hardline elements around Ali Khamenei — is demanding more. Tehran wants all the sanctions removed, including those dealing with terrorism and other non-nuclear issues.

Iranian negotiators are also demanding guarantees that the US cannot withdraw from a deal again without UN approval. The demand is an obvious non-starter, as an agreement by a US administration is not binding on any future ones, and it is utterly unthinkable — not to mention unconstitutional — that the US would give countries like Russia and China veto power over its foreign policy at the UN.Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, arrives at the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place in the Austrian capital, on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The blunt — some would also say unsophisticated — approach taken by the Iranian negotiating team is a stark contrast to its skillful maneuvering from 2013 to 2015 that led to a deal.

“Iran did a great job building up leverage in the previous talks leading to the 2015 deal,” said Ruhe.

Tehran is looking to build leverage this time around as well, including through its proxy militias in Iraq, which are believed to be behind a series of recent drone attacks on US bases in the country.

Iranian intelligence agents even plotted to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist in Brooklyn and spirit her off to Iran.Journalist Masih Alinejad speaks onstage at the 7th Annual Women In The World Summit at the Lincoln Center in New York City, April 7, 2016. (Jemal Countess / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Most significantly, the Iranians have been openly escalating its nuclear program beyond the agreement’s limits: in the numbers and types of centrifuges they are running, in the quantities and levels of uranium they are enriching — up to 60 percent — and in their production of uranium metal.

“Even the Biden administration, which wants a deal badly, is having a hard time saying, ‘We’ll give in to the pressure,’” said Ruhe.

Iran began to openly abrogate its responsibilities under the JCPOA in July 2019, and has been accelerating its program and limiting access to its nuclear sites after the Guardian Council passed a law in December 2020 requiring the government to do so if sanctions were not lifted.

Facts on the ground

The Iranian advances might render a return to the original JCPOA impossible, even if Iran were willing to remove its unrealistic demands.

“There is a series of new facts on the ground that Iran has been creating in its nuclear program,” said Goldberg.A satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows construction at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility on December 11, 2020. Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the US over its atomic program (Maxar Technologies via AP)

The JCPOA was crafted before Iran had developed new advanced centrifuges, which enable them to advance far more quickly to a bomb. Moreover, Iran been building out its nuclear facilities, including the underground Fordo nuclear facility and a new underground centrifuge production site at Natanz.

Since the facilities did not exist in 2015, it is not at all clear that a return to the JCPOA would necessitate their dismantlement.  In any event, the Iranian program is going to be far more advanced than the deal ever imagined, and the Iranians will still possess all the knowledge they have gained over the past two years.

To make matters more complicated, Iran’s program is much more opaque now than it was in 2015.

In late February, Iran limited the IAEA’s access to nuclear sites it had been monitoring as part of the 2015 deal.Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (ALEX HALADA/AFP)

A three-month agreement reached on February 21 allowing some inspections to continue was extended by another month in May. Under that deal Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

In June, Iran said it would not hand over the footage.

“We have some idea of how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is. But there’s much more ambiguity now around it than there was before talks started,” Ruhe explained.

That ambiguity makes a new deal difficult as well. Without knowing how advanced Iran’s program is — how significant its enriched uranium stockpiles are and how many centrifuges are running — the Americans cannot be sure of what they are trying to get the Iranians to concede.

What does Khamenei want?

Iran’s negotiating posture raises questions about what Khamenei’s endgame is.

One possibility is that the supreme leader’s strategic direction has not changed, and he ultimately wants to get to back to the agreement. That would mean his negotiators have been playing for time as a negotiating tactic, seeing how far they can push the Biden administration.

“They may be saying, we’ve already pocketed all of these sanctions from the Americans, we still want more,” Goldberg said.

“In my opinion, it’s not only Biden who wants to put the nuclear issues ‘back into the box’ but also Khamenei,” said Raz Zimmt, Iran scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies.People withdraw money from an ATM in Tehran’s grand bazaar on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

A deal will help Iran deal with its economic woes, grant it increased legitimacy on the world stage, and indicate to the West that Raisi is more moderate than he seems right now.

Still, this does not guarantee that the Iranians will ultimately agree to a deal.

“Even though the Iranians have incentives to get the sanctions relief secured, the hardliners in Iran always seem to have a hard time bringing themselves to say yes to anything with the Americans,” said Ruhe.

It is also conceivable, however, that Khamenei has decided not to reenter the agreement.

“They would prefer to bypass sanctions through countries like China, and create a ‘resistance economy,’” said Zimmt.

In this telling, the Iranians understand that there will never be any guarantees that US will not reimpose sanctions in the future, and the Biden administration itself will push for “longer and stronger” sanctions in a follow-on deal.Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with Iran’s army’s air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Khamenei would thus be continuing to negotiate in order to give the Iranian program as much time as possible to advance while the West is focused on the talks, and so Tehran can blame the US when the talks fail.

Domestic blame game

Within Iran, a blame game has broken out between the outgoing Hassan Rouhani administration and the incoming Raisi team.

“The situation now is that the main argument is not between Iran and the world powers, but within Iran,”  explained Zimmt.

Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif’s foreign ministry are trying to write their political wills, said Zimmt.Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) welcomes Cornel Feruta, acting head of the UN atomic watchdog, to the Iranian capital Tehran on September 8, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Zarif wrote a letter to the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on July 11, laying out his view on the JCPOA and on the ongoing negotiations with the US.

The letter defended the deal, and put blame on the Iranian deep state for failing to take advantage of the deal’s potential and for not reciprocating American attempts to find common ground this year.

The hardliners, including the Revolutionary Guards and their allies, blame Rouhani and Zarif for failing to defend Iranian interests and red lines, and for not adhering to the December 2020 law on accelerating Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately, however, the decision lies with Khamenei and Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Lapid and Gantz said to warn US: Iran is close to nuclear threshold

July 26, 2021

Senior diplomat cautions that Tehran could take advantage of lull in talks, until Iran’s new president installed, to advance program

By TOI STAFF25 July 2021, 10:45 pm  

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Israeli authorities have warned US officials in recent days that Iran is closer than ever to attaining nuclear weapons, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other Israeli officials have addressed the issue with their American counterparts recently, issuing an “unusual warning,” according to the Sunday report.

Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran — attended indirectly by the US — have been ongoing for months in Vienna, but have stalled in recent weeks.

“Something has to happen with the negotiations with Iran,” a senior diplomat told Kan. “This ‘limbo’ cannot be a time when Iran is quickly advancing toward becoming a nuclear threshold state.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is working to schedule a meeting in Washington with US President Joe Biden next month, though he is hampered by his wafer-thin majority in the Knesset, requiring his presence for every crucial vote.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Since April, Tehran has been engaged in talks with world powers in Vienna over reviving a 2015 nuclear accord, with Washington taking part indirectly in the negotiations.US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The talks aim to return the US to the deal it withdrew from in 2018 under former president Donald Trump by lifting the sanctions reimposed on Tehran, and to have Tehran return to full compliance with nuclear commitments it has gradually retreated from in retaliation for sanctions.

Then-president Reuven Rivlin and US President Joe Biden in the White House on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Iran has confirmed that the talks will not resume until the ultraconservative new president, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office in August.

Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.

“We would like the world to understand that the Iranian regime is violent and fanatical,” Bennett said last month. “It selected the ‘Hangman of Tehran’ as its president — a man who is willing to starve his own people for years in order to have a military nuclear program. That is a regime that one should not do business with.”

Bennett added that Israel “will continue to consult with our friends, persuade, discuss, and share information and insights out of mutual respect. But at the end of the day, we will be responsible for our own fate, nobody else.”

From left, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Shortly after Bennett took office, then-president Reuven Rivlin met with Biden at the White House in Washington, and made clear Israel’s message on Iran. Rivlin told Biden that “the Iranian nuclear deal, as it currently stands, endangers the State of Israel.”

Lapid met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome a month ago, and stressed that Israel has “some serious reservations” about the Iran nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna. Gantz was hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last month.

Also last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned US officials during a visit to Washington about “the failures of the current nuclear deal, which allow Iran to make significant advances in the coming years in the quantity and quality of centrifuges and in the amount and quality of enriched uranium, and he stressed the lack of oversight in the area of developing a nuclear weapon.”

AFP contributed to this report.

IDF said asking for major budget increase to enable attack against Iran

July 15, 2021

Request for billions of shekels comes as government begins preparing for possibility that talks to revive nuclear deal fall apart; Netanyahu accused of neglecting issue

By TOI STAFFToday, 5:38 am  

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF's second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces is reportedly asking for a major budget increase worth billions of shekels so that it can properly prepare for a potential attack against Iran’s nuclear program.

The request was made during preliminary discussions on the budget, which the new government will seek to pass in the coming months, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

Those negotiations took place as Israel began preparing for the possibility that indirect negotiations between the US and Iran in Vienna, aimed at reviving their multilateral nuclear agreement, fall apart, Kan said.

According to a separate Channel 12 report on Wednesday, the security establishment has accused former prime minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of neglecting to adequately prepare for such a scenario.

Unnamed sources in the security establishment claimed that Netanyahu did not allocate funds for drawing up a military strike, which could be necessary in the months ahead if Israel wants to attack Iran before it reaches nuclear breakout capacity.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Such operations require significant preparation, and defense officials told Channel 12 they’re concerned the delay in planning could lead to a scenario in which Israel is “waving a gun without any bullets in it.”

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018, in New York City, and holds up a picture of what he said was a secret Iranian nuclear warehouse. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

The network quoted a source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who lambasted his predecessor, claiming “his neglect is what allowed Iran to reach the most advanced stage yet in its nuclear program.”

Earlier Wednesday, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily published an op-ed by the opposition leader in which he claimed the new Bennett-led government has been “silent” as “the Iranians are rushing toward the bomb.”

Prospects for failure in Vienna appeared to have been bolstered Wednesday after a diplomatic official told Reuters that Iran had notified mediators they would not be returning to negotiations until after the relatively moderate outgoing President Hassan Rouhani is replaced by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi next month.

Also on Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for Israel to step up its preparations for the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Against the greatest threat — Iran arming itself with a nuclear weapon — we have no choice but to expand our force build-up, to continue to rely on our human capital and to adapt our capabilities and our plans,” Gantz said at a graduation ceremony for Israel’s National Defense College outside Tel Aviv.

In his speech, Gantz called for the government to allow the country’s security services to “maintain military superiority, which ensures our secure existence and advances peace.”

“All of these threats demand that we speed up and increase our preparedness to carry out our mission with an iron wall of action and not to get by with just words,” Gantz said.

Iran accuses Israel of June attack on alleged centrifuge plant

July 6, 2021

In reversal, Iranian government acknowledges damage to Karaj facility, says strike was meant to thwart Vienna talks on reviving nuclear deal

By AP and TOI STAFFToday, 1:48 pm  

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by google user Edward Majnoonian in May 2019. (screen capture: Google Maps)

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by google user Edward Majnoonian in May 2019. (screen capture: Google Maps)

Iran on Tuesday accused Israel of a sabotage attack in June that reportedly targeted a nuclear facility near Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

According to the report, cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei said the alleged attack sought to thwart ongoing talks in Vienna on resurrecting Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. IRNA quoted Rabiei as saying such actions only make Iran stronger.

“The Zionist regime carried out this action to signal it can stop Iran and to say [to world powers] that there is no need to talk with Iran,” said Rabiei. “But whenever sabotage has happened, our strength has increased.”

Iran has offered few details on the attack it said targeted a sprawling nuclear center located in Karaj, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital. On June 23, state TV said it was an attempted attack against a building belonging to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization that left no casualties or damage.

Rabiei on Monday said there was damage to the ceiling and also that “damage to equipment was not remarkable.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“A hole appeared on the ceiling of one of the industrial sheds so the roof was removed for repair,” Rabiei said. He said a satellite image that was distributed at the time was taken after the roof of the shed had been removed for repairs.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei at a news briefing, on July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

His comments came several days after an Israeli report said experts believe the attack caused extensive damage, destroying or disabling all equipment at part of the site, which was allegedly used for producing centrifuges to enrich uranium.

On Saturday, private Israeli intelligence group The Intel Lab Saturday said that the roof had largely been dismantled by Iran as part of rehabilitation activities following the attack. The dismantled roof allowed analysts to peek inside, where dark coloration indicated the presence of a large fire in the building, the smallest of three main structures at the site.ADVERTISEMENT

Iranian authorities did not specify which facility in Karaj had been targeted. There are two sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program known to be in the area, including the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center, founded in 1974. Authorities describe it as a facility that uses nuclear technology to improve “quality of soil, water, agricultural and livestock production.”

The area is located near various industrial sites, including pharmaceutical production facilities where Iran has manufactured its domestic coronavirus vaccine.

The agricultural nuclear research center is not listed as a “safeguard facility” with the UN nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency — though a nearby nuclear waste facility around Karaj is.

Previously, social media in Iran crackled with unconfirmed reports that an unmanned aerial drone was prevented from targeting a COVID-19 vaccine production facility.

The Karaj incident followed several suspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional tensions in recent months, as diplomatic efforts gain traction in Vienna.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran is now rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

According to a New York Times report last month, the factory at Karaj was tasked with replacing damaged centrifuges at Natanz.

Iran also blames Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Former US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America in 2018 from the nuclear deal has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on its uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest ever levels, although still shy of weapons grade. Iran has claimed that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the US lifts its sanctions.

While Iran maintains that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, the country has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.