Exclusive: Tehran will challenge the US by restarting nuclear fuel enrichment and ramp up its military confrontation with Israel. The Iranian leadership reached these decisions on Thursday, May 10, after Israeli warplanes smashed its military assets in the Damascus area that morning, DEBKAfile’s exclusive intelligence sources report. These steps follow the strategic plans Tehran had drawn up for the eventuality of the US quitting the 2015 nuclear pact. In the coming weeks, therefore, Tehran will choose its moment to abandon the nuclear deal and restart high level uranium enrichment, in the face of President Donald Trump’s warning that this action would meet with “very severe consequences.” In light of Iran’s strategy, the US, after quitting the nuclear deal, Thursday asked the nuclear watchdog IAEA to continue inspections of the Iranian nuclear program. Washington intends to keep independent monitors accessing Iran’s nuclear activities for as long as they are permitted.
DEBKAfile’s sources outline the motives behind Iran’s next steps:
- Tehran does not believe that Israel’s massive assault on Iranian bases, missiles stores, logistic centers and other military sites in Damascus and points south on Thursday night – described as its largest air operation since the Yom Kippur War – was triggered by the Qods rocket barrage on the Golan a few hours earlier. Iranian strategists are convinced that it was planned in advance by the Trump administration and Netanyahu government as Act One of a major joint campaign.
- Tehran discounts European ability to preserve the nuclear pact without the United States. In a phone conversation Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani that it was imperative to halt his country’s ballistic missile development and production and rein in its military involvement in Syria and Yemen. Rouhani countered by demanding guarantees that no European Union member would join President Trump’s new sanctions, either directly or indirectly. And indeed, as they spoke, new US sanctions were clamped down on six people and three companies with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the penalties targeted those who had funneled millions of dollars to the group, funding its “malign activity”. Iran’s central bank helped the IRGC to access US dollars via “a large-scale currency exchange network,” he said. The Treasury Department said all six individuals were Iranian. This order went out from Washington a few hours after Israel accused Al Qods of launching the 20-missile barrage on the Golan from Syria.
Iran’s leaders have no illusions about the EU being able to deliver any such guarantees and are playing along with European leaders in a show of diplomacy to buy time for getting organized to confront the US and Israeli campaigns.
- Tehran expects the coming rounds of US sanctions to be exceptionally harsh and comprehensive. If the pressure forces Iran to agree to negotiate on a new nuclear deal as demanded by Washington, its leaders would rather not start out with the weak hand they hold at present. They believe they can only improve the odds in their favor by military escalation. When Rouhani said Thursday that Iran does not want “new tensions” in the region, he was playing for time for Iran to get its next moves – resumption of enrichment and armed confrontation – in place.