January 15, 2021
Israel’s army is discussing three military options for a possible clash with Iran, Israeli sources revealed on Thursday.
According to a front-page article in Israel’s largest-circulation daily, the military is crafting three options to “undermine Iran’s nuclear efforts or, if need be, counter Iranian aggression, which will soon be presented to the government.”
The effort entails adding billions of shekels to the defense budget, it stressed.
“Iran has made progress in recent years in terms of research and development, both on enriched material and offensive capabilities, and has a regime that really wants to have nuclear weapons,” the paper, Israel Hayom, quoted Defense Minister Benny Gantz as saying.
“It is clear that Israel needs to have a military option on the table. It requires resources and investment, and I am working to make that happen.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is bracing for differences with the incoming US administration on Iranian nuclear policy, especially after President-elect Joe Biden promised to rejoin the 2015 deal if Tehran – which denies seeking the bomb – returns to strict compliance.
US President Donald Trump delighted Netanyahu by quitting the nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing sanctions on it that had been lifted in return for limits on activities that could, potentially, produce nuclear weapons in the future.
Tehran responded by breaching many of those restrictions.
Iran has recently made several moves that could allow it to significantly cut the time it would take it to develop a nuclear weapon, should Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decide to make a dash for it.
Israeli Military Intelligence believes that once Tehran gives the order, it could form a fully-functioning military nuclear site within one year.
Iran’s recent moves, including amassing low-grade enriched uranium, installing advanced centrifuges, expanding several nuclear facilities, pursuing enriching uranium to a level of 20 percent and, most recently, announcing plans to produce uranium metal for reactor fuel, means Tehran’s array of nuclear assets is growing, the newspaper noted.
Netanyahu plans to name a special point-person to head these efforts. He is likely to tap outgoing Mossad intelligence agency Director Yossi Cohen, who is slated to retire in June, said a source close to the PM.
Israel wants a future agreement with Iran to include a longer period of oversight of its nuclear programs, as well as restrictions on nuclear research and development, missile development and production, and curbing its terrorist activities in the region, the source explained.
During the previous Democratic administration of Barack Obama, which championed diplomacy with Iran, Israel occasionally threatened preventive airstrikes against Iranian nuclear sites.
Some US officials at the time doubted that Israel – whose advanced military includes a reputed nuclear arsenal – could effectively hit Iranian targets that are distant, dispersed and well-defended.
Israeli officials have voiced hope that Biden will maintain Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, involving tough sanctions, until the Iranian nuclear program is dismantled.
But one of them, Finance Minister Israel Katz, acknowledged on Army Radio that there are disputes (with Biden) regarding the perspective on Iran, and of course that will prove challenging, according to Reuters.
Katz sounded encouraged by Biden’s intent to include Iran’s ballistic missile program in any re-negotiation of the nuclear deal.
Biden’s pick for US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, signaled openness, during a Jan. 3 CNN interview, to consulting “regional players” – a possible allusion to Israel.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Ynet TV the Netanyahu government was not yet in formal dialogue with the incoming administration.
However, asked if Israel was trying through informal channels to sway Biden on Iran, Cohen said, “Yes. There are efforts.”