Israel is preparing for the possibility of an armed conflict with regional arch-rival Iran and its proxies if the JCPOA talks do not stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear program.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel will carry out operations that “haven’t been seen in the past, with means that weren’t in our hands in the past, that will harm the heart of terror and its abilities,” if war breaks out in the region.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi said Tuesday to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the army “is accelerating operational planning and preparedness to deal with Iran and the military nuclear threat. Thankfully, the budget that was approved [last week] makes it possible to contend with a variety of threats.”
The Israeli Air Force went public with its intent to resume attack plans against Iranian nuclear facilities. It has set aside funds to prepare for this contingency.
The issue is a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that Iran signed in 2015 with the Obama administration. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time, protested the JCPOA as not preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapon capability.
Israel later conducted an intelligence operation that stole Iranian nuclear secrets. These clearly showed that Iran never wavered from trying to produce nuclear weapons.
After President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA. the agreement once again became an issue for the Israelis as Iran was clearly violating its terms.
Does a Return to the JCPOA Make Sense?
President Biden made it clear during his presidential campaign that he would prioritize a U.S. return to the JCPOA. However, the Iranians have been dragging their feet over resuming talks.
A month ago, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said discussions between their two countries had begun on a “Plan B” if JCPOA talks fail. But now, it is clear that the Biden administration doesn’t have a “Plan B,” if the talks, which are on the verge of collapse because of Tehran, continue stalling.
In a recent Insider piece Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute said, “If the Vienna talks were to fail, prospects of a military escalation between Iran and Israel increase.”
Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran could not enrich uranium further than 3.67 percent. That would allow it to produce nuclear power but was far below the 90 percent enrichment needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Since then, Iran has increased nuclear enrichment to 60 percent and has restricted access to international nuclear inspectors.
Many critics of reviving the JCPOA, even including some members of the Biden administration, point out that the nuclear developments that Iran has made would make the entire JCPOA pointless. Yet the administration still insists on reviving talks. President Biden, meanwhile, blames Iran’s actions, including dozens of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria on “poor decisions” by President Trump.
Israel Faces ‘Many Security Challenges’
In Israel, the IDF is already preparing to counter increased tension along its border. Iranian proxy militias are trying to establish bases close to Israel’s border. Iran wants to arm the militias with advanced rockets.
The Israeli government has made it clear that Iran’s presence near its northern border is a red line. Israel targets arms shipments bound for the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran-linked proxies in Syria.
Lt. Gen. Kohavi added in his remarks that Israel faces “many security challenges” on numerous fronts.
“In the past year, we’ve continued to act against our enemies in missions and secret operations throughout the entire Middle East. The IDF will continue to act to remove threats and will respond forcefully to any violation of [Israeli] sovereignty, in Gaza or in the north,” he said.
Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes on Iran-linked military targets in neighboring Syria during the Syrian civil war, but rarely acknowledges them.