As the US and Iran get closer to signing a nuclear agreement once again, Israel is expressing its concerns about the ability of a potential deal to stop Iran’s nuclear plans.
“Israel doesn’t oppose any agreement. It opposes this agreement because it is a bad deal… from our perspective, it doesn’t comply with the standards set by President (Joe) Biden: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said during a briefing to international reporters on Wednesday. Lapid also made it clear that Israel is not part of the agreement and not obligated by it, and will act to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state.
Later on Wednesday, a Saudi-run news outlet reported that Israeli F-35 fighter aircraft have infiltrated Iran’s airspace in recent months, during a large scale exercise conducted with the US above the Red Sea.
Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said in a speech on July 17 that the Israeli military is preparing for a military campaign against Iran for two reasons “First, if there is no agreement and the Iranian nuclear program continues to expand, and the second, in case there is an agreement identical or similar to the previous deal, which means a bad deal, giving Iran the conditions to become a nuclear state shortly after its expiration date.”
Iran has the knowledge and technology needed, and it can restore anything a military campaign can destroy. So, the question is not how can we stop Iran from becoming nuclear, but what is the best way to postpone that moment.
But, despite Israel’s official stance against the deal, it is unclear there are any other viable options.
“Israel, and no other country, has a real option to destroy the Iranian nuclear plan and prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Even a military operation, no matter how well it is done or who it is carried out by, can only delay Iran by two to three years,” according to Dr. Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iranian affairs at the Institute for National Security Studies and the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University.
In an interview with The Media Line, Zimmt explained why a nuclear deal with Iran may be Israel’s best choice.
“Iran has the knowledge and technology needed, and it can restore anything a military campaign can destroy. So, the question is not how can we stop Iran from becoming nuclear, but what is the best way to postpone that moment,” he said.
Israeli security agencies have disputed for over a decade whether a diplomatic agreement can prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. While Lapid opposes the current agreement, the Israeli government is in a dialogue with the Biden Administration over the exact terms of the potential deal.
“Most estimations are that this agreement can push Iran away from the military nuclear threshold by a few months, as opposed to the current situation, in which they are only a few weeks away from it. Is it worth going back to the deal, and gaining only six months? I believe right now there is no better option. We must choose between bad and worse,” said Zimmt, who is considered one of the top experts in Israel on the topic of Iran which he has been researching for almost three decades.
An agreement between Iran and the US would mean lifting most US sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which were reimposed after then-President Donald Trump announced in 2018 that the US would withdraw from the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Since then, Iran has accelerated its nuclear development, and is currently a few weeks away from having military level enriched uranium. Part of the agreement would include Iran dispensing large amounts of its enriched uranium and allowing International Atomic Energy Agency supervisors to oversee its nuclear plants.
“I don’t think Iran estimates Israel is able to attack it immediately. Even (Defense Minister Benny) Gantz said more preparations are needed, and some reports say it is because it is lacking special ammunition necessary to bomb underground facilities, like the one in Fordo,” Zimmt said. “Iran realizes that even if Israel has serious intention to attack it – it lacks the ability. And I think they also realize Israel is unlikely to attack without an American approval, which is a very unlikely scenario if the US returns to the deal.”
The Israel Defense Forces and the Ministry of Defense declined to comment on the topic. US Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East, did not respond to any inquiries from The Media Line.