The US should consider a military option against Iran, says a panel of former elected US officials and diplomats
WASHINGTON: Talks to revive the Iranian nuclear deal, which could result in the lifting of severe sanctions against Tehran in exchange for guarantees to end its uranium enrichment program, resumed in Vienna late last month.
However, delays and hindrances caused by the tough government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and increasingly combative rhetoric from Tel Aviv cast doubts on the success of the renewed dialogue.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary committee on December 7th that he feared the Iranians were playing for time to water down the terms of the deal.
“We have the feeling that the Iranians want to hold out and the longer the talks, the more they are breaking their commitments and getting closer to the capacity to procure a nuclear weapon,” Le Drian was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.
Shortly after talks resumed, Israeli intelligence chief David Barnea promised that Israel would never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, suggesting that the Naftali Bennett government is losing patience with diplomatic efforts and is increasingly willing to use force .
Indeed, on December 7, Israel launched a rare air strike on Syria’s main port of Latakia. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British conflict observer, the attack destroyed an Iranian arms shipment. Israel’s military have not yet commented on the attack.
“Iran will have no nuclear weapons – neither in the coming years,” said Barnea at an award ceremony of the agency in early December. “This is my personal commitment: this is the Mossad’s commitment.”
“Our eyes are open, we are vigilant and, together with our colleagues in the defense establishment, we will do everything possible to keep this threat away from the State of Israel and to thwart it in every way.”
Barnea and Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense ministers, made a rare trip together to Washington last week, where they reportedly urged senior White House officials on the need to seriously consider joint attacks on key Iranian military and nuclear targets.
Iran has accelerated enrichment since the US stepped out of the deal in 2018. Then-President Donald Trump claimed the deal did not go far enough to limit Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran has long insisted that its program be for civil energy purposes only.
US President Joe Biden, who negotiated the original agreement in 2015 as Barack Obama’s Vice-President, wants to rejoin a more stringent nuclear agreement, which the co-signatories of Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Germany and the EU fought hard to save.
However, Israel is not convinced that the revival of the 2015 agreement will limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities and ballistic missile program, let alone its destabilizing influence in the Middle East. Instead, the Israelis want more deterrence on the table.
The window for a non-military solution to the Iranian nuclear program is quickly closing. Israeli intelligence has warned that Iranian nuclear scientists are preparing to enrich uranium to 90 percent purity, which brings Tehran closer than ever to building a bomb.
Unless further enrichment is prevented, Iran could store enough weapons-grade uranium in the coming months to manufacture a usable nuclear weapon without warning.
Israel’s frustration with the attitude of the Biden government has grown steadily over the past few weeks. In a video posted on his YouTube channel, Naftali Bennett urged other world leaders not to allow Iran to get away with what he called “nuclear extortion”.
Israeli officials are concerned that Biden’s negotiating team will withdraw sanctions against Iran, both nuclear and terrorist-related, thereby releasing billions of dollars the regime desperately needs in exchange for minimal guarantees of curtailing its nuclear program .
In addition, Bennett has indicated that Israel stands ready to take matters into its own hands if the US accepts a “less for less” interim deal with Iran that may give the regime enough headroom to target a nuclear outbreak in the near future to reach.
Such a gradual agreement could further strengthen Iran’s regional transnational terror network by providing Shiite representatives in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and beyond with funding previously denied them under severe sanctions.
“Chasing down the terrorist du Jour, who was sent by the Quds Force, is no longer paying off,” Bennet said in a television conference hosted by Reichman University on November 23. “We have to go to the dispatcher.”
The US and Israel have traditionally acted in lockstep on the issue of containing Iran, so recent disagreements and the growing prospect of unilateral Israeli action have raised concerns in Washington.
“Naftali Bennett’s administration went to great lengths when it took office to work with the Biden team to come up with a common front on Iran policy because it really thought this might make the US listen more to them,” said Gabriel Noronha, Executive Director of the Forum for American Leadership and previously State Department Special Advisor to the Iran Action Group to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
âIncreasingly, they have come to realize that they were naive on this point and have begun to raise their grievances in the press as US officials reveal details of Israeli military operations to the press.
âBoth Israeli officials and the US military leadership believe that a credible military threat is required to deter Iranâs nuclear program. However, they contradict Biden’s political appointees in the State Department, the National Security Council and Colin Kahl – the third largest official in the Pentagon – who remain under the illusion that appeasing Iran is the best way forward.
Noronha warned against downplaying Israel’s grievances in an effort to revive the nuclear deal, arguing that serious consideration of the country’s security concerns could actually increase US leverage over Iran.
“The US must change its approach and recognize that Israel is its best partner against the Iranian threat because its military, diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime gives the US more leverage in negotiations,” he told Arab News.
âMany Israeli officials are incredibly frustrated with Washingtonâs antagonism towards Israeli politics, which is only trying to ensure that their basic security needs are met. Israel can help the US – and its negotiations – by continuing to take covert action against Iranian oil exports and its nuclear program.
“The US would be wise to share more intelligence with Israel in order to advance and support its operations and to expedite its military cooperation in a possible air strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities.”
One area in which the Biden administration differs greatly from Bennett’s perspective is its willingness to accept an “emerging nation” when it comes to Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Indeed, the Biden White House appears ready to tolerate a status quo in which Iran has the components for a “nuclear outbreak”, including the necessary knowledge, military hardware and enrichment capabilities, without actually building a nuclear weapon.
The Israelis, on the other hand, consider it just as serious as Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon in such a newly industrialized state.
Ellie Cohanim, who was the Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the State Department under the Trump administration, is concerned that the Biden administration is not listening to Israeli concerns.
“Behind the scenes, the differences between the Biden government and its Iranian negotiating team with the Israeli government seem to be growing,” Cohanim told Arab News, adding that the Biden team had failed to implement the “zero tolerance” policy mimicking the Trump administration.
“Israeli Prime Minister Bennett has stated on record that the US and world powers need to become aware of the fact that the Iranian regime is looking for nuclear weapons and it appears that Israelis have a sense of frustration with the current US administration” she told Arab News.
“President Donald Trump has made it clear that he would never allow Iran to develop a nuclear bomb under his supervision, and it is time that US President Joe Biden put the same on record.
âThe Israelis have consistently demonstrated their world-class intelligence skills, particularly with regard to Iran. The Biden government would be well advised to rely on Israeli intelligence and take all necessary military measures to end Iran’s nuclear weapons activities should Israel ever discover that the Iranians have crossed the border when there are no other alternatives to kinetic ones Activities there. “
Where that line is drawn remains a point of contention between Biden and Bennett’s national security teams. Failure to find a common position could lead to unilateral Israeli crackdown on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. And yet the crack seems wider than ever.
“Since Prime Minister Bennett’s visit to Washington to meet President Biden, senior Israeli officials have spoken publicly about their displeasure with Biden’s plan to press ahead with diplomacy with the Islamic Republic at full steam,” said Bryan Leib, Executive Director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, said Arab News.
âJust a week ago, Biden’s US special envoy to Iran met with several senior Israeli officials in Israel, but it was reported that Prime Minister Bennett had chosen not to meet with him.
“For the past 40 years, the Iranian regime has censored, repressed and murdered its own citizens while its leaders publicly demand the destruction of the US and the only Jewish nation in the world, Israel,” said Leib.
“Diplomacy with the Islamic Republic will fail again because they are not rational actors who are genuinely looking for peace and a better future for their people.”
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