The Vienna talks stalled over the summer, in part due to the election in Iran of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, leaving the Israeli military with little confidence in the process.
By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News
Israel’s military is working hard to develop plans to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, the IDF Chief of Staff revealed on Wednesday, as Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made his way to Washington to discuss the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities with U.S. President Joe Biden.
His comments came as Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Iran was just two months away from developing the materials required for nuclear capability, with military experts warning that it would take just a few more months to assemble them into a nuclear threat.
Since taking the reins in January, the Biden administration has been seeking a joint return by the U.S. and Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with indirect negotiations taking place via Vienna. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled out of the deal in 2018, claiming that it had done nothing to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. Iran also exited shortly thereafter.
However the Vienna talks stalled over the summer, in part due to the election in Iran of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, leaving the Israeli military with little confidence in the process.
“The progress in the Iranian nuclear program has led the IDF to speed up its operational plans, and the defense budget that was recently approved is meant to address this,” IDF Chief of staff Aviv Kohavi said. Last month’s NIS 58 billion ($18 billion) overall defense budget for the coming year included NIS 2billion ($620 million) line for operations against Iran.
Addressing foreign diplomats at a briefing on Wednesday, Gantz issued a similar warning, saying: “The State of Israel has the means to act and will not hesitate to do so. I do not rule out the possibility that Israel will have to take action in the future in order to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
He added: “Iran is only two months away from acquiring the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon. We do not know if the Iranian regime will be willing to sign an agreement and come back to the negotiation table and the international community must build a viable ‘Plan B’ in order to stop Iran in its tracks towards a nuclear weapon.”
The allocated funds are intended to purchase equipment and munitions for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which are spread across the country and are shielded by an advanced air defense system, according to Israeli media.
The last time Israel prepared for a direct attack on Iranian sites was in 2011/12, when the government allocated some NIS 11 billion ($3.4 billion) for such a purpose.
More recently, Israel’s counter measures have focused more on Iran’s proxies in Syria and Lebanon. Some 31 strikes have been carried out against Hezbollah targets in Syria over the last two and a half years, of which roughly half were against weapons depots and the reminder against Hezbollah’s positions in the Golan Heights.
“The IDF is operating constantly and in a variety of ways in order to minimize Iran’s influence in the Middle East,” Kohavi said.
Bennett will meet with Biden on Thursday, where he is expected to advise against re-entering the JCPOA, having previously spoken out against a new accord between Tehran and the international community. He has also indicated that any agreement with Tehran must put the brakes on Iranian belligerence in the region.
Explaining Israel’s reasoning to the gathering of some 60 foreign ambassadors and envoys, Gantz said: “Iran has the intention to destroy Israel and is working on developing the means to do so,” he said. “Israel has the means to act and will not hesitate to do so. I do not rule out the possibility that Israel will have to take action in the future in order to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
The defense minister added: “All of Iran’s acts of aggression thus far have been conducted without nuclear capabilities. Imagine what will happen if Iran achieves nuclear capabilities?