US warns Israel: Stop striking Iranian nuclear sites

American officials prefer a diplomatic route to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

The Biden administration has attempted to warn Israel against attacking Iran’s nuclear sites, insisting that such action is “counterproductive.”

Israel has dismissed the warning, saying it will continue working to prevent Tehran from achieving nuclear capability.

What action to take against Iran’s nuclear program is becoming a point of contention between Jerusalem and Washington.

With the Iran threat so close to home, Israel is taking the more direct approach. In the last 20 months Israeli intelligence has assassinated Iran’s chief nuclear scientist and set off major explosions at four key Iranian nuclear sites, hoping to destroy centrifuges and set back Iran’s nuclear timeline.

The Biden administration prefers the diplomatic route. American intelligence officials have even gone so far as to warn their Israeli counterparts against direct action, which they claim helps rather than hinders Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the New York Times has reported.

According to the report, one of the facilities set up to manufacture key centrifuge parts took what was thought to be a crippling blow in late spring, destroying inventory as well as cameras and sensors that allow international inspectors to supervise the work. But by late summer the facility was up and running again with improved machinery.

In an indication of how widespread the re-building has been, an American official is said to have dubbed the upgrade of the facilities Tehran’s Build Back Better plan. U.S. agents consequently reportedly advised their Israeli counterparts that though the action is “tactically satisfying,” it is “ultimately counterproductive” and may have the effect of speeding up Iran’s nuclear program.

However, the failure of diplomats to secure a new nuclear deal earlier this year appears to have emboldened Iran, which has stopped referring to the talks as nuclear negotiations.

During his presidency, Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran deal. Iran also exited the deal shortly thereafter, some three years ago. President Biden had hoped to revive the deal in his first year, using it as a platform to build something “longer and stronger.”

Talks in Vienna in the first half of the year are said to have gone well, with U.S. officials optimistic that a deal could be done when the talks paused in June to allow Iran to hold elections. But Iranian officials showed no urgency to return to the talks following that election, now set to take place at the end of the month.

Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s newly appointed chief nuclear negotiator and a deputy foreign minister has stopped referring to them as nuclear talks at all. In Paris last week, he said “We have no such thing as nuclear negotiations.” Instead he said the talks were “negotiations to remove unlawful and inhuman sanctions.”

On Sunday, Israeli and U.S. officials made their counter positions clear, during a conference in Bahrain.

Israel’s National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata reiterated on Israel’s commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, saying that Iran “will not agree to concede [power] just because we ask them nicely.”

He added: “Those who claim that pressure does not work need to re-examine the previous rounds of pressure put on Iran by the two previous administrations. They are what helped change Iran’s policies. We believe that Iran won’t change its policy unless we force it to.”

His comments were countered by America’s National Security Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, who said that the pressure put on Iran during the Trump administration in the form of sanctions failed and that the current administration “is not delusional” that any more pressure will change Iran’s behavior.

Robert Malley, the State Department’s Iran envoy recently said that Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken “have both said if diplomacy fails, we have other tools — and we will use other tools to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

It is not yet clear what these might be.

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Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.