Only one option remains to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power, experts tell JNS — attack, within a year.
By David Isaac, JNS
While Israel has urged the United States not to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, recent signs point to a revived agreement. This has shifted discussion in Israel from how to prevent a deal to what strategy to adopt the day after one is signed.
Israel has made it clear that it does not consider itself bound by any agreement that might be reached. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid told foreign correspondents on Aug. 24, “If a deal is signed, it does not obligate Israel. We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”
Many analysts believe this action must be military.
“If we cannot stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon by other means, we shall have to do it militarily,” Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS.
Kuperwasser is less worried about Israel’s technical capability to conduct a strike than its political ability, noting Israel will have to make the decision in the face of American opposition. “We’re caught in a very difficult tension between our commitment to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear … state and our commitment to our relations with the United States,” he said.
He outlined a four-part action plan for Israel in a post-deal reality:
- Israel must continue its covert operations to undermine Iran’s capabilities;
- Israel must continue warning the United States that it reserves the right to take action against Iran;
- Israel must build up its military capabilities for the time when it’s required to take action
- It must work with the Gulf States to make sure they “don’t cross the line,” meaning drift into Iran’s orbit.
Expounding on the last point, Kuperwasser said, “Israel can always be counted on as a strong opponent of Iran. It’s always going to be seen as the one country that is courageous enough to hit Iran when necessary. The problem is the way these countries are going to look at the United States. If the United States allows Iran to become the hegemonic power in the Middle East, that may affect the attitudes of some of these pragmatic states towards Iran. They will say to themselves, ‘Why should we be living in tension and confrontation with a country on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? We need to have better relations with it.’ ”
Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), goes still further, saying that the Abraham Accords will disintegrate if Israel doesn’t act against Iran.
“The Abraham Accords are basically a deal between Israel and the Gulf States. They will give us peace—a warm peace. They will accept us as partners [under U.S.]Central Command. And we will take care of Iran. They didn’t come for technology or for money. They can buy everything they want,” he said.
Inbar said it appears Israel’s only option is to attack, and the window it has to do so is “within a year.”
Even though he said regime change has not been seriously tried, he doesn’t see that as a likely option given the ruthlessness of the ayatollahs in suppressing dissent. “Also, I don’t think covert operations will do the trick,” he added.
Inbar’s recommendations resemble those of Kuperwasser. He said Israel can’t attack immediately, not until Iran violates the deal. Israel should use the time to “refresh” its attack plans and practice executing them, while continuing its covert actions inside Iran. It should also foster its relations with the Gulf States.
He’s confident that Israel can inflict serious damage to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and weather the criticism from the United States and the world in the aftermath.
“Words don’t hurt. We can live with them,” he said.
“Don’t forget that a part of the American political system favors an attack, particularly the Republican Party, but also within the Democratic Party. The 2015 deal went against the majority of public opinion and against the majority of Congress. And this has not drastically changed,” he noted.
The dilemma for Israel is whether to strike soon and do some damage or wait to develop better plans, Inbar said. In the meantime, Iran will strengthen the defenses around its nuclear sites.
Kuperwasser agreed: “The Iranians are going to use this time to increase considerably their air defense systems; their ability to strike back. Every day that passes makes it more difficult and more costly.”
“But we, too, are improving our capabilities,” he added.