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IDF chief warns of dangers of returning to nuclear deal with Iran

What happened: Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned yesterday returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement “or to a similar agreement with some changes” would be a strategic mistake.

  • Kochavi was speaking at the annual conference of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a leading Israeli think tank. He added: “Operationally, an agreement like this would ultimately allow Iran to enrich large quantities of uranium and to develop centrifuges and weapons capabilities, including going for a bomb.”
  • “The strategic aspect is serious because it presents Israel with an intolerable threat and will lead to escalation in the Middle East. Even more importantly, Iran today is not the Iran of 2015. Iran faces heavy pressure; skyrocketing inflation; the population is restive. These pressures stem partly from American sanctions and must be kept up in any way possible. There must be concerted action to ensure that at the end of the day Iran will not have the ability — not only to obtain a nuclear bomb, but not even to drive for a nuclear bomb.”
  • “If the 2015 nuclear deal had materialised, Iran would have gotten itself a bomb,” Kochavi asserted.
  • In Iran, the cabinet spokesman, Ali Rabiei, said yesterday “the US will not have all the time in the world. We are waiting for the official announcement of their stance as well as the lifting of sanctions.”
  • The US Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as the new Secretary of State. During the confirmation hearing last week, Blinken said it was “vitally important” to consult with Israel and Gulf states regarding any potential re-entry into the JCPOA deal.

Context: Kochavi’s warning is a direct message to the Biden administration as it formulates its approach to re-engage with Iran over the nuclear issue.

  • In the past some IDF generals have seen some benefits of the deal that contains Iran and pushes off the need for any imminent military response. However, this is no longer the case.
  • Kochavi’s tone yesterday was more strident. Any new agreement with Iran should eliminate “sunset” provisions that end limits on Iran’s nuclear activities, address Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its military involvement and support for armed proxies across the region.
  • He also gave an insight into how Israel is perceived by her enemies. Highlighting Israel’s high intelligence capability, Israel’s enemies feel they have been infiltrated. He noted that Israel operates across the entire region and can protect its interests anywhere.
  • He presented the threat of the Iranian axis that spreads across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. To counter this threat, he explained, there is a growing alliance from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Gulf states.
  • He also accused Hezbollah of ignoring international law by deploying forces and weapons inside built up urban areas among the civilian population. “The population lives inside the targets, inside the battlefield. Every fifth house in Lebanon has a rocket storeroom or an anti-tank missile storeroom or a war room.”
  • Kochavi added: “We don’t intend to leave behind the values of the IDF and the values of international law, but these values were not meant only to prevent injury to non-combatants, they were meant to allow us to protect our citizens.”

Looking ahead: Responding to Iran’s nuclear programme, Kochavi declared: “I instructed the army to prepare a number of operational plans in addition to the existing ones.  We are taking care of these plans and will develop them during the coming year. Those who decide on carrying them out, of course, are the political leaders. But these plans have to be ready to go and well-rehearsed.”

  • Iran has reiterated that it would take a step further away from the nuclear deal by imposing a “restriction” on UN inspectors’ access to their nuclear sites at the end of February if US sanctions are not lifted.

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