What happened: Defence Minister Benny Gantz spoke at a conference at the Reichman University yesterday and revealed new information on Iran’s nuclear programme.
- According to Gantz, “Iran is making an effort to complete the production and installation of 1,000 advanced IR6 centrifuges at its nuclear facilities, including a new facility being built at an underground site near Natanz”.
- Gantz said: “Iran continues to accumulate irreversible knowledge and experience in the development, research, production and operation of advanced centrifuges. It stands just a few weeks away from accumulating fissile material that will be sufficient for a first bomb, holds 60 kg of enriched material at 60 per cent, produces metallic uranium at the enrichment level of 20 per cent and prevents the IAEA from accessing its facilities.”
- Relating to Iran’s regional aggression, Gantz added: “Iranian proxies are attacking oil reserves, airports and civilian facilities. Iran itself is conducting attacks via its Quds Force. It is developing operational systems throughout the region, equipped with accurate capabilities including cruise missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and UAVs, capable of reaching thousands of kilometres. The quantity of strategic weapons in the hands of Iranian proxies has increased significantly in the last year: in Iraq there are hundreds of weapons, in Yemen the number has also increased and the Houthis hold dozens of weapons.”
- Yesterday the Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), General Michael Kurilla, arrived in Israel for his first official visit in his new position.
- Gen. Kurilla will be hosted by IDF Chief of the General Staff Aviv Kohavi. According to the IDF his visit will focus on “ongoing operational cooperation between the State of Israel and the US, maintaining regional stability and dealing with joint operational threats and challenges in the region”.
Context: With nuclear negotiations in Vienna currently stalled, Israel is concerned that Iran is making progress towards reaching the nuclear threshold.
- Adding to this, while the world is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Iran is also accelerating its regional activities.
- Yesterday Gantz revealed more details of an Iranian attempt to smuggle weapons to Palestinian groups earlier this year. In February the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched a pair of drones from Iranian territory, towards Israel. Gantz said “the UAVs had parachutes attached, we estimate that the purpose of the launch was to deliver weapons to terrorist organisations”. He further noted that “the mission failed, and the UAVs were intercepted in Iraq”.
- In addition, “In Syria, too, attempts continue to be made to transfer and produce accurate weapons. Israel will continue to thwart these efforts and face any threat to its citizens and the region.”
- Gen. Kurilla is also in Israel to oversee a large scale IDF exercise, named Chariots of Fire, currently underway. This is a month long training exercise that simulates war on multiple fronts.
- In the context of the exercise, Israeli media has reported that the US Air Force will participate alongside the IAF simulating an attack on Iran. It will include US refuelling planes that Israel is keen to acquire.
- The logic being that only a credible military threat will lead Iran to compromise and return to the nuclear deal.
Looking ahead: Defence Minister Benny Gantz travelled to Washington this morning where he is due to meet with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
- Among the messages Gantz will deliver, “the cost of stopping Iran today is lower than it is going to be in another year”.
- According to Israeli estimates, Iran is just a few weeks away from accumulating enough fissile material for a single nuclear bomb.
- The joint US Air Force and IAF simulation exercise is expected to be held at the end of the month, between May 29 and June 2.
- The current assessment is that the IDF will need at least another year to complete its preparations for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.