Israel’s military chief has warned that the country is working on possible options for a strike on Iran if required as it urges President Joe Biden against rejoining the multinational 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi issued the warning in an address to the Institute for National Security Studies on Tuesday, as Israel and Iran both seek to put pressure on the new U.S. president ahead of an expected announcement on his approach for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.N.’s atomic watchdog agency said in September last year was suspected to have stockpiled low-enriched uranium 10 times over the limit set in 2015 deal.
“I instructed the army to prepare a number of operational plans in addition to the existing ones,” Kohavi said in a statement. “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 on the table.”
He added that given the nuclear threat now posed by the Iranian regime, Israel’s military needs to stand prepared to strike as needed.
The controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions. Israel strongly opposed the deal, saying it did not include sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, which was believed to be the case by former President Donald Trump and some of his advisors. It welcomed the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement in 2018.
Biden, in contrast to Trump, has expressed a willingness to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal if certain conditions are met. In September 2020, Biden wrote in an essay for CNN that “if Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”
Newly appointed Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a longtime aide to Biden, said Tuesday that the president believes if “Iran comes back into compliance, we would too.”
“But, we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement. And also, as you and the chairman have rightly pointed out, to capture these other issues, particularly with regard to missiles and Iran’s destabilizing activities. That would be the objective,” Blinked added.
Blinken has noted, however, that the United States is “a long way” from deciding whether to rejoin the nuclear deal, and that he would have to consult with Israel and the Gulf regarding how to move forward.
Rejoining the nuclear deal, even with some changes, “is bad operationally and it is bad strategically,” Kohavi added on Tuesday.
Allowing Iran to proceed with a nuclear program would be “an unacceptable threat and will lead to nuclear proliferation across the region,” he said. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, a claim disputed by its rivals in the Middle East.
Tensions around Iran have been more apparent recently as the regime continues to struggle economically under U.S. sanctions.
During Trump’s final days in office, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards intercepted and captured a South Korean-flagged oil tanker, and detained its 20-member crew, alleging that the vessel has been polluting the Gulf waters. Tehran also denied that the seizure has anything to do with the fact that South Korea, in accordance with sanctions reimposed by the United States in 2018 after it withdrew from the Obama-era nuclear agreement, refuses to release $7 billion from Iran’s oil exports in two Korean banks.
GQ Pan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.