IDF Chief: We Cannot Accept a Return to Iran Deal

by Hugh Fitzgerald

In 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was moving heaven and earth to try to stop the nuclear deal, even arranging to address Congress without President Obama’s knowledge or approval. When the deal went through, not all Israeli military men were as unhappy as Netanyahu. In fact, the then-IDF chief, Gadi Eisenkot, famously said that the deal presented “many opportunities.” The present IDF chief, Major General Aviv Kochavi, thinks quite otherwise. A report on his recent speech to Israel’s INSS (Institute for National Security Studies) about an American return to the Iran nuclear deal, is here: “Kochavi signals to Biden: Netanyahu, top security agree on Iran this time,” by Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, January 27, 2021:

On January 20, 2016, just six months after agreement was reached on limiting Iran’s nuclear program during the Obama administration, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had publicly attacked and worked so hard to prevent, then-chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot addressed the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) annual conference.

“Without a doubt the nuclear deal between Iran and the West is a historic turning point,” he said. “It is a big change in terms of the direction that Iran was headed, and in the way that we saw things.”

While the deal had many risks, Eisenkot said, it also presented “many opportunities.”

“In the 15-year time frame that we are looking toward, we are still keeping Iran high on our priority lists because we need to monitor its nuclear program. But this is a real change. This is a strategic turning point.”

“Those who had heard Netanyahu’s passionate address against the deal in Congress just 10 months earlier, and who had listened for years as the prime minister described Iran and its nuclear program as an existential threat, could only scratch their heads in wonder at Eisenkot’s comments.

These words stood in stark contrast with what Netanyahu said in Congress: “We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”

Eisenkot’s comments indicated that he and Netanyahu were not aligned on this cardinal issue, that the political echelon – headed by the prime minister – and the security echelon, headed by Eizenkot, had different views of the Iran deal.

While Netanyahu viewed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a disaster of historic proportions, Eisenkot’s view was that, while not the greatest agreement in the world, it had its upside and was something Israel could learn to live with and even extract benefit from.

This dissonance between what Netanyahu was saying, on the one hand, and what Eisenkot was saying, on the other, was highlighted by those in Washington interested in promoting the deal, and who could now argue that “even senior Israeli security officials” agree that there were benefits to it.

As Graham Allison wrote in The Atlantic monthly in March 2016, citing Eisenkot’s speech, “Having recently returned from a week of off-the-record discussions with leaders of Israel’s security establishment, I can confirm that Eisenkot’s assessment is not an exception: Israel’s security professionals see a dramatically different threat environment in the wake of the nuclear agreement…. They now believe that threat has been postponed for at least five years, and more likely a decade or more, which allows them to address other serious challenges.”…

Some Israeli senior military men did share Eisenkot’s hopeful assessment of the Iran deal. But that was then. Their view now is dramatically different. They believe that the deal allowed Iran to get away with continuing its uranium enrichment program, building ever more advanced centrifuges, and hiding from the IAEA many of its nuclear facilities. And they realize that lifting the sanctions will provide Iran with more than $150 billion.

Which is important to keep in mind when listening to what the current chief of staff, Lt-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said Tuesday night at the same INSS conference that Eisenkot addressed five years earlier about the same nuclear deal.

“If the Iran deal, from 2015, would have materialized, at the end of the day Iran could have obtained a bomb, because the deal did not include limitations to stop it at the end,” Kochavi said.

Fortunately, the Trump Administration shared Kochavi’s – and Netanyahu’s – dim view of the Iran deal, and pulled out of it entirely. What’s more, Washington managed to impose sanctions that, over time, helped to cripple Iran’s economy.

The success of the Trump policy in damaging Iran’s economy was accompanied by Israel’s campaign to set back Iran’s nuclear program in other ways. There had already been, before Trump’s presidency, the Stuxnet computer worm that Israel introduced into Iranian centrifuges in 2010, causing 1,000 of them to speed up and destroy themselves. There were the targeted assassinations, between 2010 and 2012, of four of Iran’s top nuclear scientists. In 2018 Mossad agents blasted through 32 steel doors of a nondescript warehouse in Teheran, and made off with Iran’s entire nuclear archive, 100,000 pages of information that revealed many details about its nuclear program, including secret facilities unknown to the IAEA inspectors. In 2020 Mossad saboteurs managed to blow up an advanced centrifuge plant at Natanz, and in the same year, Mossad agents assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s nuclear mastermind.

And now it seems that the Biden Administration plans to lift those crippling sanctions that had been working so well, and return to the original Iran nuclear deal, with only minor modifications. It is this prospect that caused the IDF chief, Aviv Kochavi, to express his alarm, and Israel’s determination, no matter what it takes, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Kochavi warned that a return to the 2015 deal – which former president Donald Trump pulled out of – or even a return to a deal that would be somewhat improved, would be a strategic and operational mistake….

Kochavi’s comments should not be seen as a challenge to the Biden administration, but, rather, as an attempt to stamp out any effort to identify and possibly exploit any difference on the matter between the prime minister and the head of the army, as was done in the past. Because, as Kochavi made perfectly clear, this time the two are in agreement.

Who was right? Was it Netanyahu, who has consistently warned against the Iran deal, and managed to help convince the Trump Administration to walk away from it, or was it former IDF Chief Gadi Eisenkot, who claimed that the deal presented “many opportunities”? Clearly, Netanyahu, for Iran has managed to produce twelve times as much enriched uranium as it was supposed to be allowed, has built cascades of advanced centrifuges that will enable it to quickly produce uranium enriched to bomb-producing levels, and has built nuclear facilities deep inside a mountain at Fordo, which even Israeli pilots will not be able to destroy, unless of course the Americans decide to supply the IAF with Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs), known as bunker busters. Supplying the Jewish state with bunker busters would be a good way the U.S. to ensure that Israel maintains its Qualitative Military Edge (QME).

Kochavi has presented a clear statement of Israel’s position. Israel intends to do whatever it takes to prevent the nuclearization of Iran. It opposes a return to the original nuclear deal or anything like it. Returning to the JCPOA would present Israel with an “intolerable threat.” On this conclusion, there is no daylight between Netanyahu and his top brass.

Therefore, Kochavi said, “anything that is similar to the current deal is a bad thing, and we cannot allow it.” He added: “I have directed the IDF to prepare a few operative plans, in addition to what they have already, and we are working on those plans and developing them.” Bombings from on high, sabotage by agents on the ground, a dozen Stuxnets wreaking all kinds of havoc, Israeli hackers running circles around their Iranian counterparts – as to what those “operative plans” might be, I’m sure Israel will, as it has so often, surprise the world – and especially Iran.

At his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State, Tony Blinken said it was “vitally important” for the US to engage with Israel and its Gulf Arab allies “at the takeoff, not the landing” of its negotiations with Iran. But Aviv Kochavi doesn’t just want the Americans to listen. He wants them to hear.

First published in Jihad Watch


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