Israeli general says stopping nuclear program will be difficult

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei speaks during a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, on March 21, 2021.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | fake images

As Iran raises uranium enrichment to 60%, a small jump to the military grade of 90%, world powers are trying to convince the Islamic Republic to pause.

Meetings designed to return both Iran and the United States to a form of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, restarted in Austria this week.

While Israel is not part of the talks, it is a leading actor in the drama that could escalate quickly.

Israel, along with its Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, want the United States to increase pressure on Iran by strengthening the JCPOA to include terrorism, missile development, and what they call “Iranian expansionism.” throughout the Middle East.

Iran and Israel have engaged in a shadow war that has escalated in the past month. An explosion disrupted one of Iran’s nuclear power centers in Natanz; one of Iran’s spy ships was hit with an explosive device in the Red Sea; and at least two Israeli-owned cargo ships have been attacked.

Iran’s decision to increase uranium enrichment came after the Natanz explosion, for which the Islamic Republic has blamed Israel.

Israel has promised to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if all else fails, and it has experience in that field.

Forty years ago, in June 1981, eight Israeli F-16s took off, flew over the Red Sea, straddled the Jordan-Saudi border, and dropped their bombs on Iraq’s nuclear power plant in Osirak days earlier. that it got hot. It was called Operation Opera and one of the pilots was General Amos Yadlin.

“Saddam and Assad were shocked. Iran has been waiting for this attack for 20 years.”

General Amos Yadlin

Former Chief of Military Intelligence of Israel

In 2007, Yadlin, while serving as the Israeli army’s chief of military intelligence, helped design a second operation. It targeted Syria’s secret nuclear power plant. Operation Orchard was also a success: the target was completely destroyed.

Yadlin said that if it comes down to that, this time it will be very different: “Saddam and Assad were shocked. Iran has been waiting for this attack for 20 years.”

Yadlin said Iran’s program is “much more strengthened and dispersed,” while Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear programs were concentrated in one place. Iran’s nuclear program is found in dozens of sites, many buried deep in the mountains. On top of that, it is not clear that intelligence agencies know all the details about Iran’s program locations.

“Iran has learned from what we have done, but we have also learned from what we have done and now we have more capabilities,” Yadlin said.

Military planners in Israel say that regardless of the Vienna talks, they have five strategies to stop Iran:

  • Option 1: Push for a stronger deal between Iran, the US, Russia, China, France, Germany, and the UK.
  • Option 2: Show Iran that the cost is too great, in terms of sanctions and diplomacy, to continue on the current path.
  • Option 3: What is known in Israel as “Strategy C”: use covert attacks, clandestine actions and cyberattacks. In essence, try everything but war.
  • Option 4: Bomb Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Option 5: Push for regime change in Iran. This is the most difficult strategy.

Due to the strength of the ayatollahs – their control of the army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and a powerful force known for its brutality, the Basij – fomenting internal rebellion is a long shot.

Retired Israeli general and executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Amos Yadlin attends a session at the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain’s capital on December 5, 2020.

MAZEN MAHDI | AFP | fake images

However, the regime is increasingly unpopular at home and the country has seen several protests erupt in recent years, according to Ali Nader, an Iran analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The main reason for those protests is a reeling economy, hit hard by US sanctions that serve as the main US lever against Iran in the nuclear talks in Vienna.

“The United States has absolute control over Iran’s economy,” Nader said. In 2018, Iran had cash reserves worth more than $ 120 billion. Due to sanctions, that reserve was reduced to about $ 4 billion in 2020, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund.

The first thing Iran wants during these talks is for the United States to ease sanctions, allowing it to freely sell oil to Asia and Europe. According to the International Energy Agency, which oversees oil production and shipments, Iran is circumventing sanctions and increasing supply to China.

In January, Iranian oil shipments to China reached record levels. Nader believes that the United States, by not doing more to enforce those sanctions, is signaling that it is ready to make a deal.

The big question for the conversations, however, is who has influence in what is becoming a chicken game.

Henry Rome is observing the negotiations as an analyst for the Eurasia Group. He does not expect a breakdown or breakthrough, as both sides try to get the other to make the first move.

With Iran ready to elect a new president in two months, Rome said that “Iran does not want to be seen as desperate, the Supreme Leader would prefer to wait until after the June 18 elections before having to make any concessions.”

“Iran is playing a weak hand, but they are very good at it,” Rome said.

Yadlin is nervous that the United States is too eager for a deal and discloses too much, repeating what he calls are the mistakes of the 2015 deal. Yadlin points to Iran’s enrichment achievements, hitting the symbolic 60% mark.

“The first deal is proving to be a problem, look how fast they are moving,” Yadlin said. “They could have enough enriched uranium to quickly reach two or three bombs.”

While there may still be some work to be done in terms of launch methods and weaponry, Yadlin has no doubt that they have the know-how to make nuclear bombs.


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