Archive for October 2021

IDF fighter jets escort American bomber through region, in tacit threat to Iran

October 31, 2021

Israeli F-15s accompany US B-1b heavy bomber on its way to the Gulf; move comes amid growing threats by Jerusalem and Washington over Iranian nuke program

By JUDAH ARI GROSS30 October 2021, 8:22 pm  

An Israeli F-15 fighter jet escorts an American B-1b heavy bomber through Israeli airspace, on October 30, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli F-15 fighter jet escorts an American B-1b heavy bomber through Israeli airspace, on October 30, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli F-15 fighter jets escorted an American heavy bomber through the region as it made its way to the Persian Gulf on Saturday, in an apparent threat to Iran.

“The flight represents the continued operational cooperation with American forces in the region,” the Israel Defense Forces said.

The escort mission came as Israeli and American officials have increasingly threatened to act against Tehran’s nuclear program, as Iran has stalled indirect negotiations with the United States in Vienna regarding a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Israeli military shared photographs and video footage of the flight, showing the American B-1b bomber, which is capable of carrying heavy bunker-buster bombs that would be needed for a strike on Iran’s largely underground nuclear facilities, alongside the Israeli F-15 jets.

Israeli officials have explicitly threatened a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, while Americans have discussed the matter more circumspectly, referring to “other options” beyond diplomatic negotiations in order to halt Tehran’s atomic aspirations.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

In the beginning of this year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans for such an operation, and last week the government reportedly allocated billions of shekels toward making those plans viable.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

The Times of Israel has learned that the Israeli Air Force plans to begin simulating strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months and that some aspects of the Israeli Air Force’s strike plan, which is still in the “draft” stage, could be ready within a short period of time, while others would take more than a year to be fully actionable.An Israeli F-15 fighter jet escorts an American B-1b heavy bomber through Israeli airspace, on October 30, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has twice conducted airstrikes on enemy nations’ nuclear programs, bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s in 2007.

However, an attack on Iran’s nuclear program is widely expected to be far, far more complicated as Tehran has spread out its facilities throughout the country, buried them deep underground, and funded a number of powerful proxies throughout the region who would likely retaliate against Israel if such a strike should be carried out

5 pro-Iran fighters said killed in alleged Israeli strike near Damascus

October 31, 2021

Opposition-linked Syrian war monitor says several others injured; Syrian state media says two soldiers are wounded

By AFP and TOI STAFFToday, 3:03 am  

Smoke rises in the countryside of Damascus, Syria, on October 30, 2021, following what Syrian state media said was an Israeli strike. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

Smoke rises in the countryside of Damascus, Syria, on October 30, 2021, following what Syrian state media said was an Israeli strike. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

An Israeli missile strike killed five pro-Iran militiamen near Damascus on Saturday, a war monitor said, while state media said two Syrian soldiers were wounded in the attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike “destroyed a Hezbollah and Iranian weapons and ammunition” convoy heading towards Lebanon.

At least five pro-Iranian fighters were killed and several wounded, said the war monitor.

The report could not be independently verified. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked group with unclear funding, has at times been accused of inflating casualty numbers.

Earlier state news agency SANA, quoting a military source, said two Syrian soldiers were wounded after explosions were heard in the Syrian capital.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“The Israeli enemy fired a salvo of surface-to-surface missiles from northern occupied Palestine targeting positions near Damascus,” SANA said.

“Our anti-aircraft defenses were activated and were able to hit some of the enemy missiles,” the source said, adding that the attack wounded two soldiers and caused damage.

AFP correspondents in Damascus heard multiple explosions at around midday.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has routinely carried out airstrikes inside Syria, mostly targeting Iran-backed terror groups, in addition to Syrian government troops.

It is rare for the Jewish state to carry out strikes on Syrian targets during daylight hours.

The Israeli military rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has said repeatedly that it will not allow Syria to become a stronghold of Iran.

On October 14, an Israeli airstrike on Iranian positions in central Syria killed nine fighters allied to the Syrian government.

Fading popular credibility in Israel for potential air strike to abort a nuclear Iran – DEBKAfile

October 27, 2021

 Israel and nuclear Iran

Cynical indifference best describes the general response to the disclosure on Tuesday, Oct. 26, that the Israeli Air Force had begun training for a possible airstrike on Iran to take place within a year or two. (See DEBKAfile report of Oct/ 21 on the massive acquisitions needed for the operation). Also announced was that the military command had submitted to the government yet another new plan of action for the mission.

By now, after a decade of dire warnings on world stages, Israelis are becoming weary of the warnings on different world stages that a nuclear-armed Iran was imminent unless their military, preferably with US support, resorted to direct preventive action.

Mixed leaks and disclosures – some from the military spokesman – have not dispelled popular disbelief. Word of “new operational plans” and special mission training falls periodically on cynical ears, although they are embellished with fresh “detail,” and  a hefty $1.5 bn was budgeted to prepare for the mission.
The IDF spokesman goofed badly by his “disclosure” on Monday of an incident “in the last couple of years,” in which Iranian forces in Syria had tried to shoot down an Israel fighter jet with an air defense missile, whereupon the IAF was said to have smashed the Iranian battery. A few hours later, the IDF denied this improbable tale. Some responsible officer in the high command had evidently decided to dispel any impression that Tehran may have entertained that Israel and the IDF were eager to start an aerial war with Iran.

Despite the claims that Iran is “galloping” towards a nuclear weapon, more and more people have stopped believing that an Iranian nuke is ready and waiting to drop on them tomorrow or the day after. A calming voice also came from recently retired Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who said last week: “I think that Iran, to this day, is not even close to acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is due to longstanding efforts by some forces in the world,” he said, broadly hinting at the string of explosions and fires that last year hit Iran’s nuclear sites, and allegedly engineered by Israel (and therefore himself.).
At the same time, the ex-Mossad chief said, “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Israel must be able to stop it on its own.” He thus poured cold water on hopes of international support from any quarter. This advice certainly applied to this year’s Blue Flag exercise (see photo), that had the largest turnout and drilled the most advanced weaponry of its forerunners. Taking part were the air forces of eight nations – three, the UK, UAE and India for the first time, along with the US, France, Italy and Germany. That this was a coalition in the making for dealing with Iran was suggested though not articulated.

Many Israelis are beginning to believe, and making their voices heard in social media, that IDF plans to attack Iran are partly aimed at boosting its budget and more hot air than real. This may be because they foresee US President Joe Biden stopping it from happening. Too many experts warn that Israel can no longer manage the mission on its own, given the scale of Iran’s nuclear sites and extent of their interment in fortified underground bunkers. The verbosity of Israel’s leaders, political and military, on the subject – often muddled rather than representing a clear-cut policy- is by and large undermining their own credibility rather than gathering popular support.  

IAF to start training for strike on Iran nuke program in coming months

October 27, 2021

Some parts of attack plans for Tehran’s nuclear sites will be viable shortly, others could take over a year, ToI learns; raids on Iranian proxies in Syria getting more difficult

By JUDAH ARI GROSS25 October 2021, 5:00 pm  

Israeli F-35 fighter jets fly in formation during the military's Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli F-35 fighter jets fly in formation during the military’s Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Air Force will begin practicing for a strike on Iran’s nuclear program beginning next year, having set aside funding and updated its training schedule for the mission, The Times of Israel has learned.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, amid long-stalled negotiations with the United States, the Israel Defense Forces in recent months has ramped up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

Following the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, Israel put the issue of a military strike on the Iranian nuclear program on the back burner, allowing the IDF to invest its resources into other areas. But following the US abrogation of the nuclear deal in 2018 and Iran’s subsequent violations of the agreement since then — which picked up considerably ahead of and during the stalled talks — the matter has taken on renewed importance to Israel, which sees an Iranian nuclear bomb as a near existential threat.

In the beginning of this year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans, and last week the government reportedly allocated billions of shekels toward making those plans viable.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

The Times of Israel has learned that some aspects of the IAF’s strike plan, which is still in the “draft” stage, could be ready within a short period of time, while others would take more than a year to be fully actionable.This Nov. 4, 2020, satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows Iran’s Fordo nuclear site (Maxar Technologies via AP)

Preparing for such a strike has become a top priority for the Israeli Air Force and making the necessary preparations has required changes to its training schedule.

In addition to having to find ways to strike Iranian facilities that are buried deep underground, requiring specialized munitions and tactics, the Israeli Air Force will have to deal with increasingly sophisticated Iranian air defenses in order to conduct such a strike. The air force will also have to prepare for an expected retaliation against Israel by Iran and its allies throughout the region.

Syria strikes getting more complicated

While preparing for a possible strike on Iran, the IAF has continued to conduct airstrikes in Syria against Iran and its proxies there, an effort known in the military as the “campaign between campaigns,” often referred to by its Hebrew acronym Mabam. Most recently, Israel reportedly attacked three sites on Monday morning that were linked to Hezbollah’s efforts to establish a permanent base of operation on the Syrian Golan, close to the Israeli border.

Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria over the years, but in recent months carrying out such operations has gotten more complicated, the IAF believes, as Syria has improved its air defense capabilities, in part due to upgraded Iranian-made components, allowing it to respond more quickly than in the past to Israeli strikes. In at least one case, an Iranian-improved Syrian air defense battery fired at Israeli jets, but it missed its mark.

While Israel has not lost a fighter jet to these countermeasures since 2018, when an F-16 was shot down by a Syrian S-200 missile, these remain a threat to both the Israeli aircraft conducting the strike and to people on the ground, as could be seen by the shrapnel that rained down on Tel Aviv from a failed interception attempt by Syria last month.

Also making these operations more difficult, Iran has recently begun deploying its domestically produced advanced air defense systems in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon to protect its forces and proxies in those countries from IDF strikes, The Times of Israel has learned.

Though these anti-aircraft systems have never hit the Israeli jets — the Israel Defense Forces on Monday said they had yet to actually be fired at Israeli aircraft — the Israeli Air Force sees them as a new and serious threat to its campaign against Iranian entrenchment in the region. They have proven difficult to counter as the various components of the air defense batteries — the radars, missile launchers and command centers — can be spread out across large geographic areas, making it nearly impossible to destroy them entirely in one counterattack.Explosions seen near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 19, 2021 following a reported Israeli airstrike (Screencapture/Twitter)

In light of these improved Syrian and newly employed Iranian defensive capabilities, the IAF in recent months has updated its methods, using larger formations with more aircraft to conduct strikes on more targets at one time, instead of carrying out more strikes using smaller formations, The Times of Israel has learned.

With two months to go in 2021, the IAF believes it is on track to conduct as many strikes in Syria this year as last. (Last December, the military said it had struck some 50 targets in Syria during 2020.)

Despite rumblings from Russian officials in recent weeks over alleged Israeli strikes in Syria, the IAF does not believe that Moscow has changed its policies on the matter or plans to interfere with Israeli efforts against Iran’s presence in Syria. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin agreed to maintain Moscow’s tacit acceptance of these strikes during his meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Sochi, according to Israeli officials.

US officials say Iran behind recent drone attack on American base in Syria

October 26, 2021

As many as 5 Iranian-made explosives-laden UAVs were used in assault last week, but not launched from Iranian territory ; Pentagon spokesperson doesn’t rule out a response

By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNSToday, 12:58 am

The US military outpost al-Tanf in southern Syria, October 22, 2018. (AP/Lolita Baldor)

The US military outpost al-Tanf in southern Syria, October 22, 2018. (AP/Lolita Baldor)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US officials say they believe Iran was behind the drone attack last week at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based.

Officials said Monday the US believes that Iran resourced and encouraged the attack, but that the drones were not launched from Iran. They were Iranian drones, and Iran appears to have facilitated their use, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been made public.

Officials said they believe the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges, and that they hit both the US side of al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.

There were no reported injuries or deaths as a result of the attack.

US and coalition troops are based at al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter Islamic State militants. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon and Israel.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the termsMembers of the Maghawir al-Thawra Syrian opposition group receive firearms training from US Army Special Forces soldiers at the al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria on October 22, 2018. (AP/Lolita Baldor)

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to provide details when asked about the report during a news conference Monday. He called it a “complex, coordinated and deliberate attack” and said the US has seen similar ones before from Shia militia groups that are backed by Iran. But he would not go into specifics and said he had no update on the munitions used in the attack.

Kirby also declined to say if troops were warned ahead of time or whether the US intends to make a military response.

“The protection and security of our troops overseas remains a paramount concern for the secretary,” Kirby said, referring to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “and that if there is to be a response, it will be at a time and a place and a manner of our choosing, and we certainly won’t get ahead of those kinds of decisions.”

Pro-Iran media outlets have been saying that the attack on Tanf was carried out by “Syria’s allies” — an apparent reference to Iran-backed groups — in retaliation for an attack days earlier near the historic Syrian town of Palmyra. Israel has been blamed for the attack, but US officials say America was not involved with it.

The al-Tanf attack came in a period of rising tensions with Iran. The Biden administration this week said international diplomatic efforts to get Iran back into negotiations to return to a 2015 nuclear deal were at a “critical place” and that patience is wearing thin.

The last major Iranian attack on US forces was in January 2020, when Tehran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles on al-Asad air base in Iraq. US and coalition troops were warned of the incoming missiles and were able to take cover, but more than 100 US service members received traumatic brain injuries as a result of the blasts.

The Iran attack was in response to the US drone strike earlier that month near the Baghdad airport that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Two months after the al-Asad assault, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.

IDF said to resume practicing potential strike on Iranian nuclear sites

October 25, 2021

Military chief Aviv Kohavi reportedly orders air force to ‘intensely’ drill for possible attack on Iran, after 2-year pause in training

By TOI STAFF21 October 2021, 9:32 pm  

An Israeli Air Force Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over Tel Aviv, on May 9, 2019, as Israel marks its 71st Independence Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Illustrative: An Israeli Air Force Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over Tel Aviv on May 9, 2019, as Israel marks its 71st Independence Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Israeli Air Force has resumed training for a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, Israeli television reported Thursday.

According to Channel 12 news, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered that budgetary funds be set aside for drilling such a scenario, after a two-year hiatus.

The network said Kohavi had also ordered that the air force train “intensely” in simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear program.

The orders were reportedly given during a meeting Kohavi held at his office in recent days.

The report did not cite a source and there was no comment from military officials.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

On Monday, Channel 12 reported that the government planned to allocate NIS 5 billion ($1.5 billion) for an attack on Iran, with NIS 2 billion ($620 million) coming from the 2022 defense budget and the rest coming from the current budget.

A day later, Defense Minister Benny Gantz defended the government’s requested budget increase for the military, warning that the additional funds are necessary in order to prepare for a potential strike on Iranian nuclear sites.IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (left) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defese Committee meeting, on October 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kohavi publicly declared in January that the IDF was preparing fresh “operational plans” for a potent military strike, and in August that Iran’s nuclear progress has prompted the IDF “to speed up its operational plans,” with a fresh budget to do so.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

United States President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is still seeking a joint US-Iranian return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, while acknowledging that it will not wait indefinitely for Tehran to return to the negotiation table.

If it fails to do so, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid this month that “every option” will be on the table — an apparent uptick in rhetoric after Biden told Bennett in August that Washington was willing to consider “other options” if the nuclear deal cannot be revived.

US moves to Arabian Gulf a new robotic marine-air task force operated by AI – DEBKAfile

October 19, 2021


 
Arabian GulfIranTask Force 59US robotic stealth drones

The first of its kind, the US Task Force 59 aims to enhance deterrence against Iran by the use in the region of integrated unmanned systems and artificial intelligence. The innovative force of stealth Loyal Wingman drones was established to address the growing need to deter Iran from harassment of US and allied shipping including Israeli vessels.

Although the nature of Task Force 59’s activities (and most platforms) remains secret, the Loyal Wingman drones and other remote-controlled technologies are known to be extremely versatile, armed for providing support for manned aircraft in disputed airspace, such as F-35 stealth fighters, as well as equipped for cyber warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. These futuristic drones are even capable of carrying out such diverse operations from beginning to end by themselves, while operating under, on and above the radar.

Task Force 59 has begun to be deployed in sensitive areas and regional chokepoints, such as the Straits of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb Straits, the northern Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

Tehran was quick to react to the new stealth, remote-controlled US force, DEBKAfile’s military sources report, by adding six units to its squads of armed speedboats and operational UAVs with the ability to launch cyberattacks to disrupt the Force 59’s systems. Such attempts are hampered, however, by an inability to keep track of autonomous low-flying self-operating stealth drones like the Wingmans.

Still, Iran while, boosting its missile and other military capabilities, is also making strides in the development of drone warfare. For the US too it is important to enhance surveillance on Iranian activities in the region, especially the movements of “civilians” in coastal areas.

On September 11, Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz warned that Iran is training militias in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria to use advanced drones at the Kashan military base. Iran believes that Task Force 59 is to the potential nucleus of a US-Gulf-Israeli front. With the drone danger increasing, many countries are on the lookout for sophisticated anti-drone weapons Task Force 59 can be seen as an initial attempt to test these arms.

Israel said to approve $1.5 billion budget for potential strike on Iran

October 19, 2021


Sum said to include funds for aircraft, intel-gathering drones and unique armaments needed for attack; report comes days after US announces successful test of new bunker buster

By TOI STAFFToday, 12:58 am  

An Israeli Air Force F-15 takes off during the Blue Flag air exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 8, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

An Israeli Air Force F-15 takes off during the Blue Flag air exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 8, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel has approved a budget of some 5 billion shekels ($1.5 billion) to be used to prepare the military for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program, Channel 12 reported Monday.

The NIS 5 billion budget is made up of NIS 3 billion from the previous budget and an additional NIS 2 billion from the next budget slated to be approved by the government in November,

It includes funds for various types of aircraft, intelligence-gathering drones and unique armaments needed for such an attack, which would have to target heavily fortified underground sites, the unsourced report said.

The report comes days after the US Air Force announced that it had carried out a successful test of its new “bunker buster,” the GBU-72 Advanced 5K Penetrator. The 5,000-pound bomb could be used as a tool to strike Iranian nuclear sites.

Crucially, the GBU-72 is designed to be carried by a fighter jet or a heavy bomber. Israel does not have bombers capable of carrying the massive bunker busters in the current US arsenal.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

A smaller bunker buster bomb, the GBU-28, was secretly sold to Israel in 2009, though it is not thought to have the ability to penetrate Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility, which is buried deep under a mountain.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1448488984598958082&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fisrael-said-to-approve-1-5-billion-budget-for-potential-strike-on-iran%2F&sessionId=a3521ee036e5edf0773acc56d6e982a96b741c54&siteScreenName=timesofisrael&theme=light&widgetsVersion=f001879%3A1634581029404&width=550px

The American test was based on experience gained by Israel in its bombing of Hamas’s underground tunnel network in Gaza during last May’s war, Channel 12 said.

The network speculated that in publicizing its 35,000 foot-drop of the bunker-buster at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base, the US is seeking to warn Iran not to stay away from negotiations at Vienna aimed at reviving the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iran walked away from indirect talks with the US last June and elected as president ultraconservative hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, who has spoken out against the JCPOA, in the interim.IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College in Glilot, central Israel, on July 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi told the Walla news site that Israel has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Kohavi said that “a significant chunk of the boost to the defense budget, as was recently agreed, was intended for this purpose. It’s a very complicated job, with much more intelligence, much more operational capabilities, much more armaments. We’re working on all these things.”

Kohavi had publicly declared in January that the IDF was preparing fresh “operational plans” for a potent military strike, and in August that Iran’s nuclear progress has prompted the IDF “to speed up its operational plans,” with a fresh budget to do so.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”This Nov. 4, 2020, satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows Iran’s Fordo nuclear site (Maxar Technologies via AP)

The Biden administration says it is still seeking a joint US-Iranian return to compliance with the JCPOA, while acknowledging that it will not wait indefinitely for Tehran to return to the negotiation table.

If it fails to do so, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid that “every option” will be on the table — an apparent uptick in rhetoric after US President Joe Biden told Bennett in August that Washington was willing to consider “other options” if the JCPOA cannot be revived.

Blinken and Lapid talk publicly of ‘other options’ to stop Iran nuke program

October 14, 2021

US secretary warns ‘time running out for return to nuclear deal,’ adds US moving to reopen Palestinian consulate; UAE’s foreign minister pledges to visit Israel ‘soon’

By LAZAR BERMAN13 October 2021, 10:15 pm  

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

During a joint press conference Wednesday with his American and Emirati counterparts, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke of “other options” — understood to include military action — should diplomacy fail to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.(From left to right): Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan at a press conference in Washington, DC on October 13, 2021. (GPO)

“Other options are going to be on the table if diplomacy fails,” Lapid said. “By saying other options, I think everyone understands, here, in Israel, in the Emirates, and in Tehran, what is it that we mean.”

Lapid added in Hebrew that his three-day trip to Washington centered around “the other options” but did not repeat that line in his English comments.

Using the same “other options” phrase, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also hinted at the possibility of military action against Iran if Tehran does not return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known also as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“We will continue to look at every option to deal with the challenge that is posed by Iran. We believe that diplomacy is the best way to do that, but it takes two to engage in diplomacy,” Blinken said.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“We’re united in the proposition that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Blinken added, while noting that Iran has already had nine months since Biden’s election to demonstrate its commitment.

“With every passing day, and Iran’s refusal to engage in good faith, the runway gets short,” Blinken said. “Time is running short. We are getting closer to a point at which returning to compliance with the JCPOA will not in and of itself recapture the benefits of the JCPOA.

“We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course,” he warned.Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a bilateral meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, DC, on October 13, 2021. (Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP)

The US has yet to publicly entertain alternative options to the JCPOA in detail, insisting that it is still pursuing the diplomatic path to blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in August that if that effort fails, the US will be prepared to consider other options.

Lapid said in his prepared remarks at the beginning of the press conference that “Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment, in any way. That is not only our right, it is also our responsibility.”

He added: “Iran has publicly stated it wants to wipe us out. We have no intention of letting that happen.”Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on October 13, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem GPO)

On September 21, the day Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi blasted US sanctions on Iran in his address to the UN, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Tehran would return to the talks within weeks.

The 2015 deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for tight controls on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the multilateral accord and began reimposing sanctions.Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, accompanied by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, right, speaks at bilateral meeting at the State Department in Washington, DC, on October 13, 2021. (Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP)

In the interim, Iran has openly breached some terms of the accord, including enriching to higher than permitted levels, stockpiling more enriched uranium, introducing advanced centrifuges, and moving ahead on other processes with bomb-making applications.

The US negotiator on Iran, Rob Malley, said Wednesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “We feel like coming back would still be the best outcome, but we’re realistic.

“We know that there’s at least a good possibility that Iran is going to choose a different path, and we need to coordinate with Israel and with our other partners in the region,” he said.

After taking part in the talks with Israel and the UAE, Malley said he would head in the coming days to the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.Robert Malley in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

Lapid addressed the Palestinian issue as well, quoting John F. Kennedy that “all people are entitled to a decent way of life.”

“This includes of course the Palestinians,” he said. “Our goal is to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that every child has that opportunity.”

On the Palestinian issue, Blinken pledged to “deepen our diplomatic ties.”

“As I said in May,” he continued, “we’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians.”

Blinken also emphasized that the Biden administration is “committed to continue building on the efforts of the last administration to expand the circle of countries with normalized relations with Israel in the years ahead.”

He announced two new working groups that the US, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will participate in: one on religious coexistence and the other on water and energy.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said his country was “extremely impressed with our growing relationship with Israel.”United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan listens during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at the State Department in Washington, DC on October 13, 2021. (Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP)

Bin Zayed announced that he would visit Israel “soon.”

“Foreign Minister Yair was kind enough to invite me to visit Israel and I’m going to visit soon to meet a friend and also a partner,” he said.

Referencing the Palestinians as well, bin Zayed said that the Abraham Accords help Israel and the UAE “to be more candid with each other, but also to encourage the others whenever there is more to be done.”

He referred to Israel’s arch-enemy Hezbollah during his comments on the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

“We have to keep in mind that we don’t end up with a situation where we have another Hezbollah threatening the borders of Suadi Arabia,” bin Zayed said. “And the Houthis have managed to develop their capabilities over the law few years in a way which is much faster than the trajectory of Hezbollah developing its capabilities.”In this Aug. 22, 2020 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels raise their weapons during a protest against the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP/Hani Mohammed, File)

“We have to make sure we have enough partners and enough international understanding that we don’t have another southern Lebanon situation in Yemen,” he stressed.

On Tuesday, Lapid met with Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Israel’s top diplomat will meet with AIPAC leaders Thursday before flying back home.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

Why Israel is stepping up its planning, and its rhetoric, for a strike on Iran

October 5, 2021

For perhaps 3 years after the JCPOA was inked, Israel essentially discarded its operational planning and capability to decimate Iran’s nuclear facilities. That’s all changed now

By DAVID HOROVITZ1 October 2021, 4:16 pm  

In this photo released Jan. 8, 2021, commanders of Iran's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps walk past missiles during a visit to a new military base in an undisclosed location. (Sepahnews via AP)

In this photo released Jan. 8, 2021, commanders of Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps walk past missiles during a visit to a new military base in an undisclosed location. (Sepahnews via AP)

There is a fundamental disconnect at the heart of the Biden administration’s strategy for preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.

The US is trying, without success thus far, to persuade Iran to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and is more than ready to return to that deal itself after the Trump administration withdrew from it in 2018. But it also says it seeks a longer and stronger deal that would address the gaping flaws in the JCPOA.

In other words, it is having a very, very hard time persuading an emboldened Tehran to return to a lousy accord, and yet ostensibly hopes it will subsequently be able to somehow convince the ayatollahs to agree to a more effective one.

That the 2015 deal was an Iranian victory and a Western catastrophe was clear from the get-go.

Foremost among its many lacunas were its “sunset clauses”: After 15 years, it permits Iran to enrich as much uranium as it wants to 20 percent. And after 10 years, it allows Iran to manufacture and utilize advanced centrifuges. It also allowed Iran to continue R&D on advanced centrifuges — which the regime has done with alacrity — and other elements that would hasten a breakout to the bomb. It didn’t even purport to try to rein in Iranian advances on ballistic missile delivery systems. Far from dismantling Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, the JCPOA does not even achieve the much more limited goal of freezing and effectively inspecting it.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Since the Trump administration pulled out, Tehran has been openly breaching the deal — including by producing advanced centrifuges, enriching fast-growing quantities of uranium to 60%, and stockpiling (as of August) some 85 kilos of 20%-enriched uranium.Iran’s then-president Hassan Rouhani, right, is shown new centrifuges while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AFP)

The US approach, and that of the other P5+1 nations party to the 2015 accord, reflects their particular priorities and assessments. Certainly, where the US, UK, France and Germany are concerned, the combination of the ayatollahs and a devastating nuclear weapons capability is seen as a strategic danger.

For Israel, however, a nuclear Iran is an existential threat.

For perhaps three years after the JCPOA was inked, Israel essentially discarded its operational planning and capability to decimate Iran’s nuclear facilities. Not many years earlier, extremely robust military attack plans were in place and arguably close to being implemented. But with the international community, led by the US, locked into a diplomatic arrangement, Israel recognized that such an operation was unthinkable.

Of late, however, in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s withdrawal, and the open Iranian breaching of the accord, such extremely serious planning is again the order of the day.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

With quite dramatic candor, meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi publicly declared (in January) that the IDF was preparing fresh “operational plans” for a potent military strike; (in August) that Iran’s nuclear progress has prompted the IDF “to speed up its operational plans,” with a fresh budget to do so; and (in September) that the IDF has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear program.IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College in Glilot, central Israel, July 14, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel has not seen signs that Iran is about to break out to the bomb. Notably, while Iran declared in July that it can enrich uranium to 90%, weapons-grade, it has not moved to do so. Such a move, it likely calculates, would be regarded as proximate to a declaration of war.

And even amassing enough enriched material for a bomb, which Iran is assessed now to be able to do in 2-3 months, is emphatically not the same as attaining a deliverable nuclear weapon. That’s still a lengthy process — perhaps eight months to a year from a decision to break out, according to one assessment by ex-IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden have coffee in the White House private presidential dining hall on Aug. 27, 2021. (White House/Twitter)

What the recent, repeated, public declarations that Israel is preparing operational attack plans underline, however, is the recognition that while Biden assured Bennett at the White House in August of the US “commitment to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon,” Tehran is manifestly unfazed and undeterred.

“We’re putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options,” said Biden. But that vague formulation — delivered as the US essentially pleads with Iran to return to a leaky deal, deeply breached, that allows it to close in on the bomb — is not regarded in Israel as constituting a credible military threat. The more so because the US president is grappling with a host of other priorities, is on the defensive after the fiasco of his withdrawal from Afghanistan, and, again, does not regard a nuclear Iran with the same degree of concern as Israel does.The scene where Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in Absard, a small city just east of Tehran, Iran, on November 27, 2020. (Fars News Agency via AP); Inset: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in an undated photo. (Courtesy)

And therefore Israel is ramping up both its rhetoric and its concrete practical preparations.

It is avowedly preparing to strike, with the added credibility of a track record of recent successful actions against the Iranian program. And it is doing so, genuinely readying for action, in the profound hope that the very candid sincerity of that planning will deter the rapacious extremists in Tehran, rendering such a strike unnecessary.