Author Archive

Israel successfully tests Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system

January 18, 2022

Defense Ministry says radar arrays detected incoming ‘target’ and two Arrow 3 interceptors were fired at it, destroying it; trial follows recent Iranian ballistic missile tests

By JUDAH ARI GROSS and TOI STAFFToday, 6:47 amUpdated at 8:30 am  

A test launch of the Arrow 3 missile defense system released by the Defense Ministry on July 28, 2019. (Defense Ministry)

A test launch of the Arrow 3 missile defense system released by the Defense Ministry on July 28, 2019. (Defense Ministry)

Israel conducted a successful test of its Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system on Tuesday morning, the Defense Ministry said.

According to the ministry, the live-fire test was conducted over central Israel.

“The operational radar arrays of the Arrow system detected the target and sent the data to the fire management system, which analyzed the data and fully plotted the interception. Once the plans were completed, two Arrow 3 interceptors were fired at the target, and they completed their mission successfully,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The Arrow 3 is currently Israel’s most advanced long-range missile defense system, meant to intercept ballistic missiles while they are still outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, taking out projectiles and their nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional warheads closer to their launch sites. It is a joint project by the Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization and the American Missile Defense Agency. Work is underway on the development of a yet more advanced system, the Arrow 4.

It was not immediately clear what was being tested with Tuesday’s Arrow 3 system in the trial, but the head of the Defense Ministry’s Weapons Development and Technology Infrastructure Administration, Danny Gold, described it as “a breakthrough that represents a technological leap forward in the capabilities of the defense establishment to renew and to match the emerging threats regionally and on the future battlefield.”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

Tuesday’s test followed a number of recent ballistic missile tests by Iran in recent weeks.

In an apparent threat to Iran, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the test ensured Israel’s ability to take action freely.

“We are preserving Israel’s ability to defend itself against developing threats in the region and allowing Israel offensive freedom of operation against its enemies, from an understanding that the best defense allows for the most effective attack,” he said.

The Arrow 3 was first tested successfully in February 2018, after months of delays and technical problems. It is considered one of the most powerful weapons of its kind in the world and has been in development since 2008.

Complemented by a number of other missile defense systems designed to protect Israel from short-, medium- and long-range attacks, the Arrow 3 represents the highest level of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense network.

White House focusing blame on ‘reckless’ Trump ahead of Iran nuclear deal decision

January 13, 2022

Plan said made as Biden administration gears up for political fight as US will have to decide whether to re-enter the deal or walk away and apply further pressure on Tehran

By TOI STAFFToday, 3:18 am  

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Biden administration is gearing up for the Iran nuclear deal talks to reach an end by stepping up criticism of former president Donald Trump and blaming him for the current situation.

In recent days, both State Department spokesperson Ned Price and White House spokesperson Jen Psaki attacked Trump for pulling the US out of the 2015 deal — agreed by Iran, the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump unilaterally withdrew the US in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments and stepping up its enrichment activities.

The decision to focus on Trump is a deliberate one as the current talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the sides back into the deal head for a conclusion, the Axios news site reported Wednesday, citing two White House sources, saying they wanted to “focus the fire on Trump.”

On Tuesday, Price answered a question on the Vienna talks with a comment on Trump.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

“It’s worth spending just a moment on how we got here,” Price said. “It is deeply unfortunate that because of an ill-considered or perhaps unconsidered decision by the previous administration that this administration came into office without these stringent verification and monitoring protocols that were in place.”

Price said the Trump administration promised a better deal “that never came close” and instead “Iran has been able to gallop forward with its nuclear promise.”

Later Wednesday, Psaki said none of Iran’s “increased capabilities or aggressive actions they have taken through proxy wars around the world” would have occurred if Trump had not “recklessly pulled out of the nuclear deal with no thought as to what might come next.”

Speaking at a press briefing Psaki said that as a result of Trump’s actions “Iran’s nuclear program was no longer in a box, no longer had the most robust inspection regime ever negotiated, no longer had the tight restrictions on nuclear activity.”

Axios said the White House was laying the groundwork for the end of talks, when the US would either re-enter the deal or walk away and apply further pressure on Tehran.

“Both scenarios will generate political backlash, particularly from Republicans, but the White House wants to keep Democrats together in part by emphasizing that it was Trump who triggered this crisis and left them with only bad options,” Axios said.

The report said the talks were likely to culminate by the end of January or February.

On Tuesday France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the talks were proceeding so slowly that they are unlikely to lead to any agreement “within a realistic timeframe.”In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

The discussions taking place in Vienna “are underway but from our point of view they are slow, too slow,” Le Drian told the French parliament.

“There is a vital urgency on this issue because of Iran’s own actions and the trajectory of its nuclear program,” he added

On Monday Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman had said that efforts by “all parties” to revive his country’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers had resulted in “good progress” during the Vienna talks.

Negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal resumed in late November after they were suspended in June as Iran elected a new, ultra-conservative government.

“There has been good progress on all four issues of removing sanctions, nuclear issues, verification and obtaining guarantees” during the latest round of talks, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters on Monday.

The US has participated only indirectly in the Vienna talks, which seek to bring Washington back inside the accord and to ensure Iran re-adheres to its own commitments.

Le Drian had sounded more positive about the talks on Friday, when he said they were progressing on a “rather positive path” while still emphasizing the urgency of bringing them to a speedy conclusion.

The following day his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the two sides are nearing a “good agreement” due to France “behaving reasonably” after previously playing “the role of a bad cop”.

Britain, France and Germany said last month that the window for concluding a deal was “weeks, not months”, due to the speed of Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

Agencies contributed to this report

Eyeing Iran, Bennett says military undergoing largest rearmament in years

January 11, 2022

Prime minister tells Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Tehran remains country’s most significant foe, Israel fighting Iranian forces constantly

By JUDAH ARI GROSS10 January 2022, 4:29 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset on Monday that the country’s military and other security services were undergoing their largest rearming in years.

Bennett’s comments came as the IDF was working intensively to prepare for a potential military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, amid growing concerns that ongoing talks between the world powers and Tehran in Vienna about curbing the latter’s nuclear program may result in an agreement that Israel deems unacceptable, or in no agreement whatsoever.

“We are investing in security rearmament of the IDF and the entire defense establishment. I would say this was rearmament that we haven’t seen for years. This rearmament is important to our survival, and I am very glad about it and am determined to see it through quickly,” Bennett said, speaking to the parliament’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Bennett’s government increased the 2022 defense budget to nearly NIS 60 billion ($19.2 billion), a large chunk of which was to be earmarked for planning on military engagement with Iran, including billions to upgrade or procure vehicles, ordnance and more.

In a criticism of his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett claimed the military had been in a “tailspin” for years, which “severely damaged Israeli national security, in every dimension.” Bennett was defense minister under Netanyahu in 2019 and 2020.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

Bennett reiterated that Israel will not be party to a nuclear deal with Iran and will do whatever it deems necessary to ensure the country’s security.

“In terms of the Vienna talks, the nuclear talks — we are indeed concerned. It is important for me to say and to clarify here in a way that can’t be misunderstood: Israel is not part of the agreements, Israel is not bound by what is written in the agreements if they are signed, and Israel will continue to ensure its full freedom of operation in any place and at any time, with no limitations,” Bennett said.

The rest of the premier’s remarks were delivered behind closed doors.

This was Bennett’s first appearance as prime minister before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a parliamentary body meant to oversee the military, foreign policy and related issues.

In his remarks at the start of the meeting, Bennett told the committee that Iran was “at the top of our list of challenges.”

“Iran is the head of the octopus that sends enemies and proxies and its tentacles at us, on all of our borders. We are dealing — day and light — with Iran and its proxies. We are making a change, moving to a mindset of constant attack and not just constant defense,” he said.

Israel has been engaged in a long-simmering shadow war with Iran for years, mostly through regular airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria and en route to Syria, as well as occasional attacks — both physical ones and cyber attacks — on Iranian nuclear facilities, according to foreign reports.

Israel has opposed a return to the 2015 deal, instead pushing for negotiators to revamp the accord with stricter restraints on Iran and to address malign activity in the region beyond the nuclear portfolio. Officials have threatened that Israel could take military action to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, even without the support of other nations.

Israel’s leaders split three ways on Iran. Tehran promises “fresh ideas” for Vienna talks – DEBKAfile

January 6, 2022

Israel’s ministers and military chiefs aired three diverse views on how to deal with a nuclear Iran at their latest foreign affairs and security cabinet session:

  1. To go along with the negotiating track being pursued by six world powers and Iran in Vienna. Military Intelligence (Aman) director Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva argued that even if they decided to renew the bad 2015 nuclear accord, some limits would remain to curtail Iran’s nuclear activity and Israel and the IDF would win time to properly prepare for a crushing blow to Iran’s nuclear program. This view is not accepted by the Chief of Staff and most of the generals, who assert that he IDF is already now adequately prepared for this mission.
  2.  Another proponent of the Vienna track is Foreign Minister Yair Lapid – except that he says he hopes Israel will have some influence on the final text of the renegotiated accord and be able to insert important changes.  By referring to this approach as “trench warfare,” Lapid indicates he has little faith in Israel achieving this goal.
  3. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad chief David Barnea are of one mind on insisting that a deal with Iran would only be acceptable if the 2015 accord was rewritten and substantially improved. Since they realize that this objective is unattainable, they favor following the path of a military strike right away.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s voice is missing from the debate. And since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett does not look like coming down in favor of any of the three views, Israel finds itself revisiting the hot, unresolved debate of 2012, which hampered the decision a decade ago on whether or not to attack Iran in order to cut short its drive for a nuclear bomb.

The Biden Administration’s stance is not clear. However, Iran appears to be signaling a readiness for some flexibility with an offer to bring “new ideas” to the table in Vienna. Its delegation chief Bagheri Kani announced at the last session that Iran is backing off its ultimatum for the lifting of all sanctions as a precondition, and ready to embrace a new approach in which “everything has to go in parallel on all the major issues.” None of the powers taking part in the talks is clear about what Tehran is really driving at but are ready to wait and see what new ideas are forthcoming.

The common factor in the current state of play regarding the handling of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a deep fog of uncertainty surrounding the next steps ahead, whether by the US, Israel or Iran.

With Iran in mind, Israel signs deal with US for heavy choppers, refueling planes

January 1, 2022

Weapons sale to cost $3.1 billion, with the funds coming from military aid Washington provides to Jerusalem

By JUDAH ARI GROSS31 December 2021, 11:06 am  

An undated photograph of a Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy transport helicopter, which Israel signed an agreement to purchase from the United States on December 30, 2021. (Lockheed Martin)

An undated photograph of a Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy transport helicopter, which Israel signed an agreement to purchase from the United States on December 30, 2021. (Lockheed Martin)

Israel on Thursday signed a long-awaited agreement to purchase a dozen heavy transport helicopters and two additional refueling planes from the United States, in a weapons deal worth over $3 billion, the Defense Ministry said.

These aircraft, along with a number of additional F-35 fighter jets that Israel plans to purchase from the US, are specifically meant to counter threats posed by Iran, including its nuclear program.

According to the ministry, in addition to the fighter jets, transport helicopters and refueling planes, this includes “advanced aerial munitions, air defense systems, new naval and land-based platforms, and cyber and digital systems.”

The 12 CH-53K Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy transport helicopters will replace Israel’s aging fleet of CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, which have been in use for over half a century and have seen a number of maintenance issues in recent years. The first CH-53K helicopters are scheduled to arrive in Israel in 2026, according to the ministry.

Under the agreement, Israel has the option to purchase six more CH-53K helicopters in the future as well.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 addition, the delegation of the ministry’s purchasing department signed a deal to buy two more Boeing KC-46 refueling planes, which would be needed in order to conduct strikes against targets in Iran, some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Israel and far outside the regular flight range of Israeli jets.An undated photograph of a Boeing KC-46 refueling plane, which Israel signed an agreement to purchase from the United States on December 30, 2021. (Boeing)

Israel has already agreed to purchase two of these refueling planes, which are scheduled to arrive in 2025. Israel has asked that this date be moved up by a year — a move that would require the US to give up its spot in line to receive the planes from Boeing — but Washington has thus far rejected the request.

The helicopter deal will cost Israel roughly $2 billion and the refuelers will cost another $1.1 billion, with the money coming from the $3.8 billion that Israel receives from Washington as part of the 10-year memorandum of understanding between the two countries, the ministry said.

“The purchase of these platforms is part of a wider effort, which is being led by the Defense Ministry with the IDF over the past year and a half to strengthen the capabilities and force build-up of the IDF against current and future threats, mostly those posed by the ‘third-ring,’” the Defense Ministry said.

In Israeli military parlance, the first ring refers to threats directly on the country’s borders, the second ring refers to slightly farther-flung enemies, like those in Iraq or Yemen, and the third ring refers to those yet further away — in practice, it is almost exclusively used in connection with Iran.

Defense Ministry Benny Gantz negotiated the initial approvals for the sales with US officials. The budget was then approved by the ministerial committee for military acquisitions and the Knesset’s joint defense budget committee, Gantz’s office said. This summer, the US State Department also signed off on the sale of the helicopters saying it was “vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability.”

The defense minister hailed the purchases, saying in a statement that they were a critical part of the military’s preparedness, particularly against Iran.

“We are continuing to grow stronger, to change, and to adapt the air force to future challenges, those close by and especially those far from Israel’s borders,” he said.

Israel said to strike key Syrian port of Latakia, causing ‘massive’ damage

December 28, 2021

Videos posted to social media show huge explosions and fires raging across the port, likely from secondary explosions of Iranian munitions, in second attack on facility this month

By JUDAH ARI GROSS and TOI STAFFToday, 4:29 am  

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, firefighters work at the scene of a missile attack, at the port of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.  (SANA via AP)

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, firefighters work at the scene of a missile attack, at the port of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (SANA via AP)

Israeli warplanes fired a number of missiles at the port of the coastal city of Latakia early Tuesday morning, causing large explosions and fires, in the second alleged Israeli strike in a month on the key facility.

For years, Israel avoided conducting strikes against the Latakia port due to the large presence of Russian forces nearby, despite Iran allegedly using the terminal to transport advanced munitions through it to its proxies in the region, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group.

SANA, Syria’s state media, quoted an unnamed military official as saying that several missiles struck the container area in the port, setting some of them on fire. He said the strikes caused “massive material damage.”

The Israel Defense Forces did not comment on the Syrian claims, as a matter of policy.

Videos posted to social media showed huge explosions and fires raging across the port, some of them apparently caused by secondary blasts from the missiles causing Iranian munitions to detonate.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

According to SANA, the missiles came from the direction of the Mediterranean.

The Syrian military official said efforts were still underway to put out fires and assess the damage. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the attack, which activated Syrian air defenses, according to SANA

Syria’s state-run al-Ikhbariyah TV ran footage showing flames and smoke rising from the terminal. It reported damage to nearby residential buildings, a hospital, shops and some tourist sites near the port.

An al-Ikhbariyah TV reporter in the area said the attack appeared to have been larger than the strike earlier this month and the explosions could be heard in Tartus, another coastal city more than 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) away.

Until earlier this month, strikes on the port of Latakia were highly irregular. The port is a vital facility where much of Syria’s imports are brought into the war-torn country and through which Iran reportedly brings in weapons and other equipment to its militias.

Though Israel has regularly conducted raids against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, it rarely strikes close to Latakia, let alone inside the terminal, as the Russian military maintains a base of operations nearby. Due to its delicate relationship with Moscow, Israel typically refrains from carrying out attacks against targets if there are Russian troops nearby, though Israel believes that this well-known policy has led Iran to seek to protect its arms transfers by conducting them near Russian-controlled areas.

Before this month, the previous time that Israel reportedly conducted a strike on a target in the city of Latakia — though not in the port — was in 2018, during which a Russian spy plane was accidentally shot down by Syrian air defenses, causing a major confrontation between Jerusalem and Moscow. Israel has also reportedly carried out raids against targets in the port city in 2014 and twice in 2013.

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. Many of the strikes in the past had targeted the main airport in the capital Damascus, through which Iran is also believed to transfer advanced arms to its proxies

Israel has acknowledged, however, that it targets the bases of Iranian forces and Iran-allied terror groups, particularly along the Golan border, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah that has fighters deployed in southern Syria. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for the groups.

Hezbollah is fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the decade-old civil war.
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, flames rise from containers at the scene of a missile attack, at the port of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, early Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (SANA via AP)
Hours after Syrian media accused Israel of striking the port city of Latakia earlier this month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett alluded to the incident, saying that the military was constantly fighting “bad forces” in the Middle East.

“We’re pushing back on the bad forces of this region day and night,” he said in English. “We won’t stop for one second. This happens almost daily.”

“In the face of destructive forces we will continue to act, we will be persistent, and we will not tire,” Bennett pledged.

AP contributed to this report

Meeting Bennett on Iran, Biden envoy says US, Israel must develop ‘common strategy’

December 24, 2021

In shadow of Vienna talks, Jake Sullivan tells PM two countries need to find a joint way forward to face major security issues; Bennett downplays reported snub by White House

By AMY SPIRO22 December 2021, 1:54 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on December 22, 2021. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on December 22, 2021. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met on Wednesday in Jerusalem with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other visiting US officials, as Israel remained concerned over Western talks in Vienna with Iran over its nuclear program. Sullivan said the US and Israel are at a “critical juncture” in facing a major set of security issues, and need to “develop a common strategy” that serves both their interests.

“These days are pretty important,” Bennett told Sullivan in public remarks in English ahead of their meeting. “What happens in Vienna has profound ramifications for the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel for the upcoming years. And that’s why it’s such a timely meeting.”

Sullivan told the prime minister that US President Joe Biden sent him to Israel “even just before Christmas” to coordinate and cooperate on their approach to Iran and other security issues.

“At a critical juncture for both of our countries on a major set of security issues, it’s important that we sit together and develop a common strategy, a common outlook, and find a way forward that fundamentally secures your country’s interests and mine,” said Sullivan. “And we believe those interests, like the values upon which our countries are built, are deeply shared and deeply felt.”

Sullivan then held meetings with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.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 meeting between Sullivan and Gantz also focused on Iran, the Defense Ministry said.

“During the meeting, a variety of strategic and cooperative issues were discussed, chief among them the Iranian nuclear fight and Iran’s regional aggression,” Gantz’s office said, noting that IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and director-general of the Defense Ministry Amir Eshel also attended.Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with visiting US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the Knesset on December 22, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

During the meeting, which was held at the Knesset, the defense minister also spoke with Sullivan about Israel’s efforts to strengthen ties with the Palestinian Authority, according to his office.

Sullivan held a meeting earlier on Wednesday with his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, and late Tuesday evening he met with President Isaac Herzog. US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog also took part in Sullivan’s meetings with both Bennett and Herzog.

Sullivan and Bennett met shortly after reports surfaced saying that Biden has been ignoring Bennett’s request for a phone call, which Bennett appeared to downplay on Wednesday.

“I want to say that the relationship between my government and the Biden administration, between Israel and the United States, is as strong as ever,” Bennett said Wednesday. “And being so strong and having this meaningful friendship means that we can also talk openly and candidly about all the shared challenges that we’re facing. And that’s what we’re going to do.”From left: US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, President Isaac Herzog and Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog meet in Jerusalem on December 21, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Herzog’s meeting with Sullivan also focused largely on Iran, with the president expressing “concern with Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons under the cover of the negotiations in Vienna,” according to his office.

The meetings come as European diplomats warn that nuclear negotiations in Vienna to secure a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran are “rapidly reaching the end of the road.”

In a blow to European mediators, Iran requested a new pause in the talks, which aim to bring the United States back into the agreement and roll back Iran’s nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic publicly stepped up its nuclear projects after the US withdrawal from the deal in 2018.

The talks had resumed in late November after a five-month break following the election of a new hardline government in Iran.

During a press briefing with reporters on Sunday, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the White House was not particularly optimistic about the talks, but was not giving up hope.

We are “curbing our enthusiasm for where we are and where we might go. There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Price. “What the team experienced on the ground in Vienna until the talks adjourned late last week, it was progress, but it wasn’t at a pace that was sufficient to get us to where we need if we are to render the JCPOA as a viable vehicle going forward.”People walk past Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

Earlier this month, Gantz visited Washington for discussions on Iran. He later told reporters he’d notified US officials that he had instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a strike against Iran.

Joining Sullivan in Israel are US envoy to the Middle East Brett McGurk and the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert.

A senior administration official told reporters on Monday that Sullivan was not delivering any new information to Israeli officials during this trip.

“It’s a visit that was long-planned, the culmination of a year of very close consultation,” the official said in response to a question from The Times of Israel. “So, there’s not — you know, there’s not a new deliverable or anything. This is part of a face-to-face engagement with close partners.”

After his meetings in Israel, Sullivan will travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Jacob Magid and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

The Fantasies Of Iran, US & Europe At The Vienna Talks | MEMRI

December 18, 2021


Following the renewal of the seventh round of nuclear talks in Vienna, it is becoming more and more clear that all the sides involved are living in a fantasy and that their delusions are gradually being exposed. All the sides are realizing that their hopes and expectations are indeed delusions, and their declarations in recent days attest to the fact that their positions are cut off from reality.

The following is an examination of both sides’ positions.

The American/European Side

The American/European Side Does Not Understand That There Is No Way Back To The 2015 JCPOA Agreement – It Has Been Stripped Of Content By Iran And Exists As A Mere Empty Framework

Although all that remains of the JCPOA is its formal framework, and it has been completely emptied of content by Iran through the latter’s violation of all of its aspects, the American/European side is acting as if Iran’s nuclear program can be brought back under the restrictions of the 2015 JCPOA.[1] According to a November 17, 2021 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report,[2] Iran is enriching uranium far beyond the 3.67% permitted in the JCPOA, to 60%. Its inventory of uranium exceeds the permitted 300 kg, with 2,489 kg of uranium enriched to a range of levels: 113.8 kg at 20%, 17.7 kg at 60%, 1,622 kg at 2%-5%, and 59 kg at 2%. It is using IR-4- and IR-6-generation centrifuge cascades, much more advanced than the first generation that it is allowed to use; and it is not cooperating with the IAEA, in violation of its commitment to do so. It is also not allowing inspections of its declared nuclear sites and refuses to allow inspections or even to answer questions about its undeclared nuclear sites that have been exposed. Additionally, it is not cooperating with the IAEA in the matter of its plutonium reactor at Arak.

It should be emphasized that no declaration by senior Iranian officials has expressed an Iranian commitment to return to the original 2015 JCPOA even if the U.S. lifts all the sanctions.

The U.S. Administration Has Come To Terms With Iran’s Extortion Of Funds As A Condition For Contacts With It

About a month before the negotiations began, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian demanded that the Biden administration release at least $10 billion of frozen Iranian funds to prove the seriousness of its intentions.[3]

Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahian (Source: ISNA, Iran, December 14, 2021)

The U.S. administration released $3.5 billion to the Iranian regime as a gesture of goodwill, in the hope that it would be received as a sign of its serious intentions.[4] Additionally, several days before the talks began, the administration extended the waiver on sanctions for Iraq regarding Iranian oil – a path that allows Iran to sell oil via Iraq – which was also received in the West as an American gesture to the Iranian regime.[5]

The regime mouthpiece, the Kayhan daily, tried to clarify that this was not a precondition, but that “from now on, the payment that must be paid by the American side is $10 billion for its meeting” with the Iranian side, “and this is in order to test the sincerity of their intentions.”[6]

Even After Years Of Negotiations, The U.S. Administration Does Not Understand The Fundamental Political Culture And Ideology Of The Iranian Regime In Its Attitude Towards The U.S.: America Is “The Great Satan”;  Iran Does Not Recognize It And Is Unwilling To Maintain A Public Relationship With It, And Will Not Accept A U.S. Return To Negotiations Before It Is Punished

The U.S. has been forced to agree to a preliminary discussion about the conditions for its reacceptance to the negotiations and to the JCPOA. On December 12, 2021, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, who also heads the Iranian negotiating team, clarified: “One of the central issues in this [round of] negotiations [in Vienna] is to determine the conditions required for the [return of] America to the agreement from which it withdrew and which it now seeks to rejoin. Accordingly, we cannot ignore this agreement [the JCPOA on which Iran says it has based the demands that it has submitted] and I think that our view was not and is not maximalat all.”[7]

Furthermore, the Biden administration saw Iran’s insistence on excluding the U.S. from the negotiating room as a meaningless whim, thinking that the real issues will be determined in the negotiations themselves. U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley even reiterated, in a December 9, 2021 Al-Jazeera interview, the American administration’s proposal to Iran to hold direct negotiations “at any time and any place,”saying: “We’re prepared to meet with them face-to-face. We think it’s far superior to indirect negotiations.”[8]

Special Envoy Robert Malley (Source: Al-Jazeera, Qatar, December 9, 2021)

In his statements, Malley revealed the U.S. administration’s grave misunderstanding of how Iran perceives the U.S. position. “The Great Satan” is not a propaganda slogan, but a fundamental stance and an ideological foundation vis-à-vis the U.S., as expressed by the refusal of the government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, like that of his predecessor Hassan Rohani, to conduct any public relationship with the U.S. One example from the past few days of this Iranian regime approach to the U.S. can be found in November 27, 2021 statements by Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Abu Al-Fadl Shekarchi: “The Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] did well to call America ‘the Great Satan.’ ‘The Great Satan’ is one thing, and there are also smaller Satans, such as England and France… Every so often they, with their satanic nature, lead America itself to perdition. In many cases, England has been the basis for America’s fall, because the American officials are extremely stupid. The Satans in England… are birds of prey… [But] there is no difference between England, France, and America.”[9]

It is now becoming clear to the Americans that the Iranians’ exclusion of them in the negotiations is an essential matter of principle demonstrating that the U.S. is to blame for the situation, and that therefore it must take the first step – the lifting of all sanctions and Iranian verification of this on the ground, a process that takes time. Only afterwards will the Iranians make any move at all.

The U.S. Does Not Understand That Iran Will Not Compromise On Its Positions

With the renewal of the second stage of the seventh round of talks, on December 7, 2021, it is now clear to the Americans that the Iranian regime is considering its position paper, which it submitted, as a final position that must be accepted, and that this position must be the final outcome of the negotiations. The Americans also thought that the seventh round of talks would begin at the same point as the sixth round ended, and that there would be no backtracking from what was concluded by the two sides in the six previous rounds. They are now realizing that the Iranian side is rejecting those conclusions and is beginning from a different point, arguing that its position paper is based on the 2015 JCPOA and therefore must be accepted in full.

Iran’s representative in the IAEA, Mohammad Reza Ghaibi, at a November 25, 2021 IAEA Board of Governors meeting, explained the Iranian regime’s position, according to which “Iran believes that the negotiations must be results-directed. It is, therefore, important that the outcome of these efforts will ensure that all sanctions will be lifted effectively and that this can be verified [by Iran].”[10] 

The American/European side had hoped that after the first round of negotiations with the Raisi government, the Iranians would more or less give up on their maximal demands as submitted in writing at the beginning of the seventh round of talks, and would present realistic positions for the opening of “serious” negotiations. But at a December 7, 2021 White House briefing, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan expressed his frustration at Iran’s uncompromising position: “The more Iran demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the negotiating table, the more unity there is among the P5+1 and the more they will be exposed as the isolated party in this negotiation. So really, the ball is in Iran’s court as to whether it wants to show up and demonstrate that it’s going to be serious or not.”[11]

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (Source: CNN, August 18, 2021)

The Biden administration does not realize that its positive positions vis-à-vis Iran are completely unappreciated by the Iranian leadership – instead, they are perceived as weakness and as a basis for additional extortion.

In light of Iran’s rigidity, the Americans are now compelled to threaten with alternatives, even though they stress that their first preference is negotiations, and are examining cooperation with other countries – the three European countries in the negotiations, Britain, France, and Germany, and also with Israel.

The U.S. Does Not Understand Iran’s Refusal To Negotiate On Other Strategic Issues

The American position included a demand to discuss Iran’s ballistic missiles with a range of over 2,000 km, assuming that the Iranians realize that this must be part of the negotiations. But the Americans are now realizing that Iran’s refusal to discuss this issue is a matter of principle and that Iran will not back down on it.

The Iranian Side

Iran Does Not Understand That Its Positions Are Unrealistic And That The West Cannot Accept Them – And Thinks That It Can Force Them On The West

The new Iranian government, headed by President Ebrahim Raisi, believes that if it insists on its position that it will be able to force the West to lift all the American sanctions and that it will verify that this has been done before it makes any move whatsoever. It must be emphasized that Iran’s demand for all the sanctions to be lifted is in fact an expansion of the JCPOA framework; in the JCPOA it was concluded that only the nuclear sanctions would be lifted and that all the other sanctions on Iran, imposed by Congress for its violation of human rights and promotion of terrorism, would remain in place. This is because Iran refused to include these issues in the negotiations it conducted with the Obama administration, along with the issues of limits on the range of its ballistic missiles and its expansion in the region.

The Iranian regime thinks that its argument that Iran has met its obligations under the JCPOA will continue to be accepted, even though Iran has stripped all significance from the JCPOA, beginning in October 2019, in an orderly and proactive move. According to Iran’s position, the U.S. was the party that failed to meet its obligations, and therefore it is obliged to back down and make the first moves – that is, lift all the sanctions, have Iran verify that they have been lifted, and pay compensation to Iran for the suffering caused by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA.  

Statements by Ali Bagheri-Kani, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiating team head for the Vienna talks, demonstrate this position. He said on December 9, 2021: “[The solution] to these disputes over [the lifting of] the sanctions [depends on] serious intent and practical willingness on their part [i.e. the U.S.]. When this serious intent is actualized, we will be able to take steps to lift the sanctions. The lifting of the sanctions creates a serious opening for advancing the talks, particularly with regard to [Iran’s] nuclear operation [regarding a return to its commitments].”[12]

Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri-Kani (Source: Tasnim, Iran, December 7, 2021)

Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahian wrote in an article published on December 7, 2021 by the Russian newspaper Kommersant: “During the previous six rounds of talks, it became abundantly clear to the Iranian side that America is not paying attention to the fact that there is no way to revive the JCPOA without lifting all the illegal sanctions… I want to stress that the current window of talks will not remain open forever. America and the three European countries must understand this very well.”[13]

The Iranians believe that they are proving their seriousness in the negotiations by adhering to procedural matters: their arrival at the talks, their remaining in Vienna even when the other side departs for consultations, and, primarily, the submission of the position paper whose comprehensive demands they expect to be fully met due to this ostensible “seriousness.” They also announced that they are about to submit an additional document regarding the compensation that the U.S. must pay to Iran for the damage done to it.

President Ebrahim Raisi said at a December 11, 2021 conference for Iran’s ambassadors to neighboring countries: “The presentation of the text of Iran’s proposal at the negotiations proves to the sides in the negotiations that we are in serious negotiations and that if the other side is determined to lift the sanctions, the way to arrive at an agreement is smooth.”[14]

President Raisi (Source:, April 16, 2017)

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on the eve of the talks’ renewal, on December 6, 2021: “The Raisi government has announced its intention to negotiate by giving two plans to the Europeans. The ball is in Europe’s court, and the outcome must be the complete lifting of the sanctions, and this is the serious demand of the [Raisi] government. The Western sides have returned to their countries [for consultation]. Our demand is clear, and the European countries must compensate [Iran] for their inaction in light of their violation of the [JCPOA] agreement. We must examine how serious they are regarding their commitment, and we are willing to work with them if [they lift the sanctions]. Their commitment must be to lift all the sanctions.”[15] However, it is now becoming clear to the Iranians that neither the U.S. nor Europe are willing to consider their position, even as an opening position.

The Iranian Regime Does Not Understand The Biden Administration’s Positive Intentions

The Iranian desire for the Iranian regime to publicly humiliate the U.S. is preventing the regime from understanding that the Biden administration is trying any way it can, with genuine goodwill, to arrive at an understanding with it by maintaining the JCPOA in a way that will serve Iran’s interests.

The Iranian Regime Is Mistaken In Its Delusions About Its Military Power vs. The U.S.

The Iranian side is deluding itself that it is capable of deterring the U.S. with threats and military operations. Furthermore, the Iranian side truly believes that the U.S. has been deteriorating since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and that its retreat from Afghanistan is an additional manifestation of its weakness.[16] Recently, the Iranian regime staged an incident that it claimed had taken place in the Persian Gulf between forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the U.S. Navy, simulating a U.S. attempt to capture an Iranian oil tanker that was foiled by the IRGC. A four-minute video montage was released depicting the alleged clash; the video included narration and commentary by Iranian strategist Hassan Abbasi, claiming that America has been “dead” since the 1979 hostage crisis. It is superfluous to note that the Pentagon denied that such an incident had taken place.

To view the December 2, 2021 video of an alleged attack and Hassan Abbasi’s commentary on MEMRI TV, click here or below:,440/1

It should also be noted that according to the Iranian regime, it dealt a successful blow against the U.S. Army in response to the assassination of IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who led Iran’s expansion in the region, with missiles fired at the Ain Al-Assad base in Iraq. This is despite the fact that the attack had been coordinated in advance with the Americans so that there would be no loss of American lives. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis report The Iran-U.S. Crisis, Part III: Iran’s January 2020 Strikes On U.S. Ayn Al-Asad Airbase – The Roars Of A Fearful Paper Tiger, November 10, 2021.


It appears that in light of the profound discrepancies between the sides’ positions, and the Iranian regime’s unwillingness to negotiate directly with the U.S., Iran will continue to demand that the U.S. pay it for continued contact with it in the coming rounds of talks, in order to shore up its shaky economy. At the same time, it is continuing to threaten the U.S. and demand that all the American sanctions be lifted, including those put in place by Congress that the Biden administration is not authorized or able to lift.

It should be noted that the only restriction stressed by the Biden administration concerning Iran is Iran’s obligation never to gain nuclear weapons. Such a demand is ostensibly compatible with the Iranian regime’s proud promotion of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s alleged fatwa banning nuclear weapons.[17]

Based on the assumption that the Iranian regime is truly not interested in nuclear weapons, the sides should have found a common basis for future understandings. The not-insurmountable distance between these two positions should have led the sides to a common ground for understandings and agreement. But the fact is that neither side is even capable of conducting honest negotiations. This is for two reasons:

  1. The assumption that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons is wrong.
  2. The Iranian regime’s institutional ideological hostility towards the U.S., which it views as the leader of the world order that must step down from its role, does not allow its leaders to arrive at any agreement with the U.S. in which the latter does not fully surrender to the demands of the Iranian regime.

* A. Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis reports No. 1478, Despite The JCPOA, Iran Accelerates Its Nuclear Research And Development – While The U.S., After Leaving The JCPOA, In Fact Preserves It With Waivers For Member Countries Allowing Them To Help Iran Continue Civilian Nuclear Development, October 10, 2019; No. 1481, Even As UK, France Acknowledge That Iran Is Violating The JCPOA, The Trump Administration, After Ostensibly Withdrawing From It, Continues To Preserve It – By Means Of Its Waivers For Civilian Nuclear Cooperation With Iran, November 6, 2019.

[2], November 17, 2021.

[3] Abdollahian said on Iranian TV on October 3, 2021: “Biden wants to get to the negotiating table… Therefore, we have told the other sides that our intentions are serious. We are people who negotiate, and we are people of action. You must know that the new Iranian government is one of action. Our people will not benefit from negotiations that will result in drinking coffee. Our people will benefit from negotiations in which all its economic interests are actualized in the framework of the nuclear agreement. [If] Biden’s intent is serious, he must demonstrate this, and serious intention means the release of at least $10 billion of [the Iranian regime’s] funds [that have been blocked in other countries].”, October 3, 2021.

[4] Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh confirmed, on November 15, 2021, that $3.5 billion of Iran’s blocked funds had been released, and added that “Iran is acting for the release of more of its funds.” ISNA, Iran, November 15, 2021.

[5] November 29, 2021.

[6] Kayhan (Iran), October 12, 2021.

[7] ISNA (Iran), December 12, 2021.

[8], December 9, 2021.

[9] ISNA (Iran), November 28, 2021.

[10], November 25, 2021.


[12] ISNA (Iran), December 9, 2021.

[13], December 7, 2021.

[14], December 11, 2021.

[15], December 6, 2021..

[16] See for example November 27, 2021 statements by Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Abu Al-Fadl Shekarchi: “Forty-three years ago, America was at its peak materially, and every day that has passed since the Islamic Revolution, America has plummeted several hundred meters, and now it is near the bottom.” ISNA, Iran, November 28, 2021.

[17] For more on Khamenei’s nonexistent nuclear fatwa, see: MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 825, Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec’y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei, April 19, 2012; Special Dispatch No. 5406, Release Of Compilation Of Newest Fatwas By Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei – Without Alleged Fatwa About Nuclear Bomb, August 13, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 5461, President Obama Endorses The Lie About Khamenei’s ‘Fatwa’ Against Nuclear Arms, September 29, 2013; Inquiry & Analysis No.1022, The Official Iranian Version Regarding Khamenei’s Alleged Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa Is A Lie, October 3, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 5574, Iranian President Hassan Rohani In Article In Saudi Daily: While Avoiding Confrontation And Hostility, We Shall Be Diligent In Pursuing Our Supreme Interests, December 23, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 5681, Prominent Iranian Analyst, Author, And Columnist Amir Taheri: Nobody Has Actually Seen Khamenei’s Anti-Nuclear Fatwa, Which Obama Often Quotes, March 17, 2014; Inquiry & Analysis No. 1080, U.S. Secretary Of State Kerry In New And Unprecedented Statement: ‘President Obama And I Are Both Extremely Welcoming And Grateful For The Fact That [Iranian] Supreme Leader [Khamenei] Has Issued A [Nonexistent] Fatwa’ Banning Nuclear Weapons, April 19, 2014; Special Dispatch No. 5881, Tehran Again Offers Khamenei’s Nonexistent Fatwa In Negotiations As A Guarantee That It Is Not Developing Nuclear Weapons, November 14, 2014; Inquiry & Analysis No.1151, Iranian Regime Continues Its Lies And Fabrications About Supreme Leader Khamenei’s Nonexistent Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons, April 6, 2015; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1458, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Reiterates Iran’s Lie, Promoted By Obama Administration, That Supreme Leader Khamenei Issued Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons; No Such Fatwa Ever Existed, May 31, 2019.

Iran’s nuclear breakout time now ‘really short’ — US official

December 18, 2021

Biden’s national security adviser says ‘we do not yet have a pathway back’ to nuke deal; 2nd official: Talks ‘better than it might have been’ and ‘worse than it should have been’

By TOI STAFF and AFPToday, 2:43 am  

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

Illustrative: In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

The United States estimates the amount of time Iran needs to churn out enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb is now “very short,” a Biden administration official said Friday.

The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, did not specify the exact length of time Iran needs to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon. Estimates have put the breakout time at several months.

“But it’s really short. It is unacceptably short,” the official was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The official also called the new assessment of the Islamic Republic’s breakout time “alarming.”

The remarks came as Western powers reported some progress in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal, but European diplomats warned that they were “rapidly reaching the end of the road.”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 a blow to European mediators, Iran requested a new pause in the talks in Vienna, which aim to bring the United States back into the 2015 agreement and roll back nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic publicly stepped up its nuclear projects after the US withdrawal from the deal.

The talks had just resumed in late November after a five-month break following the election of a new hardline government in Iran.People walk past Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

Underlying Western concerns are fears that Iran will soon have made enough progress that the 2015 accord — under which it was promised economic relief in return for drastic curbs on its nuclear work — will be obsolete.

Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, called for a “sense of urgency” and for talks to resume before the end of the year.

“We are not talking anymore about months, we are talking about weeks,” Mora said.

Former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions including a unilateral US ban on Iran’s oil sales, vowing to bring the US adversary to its knees.

US President Joe Biden supports a return to the agreement negotiated by predecessor Barack Obama, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but has been frustrated by the pace of resurrection efforts.

“It’s not going well in the sense that we do not yet have a pathway back into the JCPOA,” Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said of the talks.

“We are paying the wages of the disastrous decision to leave the deal back in 2018,” he said.

But Sullivan, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said recent days “have brought some progress at the bargaining table.”US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, December 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Another US official said the latest round was “better than it might have been” and “worse than it should have been.”

The official called for a “very significant acceleration” and said the US was ready to return before New Year’s.

“If it takes this much time to agree on a common agenda, imagine how much time it will take to resolve the issues on that agenda,” they said.

Russia, which along with China is also in the talks, said negotiators agreed to start from where they left off in June before Iran requested a break for its elections.

The latest round was “successful in a sense that it prepared sound basis for more intensive negotiations,” envoy Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter.

Tehran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri said there were “hard and intense negotiations” to agree on the “bases” for further talks which will take place “in the near future.”

Report: US tells Israel new tanker jets, key to Iran strike, not coming anytime soon

December 15, 2021

According to NYT, during his visit to DC Defense Minister Gantz asked to accelerate delivery of KC-46 refueling planes but was told first aircraft unlikely to arrive before 2024

By TOI STAFF14 December 2021, 5:04 pm  

A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (US Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)

A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (US Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)

Israel has asked the United States to accelerate the delivery of refueling aircraft it had purchased that could be needed to attack Iranian nuclear sites, but was told by the Biden administration the first plane likely will not be delivered until 2024, according to a report Tuesday.

The sale of eight new KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tankers to Israel was approved by the State Department last March.

Citing American and Israeli officials, the New York Times reported the request was made by Defense Minister Benny Gantz when he met last week with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington.

US officials reportedly told Gantz the planes were back-ordered but they would work to speed up the delivery.

Funding for the refueling planes is set to come from the military aid package that Israel receives annually from the US.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 newspaper noted that the timing of the delivery is key, with officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration worried that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seeking to renew the threat of military action against Iran.

It also said the Israeli Air Force was vying with the US Air Force for the planes, with Washington eager to supply the aircraft to its own forces as part of efforts to counter China.

The report noted that the tankers would be a significant upgrade for Israel and that without them, Jerusalem would need to rely on its aging fleet of refueling planes for a strike on Iran, or make a pit stop in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, neither of which would want to be linked to an attack on rival Iran.Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Current and former officials quoted in the report said Israeli military planners believe that any strike on Iran will likely require multiple sorties against some sites, such as the underground Fordo uranium enrichment facility, necessitating speedy refueling.

US officials told the Times that they did not believe an attack was looming and that Israel’s public preparations for a possible strike could be aimed at putting pressure on Western nations to seek tougher terms in talks on reviving the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel is vocally opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, which Biden has said he wants to rejoin after his presidential predecessor Donald Trump withdrew the US from the pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Tehran has since steadily increased its breaches of the accord.