Israel’s three security kingpins go to Washington next week to try and modify, if not halt, the Biden administration’s race for a nuclear pact with Iran. Mossad director Yossi Cohen, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and national security adviser Mair Ben-Shabbat will not arrive as a delegation but separate and make tracks for their counterparts at the top of American military, intelligence and national security organizations. Unlike in 2015, Israel will not go face to face against the administration as it did overr Barack Obama’s initiative to conclude the original nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. Instead, the government in Jerusalem hopes to modify the finished product by inserting clauses that meet Israel’s most pressing security concerns and the threats that may be left open by the deal. The three officials will try and persuade the administration to accommodate those vital adjustments and talk down its fears of rejection by Tehran.
Washington, for its part, while not sharing the current state of its indirect dialogue with Tehran, is also making an effort to calm Israel’s concerns. On Monday, April 19, US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas Greenfield, stated: “The Biden administration will support Israel as it works to counter the threats posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior.” She was responding to Israel’s unease over possible premature sanctions relief by the US for keeping Iran at the table and the ongoing Vienna talks for reviving the 2015 nuclear accord afloat. For Iran, this is a major talking point. The release of frozen funds, following the example set by Obama, will enable Tehran to boost its support for proxies hostile to Israel like the Lebanese Hizballah, Iraqi Shiite militias and the Houthi insurgents of Yemen.
Israel’s apprehension was reinforced when President Hassan Rouhani commented on Tuesday, April 20: “Negotiations have achieved 60-70 percent progress. If the Americans act honestly, we will reach a conclusion in little time.” The US State Department spokesman Ned Price stepped in to cool this sentiment by saying: “There have been no breakthroughs and a long road lies ahead.”
DEBKAfile’s military sources note that for Israel, all this palaver is beside the point. Rouhani needs to sound upbeat to offer a ray of hope to a population sunk in a welter of disastrous crises. The Biden administration wants to convey the impression that there is a long way to go for nuclear negotiations and the US is in no hurry to hand out concessions to Iran.
But Israel’s overriding focus is on Iran’s furtive advance on its objective. According to its intelligence services, Iran hs been creeping forward to breakout time for a nuclear weapon and reached a point no more than 3-4 months away from this target. The original JCPOA accord was hailed by the Obama administration as a major breakthrough because, at the time, US intelligence calculated that Iran was just a year away from breakout point. But Iran has used the intervening six years and is now far closer to its objective. Undaunted by harsh US sanctions and solemn American vows never to let Iran procure a nuclear weapon, Tehran has cut its timeline for a nuke by two-thirds. And today, no one is in any position to promise that Iran will not emerge as a nuclear-armed power within a few months.
The Parchin military site (shown on the attached photo) holds a large metal lined chamber for testing nuclear explosives. Iran barred the nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. from inspecting this site in another breach of accord’s provision of comprehensive monitoring of its nuclear program. The photo was contained in the nuclear archive captured by Israel from a secret site in Tehran.
On Tuesday, April 20, two former Israeli officials ran an article in the influential Foreign Policy urging the government to back President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord. The government has for more than a decade faced a strong domestic lobby of former security high-ups campaigning against direct Israeli action for averting Iran’s acquisition of a nuke. The article was penned by former Mossad Director Tamir Pardo and former Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai and backed by the signatures of 300 ex-military and security officials.
Nonetheless, the writers confirm the current intelligence estimate of 3-4 months to breakout time and their article is subtitled “Reducing Iran’s breakout time and restoring robust monitoring are the most urgent priorities.” The authors have no answers to what happens next after Iran achieves breakout or how the Biden administration will respond, except to urge more negotiations.
The three Israeli emissaries arriving in Washington next week will have their work cut out to change this dominant mindset and head off a nuclear-armed Iran before it is too late.