Israel this week appeared to have geared up planning for a military offensive to halt archenemy Iran’s drive for a nuclear bomb – after holding back from going it alone for nearly three decades.
In 1995, the late air force chief Herzl Budinger presented the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin with a detailed plan for aborting a nuclear-armed Iran. He argued that the enemy’s nuclear program was still accommodated in a few shacks and therefore easy to knock down. He was turned down by the government.
In 2012, Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister then as now, was bent on going forward with a military strike. His plan was shot down by the late Mossad chief, Yizhak Dagan, with solid backing from Washington.
This week, David Albright, a renowned authority on the subject, told The Economist in an interview that the Islamic Republic could enrich uranium to military grade of 90pc, in a newly dug underground tunnel near Natanz within 12 days and increase existing enriched material sufficient for four bombs within one month, adding another two within two months, if the presence pace of enrichment was sustained.
Even the nuclear watchdog, the IAEA conceded that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile had increased 23-fold over the limit set in 2015.
This week, Netanyahu again intoned his oft-heard pledge that Israel would do everything to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear arms. And Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared solemnly: “The dangers facing Israel are intensifying – notably regarding recent developments in Iran’s nuclear program – and we may be called upon to do our duty for protecting the integrity of Israel and especially the future of the Jewish people.”
On the quiet, Netanyahu dispatched two trusted aides, Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzahi Hanegbi to Washington with a proposition: It included Israel’s consent to postpone its attack on Iran’s nuclear sites in return for a breakthrough in diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. It is not clear how this would reduce the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, May 30, members of the security cabinet were convened for a thorough briefing on the intelligence available on the subject. They reviewed once again Israel’s capabilities, potential scenarios and available responses. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir was not invited to this session.
In consequence of this key debate, military operational planning was altered and brought in line with the current situation according to the latest evaluations.
On Monday, the IDF launched a two-week long multi-front exercise in sync with the US and in the presence of US CENTCOM commander Gen. Erik Kurilla. Folowup joint drills are scheduled for the near future, designed to simulate an operation against Iran. Israel has therefore notched up its preparations for this operation and stands ready to go forward. Washington – not yet.