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

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.

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