This reporter was asked the other day why Israel has not bombed the Iranian nuclear facilities? The answer to that question is multifaceted. To begin with, the Biden administration and especially the Obama administration have warned the Israeli governments against attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran. The US refused to provide Israel with the codes that would prevent collision between American and Israeli aircrafts. It has given the Ayatollahs the time to fortify their advanced centrifuges deep in the Zagros mountains. Furthermore, the Biden team is still seeking ways to engage the Iranian regime to revive the nuclear talks despite the Ayatollah Khamenei making impossible demands, including that the Biden administration commit that all future US government will not withdraw from a nuclear deal, and that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure must remain in place.
Israel is, however, facing an intolerable existential threat from the theocratic Iranian regime that has seemingly reached a near threshold nuclear status. Clearly, the Biden administration commitment not to allow Iran to get to a bomb is thus far empty rhetoric. Biden seeks to find an understanding with Tehran short of a formal deal that won’t have to undergo Congressional scrutiny. Such an understanding would release billions of dollars currently under sanctions for the Ayatollahs to advance their nuclear plans, and their malign activities through their terror proxies.
Senior Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that should Iran break out to 90% purity in uranium enrichment (currently at 84%), it will result in an Israeli strike. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that Iran’s enrichment at the 90% level constitutes a red line for Israel. Netanyahu informed western European leaders of Israel’s intentions. In fact, Netanyahu had planned a military action before the 5+1 JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action) nuclear deal that was signed in July 2015. The signed deal, and the Iranian apparent temporary halt to uranium enrichment took away the intensity of a prospective Israeli action.
While the nuclear deal with Iran was in effect, complacency took over, and Israeli plans to strike Iran were shelved. Preoccupation with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon has failed to adjust Israeli plans to the changes that have occurred in the intervening decade. When President Donald Trump abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018, Israel was still not prepared for action. Jerusalem entertained hopes that the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Iran would compel Iran to go for a new, and stricter deal that would be a better deal than the 2015 JCPOA, much stronger and longer term. Some in the Israeli government also expected the Iranian regime to collapse because of a failing economy caused by the sanctions, and the Ayatollahs mismanagement.
Once the US was out of the deal, the Iranians rushed to speed up their nuclear development. In the more recent years, Tehran has made impressive progress, cheating along the way on their commitment as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. In the last two years, the Islamic Republic installed advanced centrifuges, and enriched uranium at a high rate that added up to large quantities.
What is transpiring now can be seen as two military campaigns between Iran and Israel. One is the War Between Wars, with the Iranian Navy attacking Israeli owned vessels, and Israel retaliating by targeting Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah, bombing arms depots in Syria, and targeting Iranian sponsored militias in Syria. The second war is psychological. Iran is funding multi fronts against Israel including Gaza-based Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the South, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria in the North, along with Iranian sponsored Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Houthis in Yemen might be added as a front against Israel, and naturally Iran itself. Additionally, Iran is seeking to activate an internal front in Israel, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, as well as in Jerusalem. Israel might secure a base of operation in Azerbaijan, which borders with Iran. Although a majority of Azeris are Shiite of Turkic background, they are mostly secular. A quarter of Iran’s population is Azeri, and many on the border area with Azerbaijan would like to join Baku. There is an endemic hostility between Baku and Tehran. While Iran flaunts its advanced missiles, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) trains on long-distance missions; both are signals of intent. Still, neither side wants a devastating war now.
The Ayatollahs are careful not to provoke a war by claiming that reaching the 84% enrichment level was an error. But who can trust the inventors of “Taqiyya” or dissimulation, who lied time and again about their nuclear arsenal and their intentions. A Tehran Times (an English mouthpiece of the regime) headline on June 12, 2023, read: “Iran says never left talks, ready to revive JCPOA.” The Ayatollahs are keenly aware of Israeli capabilities, they remember that Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981, and the Syrian nuclear facility in 2007. Iran may be farther away than Iraq, and Syria, and there are multiple facilities to be bombed, but Israeli new technology might be able to solve that problem.
Ideally, the Biden administration should keep its commitment to prevent Iran from having a nuclear bomb. A combined American Israeli operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities has a far better chance to succeed, and add international legitimacy to such an operation. Dennis Ross, former White House Middle East envoy stated that “Iran is hardening its defenses, meaning Israel could lose the option to attack. As someone who has worked on this issue and talked to the Israelis for a long time, the one thing I am personally convinced of is they will never allow themselves to lose the option. You don’t wait until it is a minute to midnight.”
Israel is by far stronger now than it was in 2012, when Netanyahu was ready to launch an attack. The addition of the F-35 stealth, multi-role fighter jet that can perform air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea missions, makes it a potent weapon against Iran. Nevertheless, Israel must realize that a successful mission that would destroy the Fordo facility and perhaps the one in Natanz, won’t end Iran’s ability to rebuild its facilities within months. The Iranians have managed to acquire the knowledge, and that is hard to eliminate. The Iranian facilities are widely dispersed, and harder to destroy since they are heavily defended. Israel would need the heaviest bunker busting bombs, and for that it requires something like a B-52 bomber, or a B-1 Lancer, which the US is unlikely to provide Israel. Most importantly, Israel needs the 5,000-pound bunker-buster bombs, the GBU-72/B, and it might or might not possess such bombs.
The answer to the question “can Israel eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat” is theoretically ‘yes.’ Israel could succeed in inflicting serious damage to the Iranian nuclear facilities, but the ultimate costs might exceed the benefits. Still, never again is more than a slogan, it is a conviction. And, if Iran would be in an imminent position to attack Israel with an atomic weapon or conventionally, Israel will act preemptively.