The Chief of Staff for Israel’s military, Aviv Kochavi, broke headlines with his threats to attack Iran, in order to prevent what he calls Iran’s “advance to a [nuclear] bomb”. With many fearing Israel may launch strikes against Iranian military/nuclear facilities, it is more likely that the threats were made for Biden’s ears.
Israel’s Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi delivered a speech this Tuesday at the annual INSS conference which, despite having been in Hebrew, quickly grabbed the attention of both the Farsi and English speaking press.
As an Israeli military Chief of Staff, criticism of your ally’s foreign policy is not generally commonplace. However, when it comes to Israel’s opposition to the US re-entering the Iran nuclear deal, the entire establishment is coming out with all guns blazing.
Although the statements made were a perceived show of strength against Iran and a militaristic opposition to Biden’s foreign policy position, the fact that such a public display has been made may indeed indicate a failure of Israel to get its way.
It is a possibility that Israel is considering strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, as many analysts have speculated. After all, Israel has previously struck two different countries’ nuclear facilities in the past, Iraq’s in 1981 and Syria’s in 2007. Israel has also, according to Tehran itself, assassinated multiple Iranian nuclear scientists; as was the case in November of last year with the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist.
But what is more likely, is that these open threats against Iran are just hot-air, with the primary target being the US. With the Israeli military threatening to commit offensive action against Iran, accusing it of pursuing a nuclear weapon, Israel can attempt to sway the US to bid for its demands, namely ending Iran’s Ballistic Missile program and its aid to regional allies.
In his speech Lt. Gen. Kochavi claims Iran could potentially reach the ability to create a nuclear weapon in “months, maybe even weeks.” This a claim that has been made for over a decade with little to back it up, and it’s doubtful he actually believes it. The primary focus of Israel, when it comes to any area of threat from Iran, actually has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Israel understands well that even if there was an Iranian nuclear weapons program – which there is no evidence for and only Israel will claim exists – Iran would never use that hypothetical weapon on the Holy Land. Using nuclear weapons against that land, would be like using nuclear weapons in close proximity of Karbala, Najaf, Mecca or Medina and would destroy all its credibility in the Muslim world.
The primary aim for Israel, which it publicly announces as a side-note, is to end Iran’s support for its allied forces in the region, namely Hamas, Hezbollah and the Syrian government. Iran’s missile and drone programs are also a strategic threat and are something that Israel seeks to stop – Kochavi mentions both Iran’s “proxies” and missile programs in his speech.
Failing that achieved objective, the last thing Israel wants is an Iran free of economic sanctions. It wants to see Iran’s offensive weapon programs come to an end, as well as the aid it sends to its allies, or for the Biden administration to fall in line with the former administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign.
When it comes pro-Israeli lobbying efforts, it’s difficult to say what’s happening behind the scenes in the United States surrounding the Biden administration, and the conditions under which it will re-enter the JCPOA. But if this public display of pressure on Joe Biden had to come from an un-orthodox origin such as the military, it perhaps indicates that the Israeli Lobby is having a tough time convincing the US to fall in line, as also occurred under the Obama administration.
As Israeli Analyst, Neri Zilber, has also pointed out, the Israeli military is currently bidding for funding amidst the expected coming – Covid-19 related – budget cuts and maybe attempting to seize an opportunity to gather funds for this publicly announced ‘Iran strike plan’.
If this is indeed the case, and the Biden administration does continue to look to re-enter the JCPOA, the Israeli military can make claim to an immediate threat being posed to national security, and hence use this issue to wrestle money from the government. This scenario is especially possible due to the political deadlock in the Israeli Knesset over the upcoming budget, which Israel’s Central Bank has stressed must come soon for fear of economic repercussions.
The Iranian President’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, has ultimately dismissed Israel’s threats as psychological warfare and Iran has officially stated its readiness to respond to any Israeli attacks, vowing that Israel is not aware of Iran’s full military capabilities.
If critically assessed as an ultimatum to the US, Israel’s seemingly grandiose assertion that they are ready to take military action if they don’t get what they want, is likely a bluff.