The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

General Amidror of JISS: If the US returns to the old nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel will have no choice but to act militarily to prevent Iran from manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

By Amos Harel | Haaretz | 24.01.2021

The first signals from Washington attest that the new administration won’t waste time. The team that President Joe Biden has formed sees a return to talks on a nuclear agreement with Iran as a key goal, and apparently intends to start working toward it quickly. Tehran is responding with a hard line: The Iranians expect the United States to return to the original agreement, forged with the Obama administration in 2015 and jettisoned by President Donald Trump three years later. Tehran is also demanding an end to the sanctions the U.S. has imposed in recent years.

The new secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said in his Senate confirmation hearing last week that the United States wants to consult its friends in the Middle East ahead of a renewal of talks. “It’s vitally important that we engage on the takeoff, not the landing,” he added. Israel doesn’t sound encouraged by the developments. The broadcast of Biden’s inauguration in Israel on Wednesday evening was accompanied by pessimistic statements from political officials.

According to the briefings from Jerusalem, Biden will seek a speedy return to the agreement and only afterward formulate a new deal on new conditions that will address issues that were missed in the original one – restrictions on the Iranian missile program and on subversive activities in the Middle East.

One of the statements even said: “If Biden adopts the Obama plan [regarding Iran], there will be nothing to discuss with him.” When it comes to relations with the United States, Israel is not exactly a fly, but sometimes it gets a little confused and is totally certain that it’s an elephant.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of the National Security Council, remains one of the individuals closest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even now that he does not hold an official post. Last week at a meeting at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, where he is a senior fellow, Amidror said: “In a situation where the United States returns to the old nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel will have no choice but to act military against Iran to prevent it from manufacturing a nuclear weapon.”

According to Amidror, the Biden administration presents Israel with a critical issue: “How, dealing with an administration with clear plans to return to an agreement…, does Israel maneuver in a way that it manages to maintain military freedom of movement vis-a-vis Iran.”

Amidror told Haaretz: “The previous agreement, signed during Obama’s term, did not meet the need of preventing Iran from moving closer to the breakthrough point in achieving nuclear capability. Before signing the agreement, the Obama administration changed its policy from dismantling the Iranian capability to postponing the project and tracking it. We think this was a terrible agreement. A communication system must be created with the new administration to understand what they intend to do. We’ll have to sit with the Americans and understand their position. When this happens, Israel will also make its policy clear.”

According to Amidror, the American choice to return to the old agreement without making essential changes will put all options back on the table as far as Israel is concerned, “everything that Israel knows how to do.” He said, “If it turns out that the American moves make it possible for the Iranians to move closer to a bomb, the military option must be prepared better. There’s no need to hurry too much. First of all, a thorough understanding of what the Americans want is necessary, but Israel has to preserve the freedom of decision and freedom of action.”

After the 2015 agreement, the Israeli army’s multi-annual plan diverted resources to other tasks, such as the so-called ‘campaign between the wars’ to attack Iranian bases and weapons convoys in Syria. In contrast, fewer efforts were invested in operational plans for aerial assaults on the “third circle” – countries that do not share a border with Israel, like Iran – whose main target was the nuclear program.

The daily Israel Hayom recently reported that if the government decides to put the military option back on the table, the Israel Defense Forces would ask for billions more shekels for this purpose.

Amidror discounts the importance of bad blood between Netanyahu and veteran members of the Obama administration, some of whom have now returned to key positions in the Biden administration. According to Amidror, ties between the two countries are solid and practical enough to ignore such residue, if there is any. “In the end, countries make decisions based on interests, not on personal relations,” he added.

Amidror believes, as do some of the senior advisers around Netanyahu, that Iran’s bargaining position in renewed talks is much weaker than Iran presents it in official statements. He says the impact of American sanctions on Iran’s economy has been very severe: “They are barely keeping their heads above water and are waiting for the launch of the Biden administration. Tehran is under great pressure to lift the sanctions.” In Amidror’s opinion, Iran’s position allows the Americans to take a tougher stand in negotiations when they begin.