Israel’s endless Iran bluster

What if the nuclear talks fail, and threats to launch a massive attack are actually carried out?

Barely any top Israeli official hasn’t been threatening to launch an all-out attack on Iran to destroy its overground and underground nuclear facilities: from Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and his minister of war Gen. Benny Gantz, to army chief Gen. Aviv Kochavi and his right-hand man and air force commander Gen. Amikam Norkin. They all aim to frighten the Iranian leadership into making concessions to the US that result in the resurrection of the decaying remains of the JCPOA nuclear agreement.

The strangest of these threats was mouthed by Mossad head Gen. David Bernea when he pledged to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity at all and any cost. That reminded me of former Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir’s vow six years ago to secure the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad from power by all and any means. Barnea may end up regretting making his prediction too — and facing the same or a worse fate than Jubeir (where is he now, btw?).

Israeli warplanes may have succeeded in destroying Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and the Syrian reactor under construction near Deir az-Zor in 2007. But that is not repeatable against Iran. Its nuclear programme is not concentrated at a single central site. Its facilities, including the most important that operate thousands of centrifuges, are scatted far and wide. A large number of airstrikes would be needed to destroy them, probably supported by ground operations by special forces.

Two recent Western press reports are worth considering for the light they shed on this situation.

The first maintained that Mossad bugged the first round of JCPOA talks that began in 2012 under the Obama Administration and knew what was happening at every stage. If that is true and not propaganda, we can be sure the same is happening in the current second round.

The second report was about the Biden administration turning down an Israeli request for deliveries of 11-ton MOAB ‘mother of all bombs’ munitions and the radar-evading B-2 bombers needed to drop them to destroy underground Iranian facilities. That explains why Gantz and Bernea returned empty-handed from their urgent visit to Washington to lobby for a US commitment to go to war against Iran if the talks fail.

No number of Israeli airstrikes can terminate Iran’s nuclear programme. But they could have the opposite effect, and result in the destruction of Israel’s own reactor at Dimona. Any attack would trigger an instant Iranian response, and it would only take a single precision missile strike to take the reactor out. It is not buried deep inside a mountain or underground like much of Iran’s well-defended infrastructure. Also, these facilities are home-built and not imported from any other country, making it possible to quickly repair or replace them.

The deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Ali Fadavi responded to this litany of threats by declaring that his country would retaliate against Israel and “flatten” it if it attacked. That echoed National Security Advisor Ali Shamkhani’s remark a few weeks ago that any Israeli warplanes sent out to attack Iran would find no airports or bases to return to.

The key question now being asked in Israel, the US and allied Western capitals is what happens if the Vienna talks succeed and an agreement is reached? What would come of all those Israeli threats?

I’ve said this a thousand times before: Iran will be the big winner whether the Vienna talks succeed or fail. If they succeed, that means an inflow of tens of billions of dollars into Iran’s treasuries, in the form of unfrozen assets or proceeds resulting from the lifting of Trump-era sanctions. This would enable Iran to further develop its missile and drone programmes, enhance its regional influence, and strengthen its paramilitary strike forces in the Middle East, while improving living conditions for its 80 million citizens. If the talks fail and Israel proceeds with an attack, it would face a retaliatory barrage of tens of thousands of missiles daily from every direction. Its Iron Dome batteries would not be able to intercept most of them — which is probably why the US Congress has just cancelled a planned purchase of these systems for the US army.

Agree with the Iranians or not, they are smart operators. They succeeded in getting some of the US’ Arab allies to scurry to Tehran seeking safety and reconciliation And they can bring the Israelis to their knees in any war they launch.

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