Israel and the Iran deal: Natanz, hoped-for regime change, military strike or acceptance
Israel´s government is trying to influence the Biden administration which pushes for a new Iran deal. Netanjahu still reserves the right to act on its own as a sovereign nation and is concerned that Biden won´t listen to Israel´s interests. However, a former IDF intelligence chief thinks that a new Iran deal could be a solution which buys Israel time and would be in its own interest.
“Israeli cabinet ‘concerned the US wants an Iran deal at all costs’
The Biden administration is open to hearing Israeli concerns, but doesn’t seem to be taking them into consideration, the source added.
Israeli ministers expressed concern about the nuclear talks between the US and Iran, following a diplomatic-security cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“The Americans want a deal at all costs and the Iranians know it,” said a source in the meeting.
The Biden administration is open to hearing Israeli concerns, the source added, but doesn’t seem to be taking them into consideration.
The diplomatic-security cabinet meeting – the first in two months – focused on the Iranian threat a week after a major attack on the nuclear site at Natanz, as well as an attack on an Iranian ship serving as a military base on the Red Sea, both by Israel according to security sources, and as the US and Iran hold indirect negotiations.
Cabinet ministers heard security briefings from the head of security branches, including National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who plan to travel to Washington next week and meet with Biden administration officials. The ministers discussed how to respond to the US position, and will continue meeting on the topic next week.
Indirect talks between the US and Iran with European mediation have been ongoing in Vienna for the past two weeks, and the stated goal is for both sides to return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is known.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told FOX News Sunday that the US will not make any concessions until it has confidence Iran will return to compliance with the 2015 Iran deal.
Sullivan said the talks “have been constructive in the sense that there is real effort under way there with the permanent five members of the [UN] Security Council plus Germany on the one hand, and Iran on the other hand, to get on the table all of the issues related to both sanctions and nuclear issues so that we could end up back in the deal on a compliance-for-compliance basis.”
However, he would not detail what “compliance-for-compliance” would mean.(…)
In response to those reports, Erdan said that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with US President Joe Biden, he said that “Israel is a sovereign and independent country, and we reserve for ourselves all the options to behave as we see fit. Israel isn’t in the same situation as the US; it’s an existential threat. Iran threatens to destroy Israel directly.”
Meretz MK Yair Golan, former IDF deputy chief of staff, said on Sunday that he supports a return to the Iran deal.
Golan said that the IDF analyzed the JCPOA in 2015 and found that “no step, open or secret, by any of the nations of the world against the Iranian project, rolled back the nuclear program like the agreement did. In effect, the agreement brought about a situation in which, instead of dealing with an immediate problem of when Iran will break out to a bomb, Israel could for the first time in a decade deal with the Iranian nuclear threat without feeling like a sword is at its neck.”
The Meretz MK argued that delaying the nuclear program and the creation of a united international front against an Iranian nuclear program were effective and positive for Israel.
To those who oppose the deal, Golan said: “There is no better alternative that can be achieved. [Netanyahu] must understand that… all Israel can do is cooperate with the Biden administration and ensure that Israel’s interests are expressed as best as possible in the future agreement.”
As the negotiations about a new Iran deal are accelerating, Israel seems to try to boycott such a deal or to win time to influence the Biden administration. The sabotage act on the nuclear facility in Natanz propably was carried out by the Mossad. The Jerusalem Poss analyszes its goals and comes that the conclusion that the strike might have achieved its tactical, but not its strategic goal:
“Did the Mossad ’shoot‘ and miss with Natanz sabotage? – analysis
After initial denials, Iran has admitted that it lost the use of thousands of centrifuges plus extensive aspects of its electricity from the April 11 incident.
APRIL 18, 2021 16:51
Did Israel’s mythic intelligence agency, the Mossad, take its best shot at slowing Iran’s nuclear program last week and miss?
Although Israel’s supporters were complimenting the spy agency all week on the incident at Natanz on April 11 (about which sources told The Jerusalem Post and others that it was involved), which supposedly set back Tehran’s nuclear program by nine months, this may be a case of winning the battle but losing the war.
Whoever carried out the April 11 sabotage of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program did so to achieve two goals:
One was to set back Iran’s clock for how quickly it could potentially break out to a nuclear program. Allegedly, Natanz’s centrifuges for enriching uranium were to be off-line or unusable for nine months.
The second broader goal was to eliminate Tehran’s bargaining leverage at the negotiating table with the US and world powers so that Washington would feel less pressure to rush a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and only return if it received significant concessions.
After initial denials, Iran has admitted it lost the use of thousands of centrifuges plus extensive aspects of its electricity from the April 11 incident.
But within days, the Islamic Republic was claiming it would make a major jump in uranium enrichment to the 60% level.
This act, if it happened, could bring Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei much closer to a nuclear weapon than he had been prior to the Natanz incident.
People familiar with the matter belittled the idea that Khamenei retained such a capability after the success of the Natanz sabotage. It was empty Iranian propaganda to save face and try to maintain a false sense of pressure on the US in negotiations, they told the Post.
Former IDF intelligence chief Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash and Institute for Science and International Security president David Albright expressed a combination of doubt and lack of clarity about how the Islamic Republic could achieve such a new high level of enrichment after being hit so hard at Natanz. But both said they were working only from public estimates.
When questioned by the Post, even the International Atomic Energy Agency initially seemed silent about any new Iranian violation, which could have supported the idea that it was all a bluff.
But over the weekend, the IAEA finally confirmed that Iran had in fact achieved a 60% enrichment level using new, advanced centrifuges that were apparently not among those knocked out on April 11.It is still unknown why these centrifuges and their electrical power source survived undamaged.
Was it because they were off when the incident hit, because they were separated from the rest by distinct electrical systems or geography, or because they were being powered by alleged reserve electricity that Iran maintained in case of such an incident (following a similar method of attack on the Fordow nuclear facility’s electrical power in 2012)?
The amount of enriched uranium is still tiny: only a couple of hundred grams per day, compared with the kilograms that uranium enrichment is typically measured in.
But even this slow-moving process maintains pressure on the US and shortens the clock for the Islamic Republic to break out to a nuclear bomb.
Rather, than giving the US more time and leverage, the net total impact of the April 11 incident and the jump to 60% enrichment seems to have given the Biden administration a deeper sense of purpose and an understanding that speed is of the utmost importance to complete the negotiations before any new sabotage might further upset the applecart.
The US, Iran and China all made positive comments about progress in the negotiations over the weekend despite the April 11 incident and the 60%-enrichment announcement.
Alternatively, this was the endgame that Washington and Tehran always intended, and the two sides did not change their approach after last week’s events.
But even if that is true, it means that the April 11 incident plus Khamenei’s reaction may not have advanced Israel’s broader policy goals of driving the US toward taking longer to strike a tougher deal.If so, it is possible that a remarkable intelligence operation may have succeeded tactically but failed at a strategic level.Iran’s elections are set for June 18, and there is high pressure for at least an interim deal toward returning to the nuclear deal before Election Day.
The coming month or so will likely tell whether the sabotage of Natanz was worth it.”
The next option is a hoped-for regime change by a new mass movement which organiszes at the moment. However. Author Neville Teller is rather pessimistic about ist perspective in his article in the Jerusalem Post “How Secure is the Iranian regime”:
“A new and rapidly growing popular rebellion is affecting the Iranian regime. On March 11, a statement signed by 640 eminent Iranians, some living within and some outside Iran, was posted on-line in English and Persian with the hashtag #No2IslamicRepublic. It marked the launch of a new anti-government movement.
The founding statement called for the overthrow of the Iranian regime, describing it as “the biggest obstacle in the way of freedom, prosperity, democracy, progress, and human rights.” The signatories urged Iranian activists to unite, to make #No2IslamicRepublic their national solidarity objective, and “to create a massive movement that can purge Iran from this dark and corrupt regime.” Many ordinary Iranians posted images on social media of murdered and executed dissidents and political prisoners, along with other examples of social and cultural oppression by the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.
Since the launch, the number of adherents has mushroomed into the tens of thousands, and the campaign has succeeded in uniting opposition elements outside the country that have previously failed to coalesce. As the number of signatories rapidly rose, it became clear that they were drawn from many sectors of Iranian society: political and civil rights activists, artists, athletes, authors and university professors, among others.
One of the best-known is filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, who has spent years in and out of prison for his outspoken criticisms of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was joined by five female advocates for democracy and women’s rights who were arrested and jailed in 2019 after signing an open letter calling for Khamenei’s resignation.
The #No2IslamicRepublic campaign is supported by many Iranians abroad who are household names in Iran – singers, a composer, an award-winning filmmaker, a historian, a feminist sociologist, women’s rights activists and even former Ontario cabinet minister Reza Moridi.
The most public face of the campaign is Reza Pahlavi, the deposed Shah’s son and Iran’s last heir to the throne before the overthrow of the monarchy in 1979. The 60-year-old Pahlavi heads the National Council of Iran for Free Elections, which has been acting as a government-in-exile. Just recently he announced a major change in the objective of his organization.
Setting aside his previous intention to reestablish a constitutional monarchy, Pahlavi now supports the establishment of a democratic republic to replace the revolutionary regime. This has meant that a rival body operating its own government-in-exile, an organization calling itself The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has been able to come together with Pahlavi under the umbrella of the #No2IslamicRepublic campaign.
(…) To attempt the overthrow of an established regime that has all the engines of the state and the military under its control is a formidable, perhaps foolhardy, enterprise. Yet this #No2IslamicRepublic campaign has just that objective.
Unless, or until, it seems to be succeeding, experience tells us that it can expect little by way of outside support”.
However, Iran on its National Army Day demonstrates that it is war-ready and has capabilities to attack israel even without having nuclear weapons. It therefore shows its new arsenal of drones:
“Iran on Sunday marked National Army Day with a military parade. The annual event was more limited than usual due to social distancing and the pandemic.
Of interest was a parade of dozens of types of drones. Iran has become a drone superpower in recent years and exports the systems to its proxies, including the Houthis in Yemen and most recently Iraqi militias. A drone attack on a US facility in Erbil, Iraq, last week showcased the increasing threat.
The first drone that was showcased was said to be a Kaman-22 with a new underbelly, but it looks like some kind of a mock-up of either the US-made Reaper or Global Hawk drones. It came on a truck following another truck carrying a “down with Israel” slogan, which was shown at the parade.
Iran shot down a US Global Hawk surveillance drone in June 2019. Then came trucks with Qods Mohajer-6 drones, which have a twin tail. There were at least four of them.”
Then came smaller Mohajer drones, perhaps Mohajer-2 or older versions. After showcasing the traditional Mohajers, a series of trucks with Ababil-style drones came, which look more like cruise missiles. Then came the Yasir light-surveillance UAV and what was probably a HESA Karar drone. There also may have been examples of the Kaman-12 and Kian-style drones.
The parade did not appear to show off Iran’s larger Shahed line of drones or its Saegheh, which are copies of US drones. Tehran copied the US-made Predator and Sentinel drones.
Prior to copying US drones, Iran had tried to model its drones on other platforms, including Israeli ones. It did this by either acquiring them from third countries or trying to get a hold of parts of foreign drones that were downed in places such as Afghanistan. It also shot down several foreign drones itself.
Since then, Iran has improved the range and guidance of its drones. It develops several types for surveillance and also for kamikaze attacks, basically used as cruise missiles. These use gyroscopes and can be preprogrammed to hit a target.
When Iran repurposed its Ababil-style drones for the Houthis, they were renamed Qasef and have been used effectively against Saudi Arabia. They are not very large, carry a warhead of around 30 kg. and can travel in some cases hundreds of kilometers.In January, Iran was said to be trying to export to Yemen a drone with a range of some 2,000 km., meaning it could reach Israel.
These long-range drones are not particularly sophisticated, improving basically on the V-1 design that the Germans built in World War II. However, Iran has gotten a lot better at making them more precise in their targeting. It used them against Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility in 2019.
Since then, Tehran has increasingly used drones against Saudi Arabia and has exported them to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. An Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace in February 2018 and had to be shot down.
Iran’s Press TV commentators bragged about the country’s success with UAVs. The parade was a “real show of might,” one commentator said, adding that the trucks showcased the “latest military equipment.”
Iran is proud of its indigenous production of drones and has done all this under sanctions. The commentator, who was not familiar with the types of drones, said they were advanced and showcased Iran’s military might, adding that the Islamic Republic produces 80% of its military equipment locally.
After the Natanz sabotage didn´t achive its stratgeic goal, the regime change option might not work, Israel might be forced to accept a new Iran deal or to lead a military strike on its own against the Iranian nuclear facilities. But that would not be a simple surgical strike against one target as it was on Iraq`s Osirak nuclear reactor or a Syrian reactor construction site, but would have to be a comprehensive multi-target military strike against the network of Iranian nuclear facitilties while parts of them are underground facilities. Whether Israel has the aprropriate weapons, especially earth penetrators, is the question as in another article in the Jerusalem Post one author demanded that the USA should deliver Israel earth penetrator missiles and bombers to be able to attack Iran. But another problem also exists as another former Mossad chief once said: After such an attack, Israel might be forced to do it again after 5 years as Iran would reconstruct its facilities and build new ones.