Benny Gantz is delusional if he thinks that a diplomatic “Plan B” – to replace the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – is going to stop Iran’s nuclear weapon.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz may very well be correct in his assessment, which he shared with 60 ambassadors in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, that “Iran is only two months away from acquiring the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon.”
But he’s delusional if he thinks that a diplomatic “Plan B” – to replace the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – is going to stop it.
“We do not know if the Iranian regime will be willing to sign an agreement and come back to the negotiate[ing] table,” Gantz said, alluding to the recent rise to power in Tehran of Ebrahim “the butcher” Raisi, ostensibly less likely than his immediate predecessor to cooperate with the West.
It’s a fallacy, of course, since Raisi, like former Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, takes his orders from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“At the end of the day, the goal is to reach a ‘longer, stronger and broader’ agreement than the previous one,” Gantz told the group of foreign-service diplomats.
Is it, though?
BY NOW, Gantz ought to be aware that even if the Islamic Republic consents, yet again, to reaching a deal with the P5+1 countries (the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany), it will not honor its commitments. It was not merely the content of the JCPOA that gave the mullah-led regime leeway to pursue its nefarious hegemonic aims, after all.
On the contrary, the powers-that-be in Tehran violated all clauses of the worthless document, which in any event only postponed Iran’s inevitable nuclear capabilities; it didn’t prevent them permanently. Despite multiple attempts by the administration of former US president Barack Obama, abetted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to obfuscate this fact, it wasn’t exactly a secret.
Indeed, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps frequently boasted about the country’s military prowess and progress, with fancy ballistic missiles on display at parades. IRGC test-firing of medium- and long-range rockets also went on without a hitch well after the JCPOA was signed.
The daring Mossad operation in 2018 to retrieve a trove of nuclear documents from a warehouse in Tehran provided the concrete proof to justify former US president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA. But long before that, there was no question that the deal had done nothing to curb Iran’s nuclear activities. If anything put a dent in the regime’s timetable, it was the cyber-sabotage of its facilities and targeting of its scientists carried out by Israel with US backing.
The idea that talks in Vienna will somehow change Iran’s behavior is ludicrous enough. Iran is the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism. And if there’s one thing that Israelis have learned, it’s that negotiating with terrorists is tantamount to a frog trusting a scorpion to provide safe passage across a stream.
LEAVING ASIDE the unfortunate need to restate the obvious, Gantz shouldn’t be the government representative promoting diplomacy – though, in the Israeli context, neither should Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. But at least the latter occupies the role of top diplomat.
Gantz, in contrast, is in charge of Israel’s security and defense, which means that his job is to prepare the military for war, and to fight for the budget to do so effectively and efficiently. The best he could do while addressing the ambassadors, however, was to suggest that Israel “has the means to act and will not hesitate to do so… in the future,” if it becomes necessary, “in order to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
It’s not clear what “future” he was referring to, since he’d just claimed that Iran was two months away from having the capability to build nuclear bombs. Perhaps he thinks that eight weeks is enough time for US President Joe Biden and his European counterparts to secure the “longer, stronger and broader” deal of his and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s fantasies.
How either Bennett or Gantz are able to entertain such thoughts is especially odd in light of Biden’s latest fiasco. Not only did the US president abscond from Afghanistan like a coward in retreat, but he’s been kissing up to the Taliban, now the de facto dictators of the country, by requesting an extension of the terrorist group’s deadline for the evacuation of Americans. With commanders-in-chief like Biden – the “bowed head” of the free world – how can Israel rely on the White House where Iran is concerned?
The answer is that it can’t.
NOBODY SEEMS to grasp this better than IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi. When Bennett landed in the US on Wednesday, ahead of his Thursday meeting with Biden, Kohavi did not mince words.
“The progress of the Iranian nuclear program has led the IDF to accelerate its operational plans and the recently approved defense budget is earmarked for that,” he said, indicating that if given the go-ahead from the political echelon, the Israeli military under his command would be ready and willing to do its part.
With a boss like Gantz, however, Kohavi probably isn’t holding his breath – unless, of course, the two are performing a staged “good cop, bad cop” routine for Biden administration consumption. It would be comforting to discover that the difference in their pronouncements has been a ploy all along. But, given their past statements, and response to them by politicians who now make up the coalition, this is probably more of a pipe dream than a reality.
Take the hostile reaction to Kohavi’s speech in January at the annual Institute for National Security Studies conference, for example, delivered in the wake of Biden’s inauguration and in the lead-up to the March 23 Knesset election. In his address, Kohavi said that the new administration in Washington should not re-enter the JCPOA or any updated version of it.
“A return to the nuclear deal of 2015, or even a similar agreement with a number of improvements, is bad and wrong, both operationally and strategically,” he asserted, reiterating what he’d been saying since he assumed his role two years earlier: that plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities were “on the table, ready and practiced.”
Within minutes, he was blasted by detractors of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “creating unnecessary friction” with Washington before Biden was able to get his bearings in the Oval Office.
Israel’s top military man was also raked over the coals for not adopting a more pacifist approach, like that of his predecessor, Gadi Eisenkot who – at the INSS conference in 2016 – lauded the JCPOA as a “historic turning point,” and in December 2019, argued in an op-ed in Yediot Aharonot that Israel’s security challenges “do not constitute an existential threat.”
Former deputy IDF chief of staff Yair Golan, an MK from the left-wing Meretz Party, took the opportunity to accuse Kohavi of highlighting danger as a maneuver to vie for and receive a larger budget. Gantz, too, was critical of Kohavi’s remarks, without naming them specifically.
“Of course, Israel must be prepared to defend itself in any way,” he said. “But red lines are drawn in closed rooms.”
SPEAKING OF “closed rooms,” Kohavi has since met in Washington with several relevant Biden administration officials, including US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, head of the US Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie and head of the US Special Operations Command Gen. Richard Clark.
Rumor has it that some of these figures are headed for the chopping block to take the flak for Biden’s ongoing Kabul debacle. Whether or not this is the case, one thing is certain: Kohavi doesn’t have the authority to launch any kind of attack on Iran without a green light from Gantz and the rest of the security cabinet.
Considering the makeup of the current Israeli government, there’s virtually no chance that it will affirm massive military action without at least a tacit nod from Biden. The theory that the US president might be amenable to such a move right now, in face of his humiliation at the hands of the Taliban, sounds too good – and far-fetched – to be true.