Israel has long been concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its potential threat to the Jewish state. In recent weeks, tensions have escalated as reports emerged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held secret meetings with his defense and intelligence chiefs to discuss a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
According to a leaked report by Channel 12, Netanyahu has convened five meetings with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Mossad chief David Barnea and other senior officials to prepare for a credible military option against Iran. The report did not cite any sources, but some analysts speculated that it could have been deliberately leaked by Israeli officials to signal their resolve and intent to the international community.
Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and that it will act alone if necessary to prevent that from happening. Netanyahu has also criticized the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which he views as flawed and insufficient.
The JCPOA was designed to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. However, former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to gradually breach its commitments under the agreement. Since then, Iran has enriched uranium up to 83.7% purity, installed advanced centrifuges, and reduced its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), bringing it closer to the threshold of producing a nuclear bomb.
The Biden administration has expressed its willingness to rejoin the JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance first. However, negotiations in Vienna have stalled since September 2021 amid disagreements over which sanctions should be lifted and how to verify Iran’s compliance. Meanwhile, Iran has continued its nuclear activities and demanded more concessions from the US and its European allies.
In this context, Israel sees itself as facing an urgent and existential threat from Iran. Netanyahu has argued that only a credible military threat or action can stop rogue nations from developing nuclear weapons. He has also warned that waiting too long would make such an action more difficult and risky.
“The longer you wait, the harder that becomes. We’ve waited very long,” he said at a national security conference on Tuesday.
Netanyahu is not alone in his hawkish stance on Iran. He enjoys broad support from his coalition partners, including Lapid and Gantz, who have also voiced their opposition to returning to the JCPOA without significant changes. Moreover, he has strong backing from his public opinion, which overwhelmingly views Iran as Israel’s top enemy and supports a military strike if diplomacy fails.
However, launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites would not be easy or without consequences. Israel would face many challenges and uncertainties in carrying out such an operation, including:
- The distance: Israel would have to fly over 1,000 kilometers across hostile airspace or use covert routes or bases to reach its targets in Iran.
- The defence: Israel would have to overcome Iranian air defence and possible counterattacks by Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza.
- The effectiveness: Israel would have to inflict enough damage on Iran’s dispersed and fortified nuclear facilities to set back its program significantly without causing civilian casualties or environmental disasters.
- The repercussions: Israel would have to deal with the diplomatic fallout of violating international law and provoking a regional war that could draw in other actors such as Russia or China.
Given these challenges and risks, some experts doubt that Israel would actually go ahead with a military strike on Iran unless it had no other choice. They argue that Israel may be using its threats as leverage or deterrence rather than as genuine intentions.
“Israel is readying its credible military option,” said Brig. Gen. (Reserves) Amir Avivi, founder and chairman of the Israeli Defense Security Forum. “But this does not mean that it will use it.”
Others suggest that Israel may be hoping for a covert or limited strike rather than a full-scale war. They point out that Israel has allegedly carried out several covert operations against Iranian targets in recent years, such as assassinating Iranian scientists or sabotaging Iranian facilities with cyberattacks or explosions.
“Israel may prefer low-intensity warfare rather than high-intensity warfare,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli expert at IDC Herzliya. “It may try to delay or disrupt rather than destroy.”