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US, Israel will hold military drills in worst-case Iran Scenario

Israeli F-15s accompany a US B-1B Lancer over Israel as part of a presence patrol above the US Central Command’s area of responsibility, October 30, 2021. (US Air ForceSenior Airman Jerreht Harris)
Israeli F-15s accompany a US B-1B Lancer over Israel as part of a presence patrol above the US Central Command’s area of responsibility, October 30, 2021. (US Air ForceSenior Airman Jerreht Harris)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will reportedly meet on Thursday with both Secretary of State Blinken and Pentagon Chief Austin to discuss possible military exercises to prepare for a worst-case scenario of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails and their leaders request it.

The scheduled US talks come after a Pentagon briefing to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Oct. 25 on the full range of military options available to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, according to official, who spoke with Reuters on the condition of anonymity. Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons, claiming that it only wants to learn how to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The preparations between the US and Israel, which have not been previously revealed, highlight Western concerns about challenging nuclear talks with Iran, which President Joe Biden had thought would resurrect a 2015 nuclear deal that had been abandoned by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

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However, after negotiations this week on Iran’s new, hardline government’s wide demands, US and European officials raising fears that Iran is stalling while progressing its nuclear program.

The source added that “we’re in this position because Iran’s nuclear program is progressing beyond any conventional reason,” while expressing optimism for talks.

The discussions will resume on Thursday and the US special envoy for Iran plans to join them over the weekend.

Iran began enriching uranium to up to 20% purity last week, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 modern IR-6 machines at its Fordow complex, which is excavated into a mountain and thus more difficult to attack.

Iran was granted sanctions relief in 2015, but tight constraints on its uranium enrichment efforts were placed, lengthening the time it would take to develop enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb from two to three months to at least a year. According to the majority of nuclear specialists, that period is now significantly shorter.

The agreement does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow in any way, let alone with advanced centrifuges, underscoring how severely it has deteriorated.

With the nuclear benefits of the deal now seriously jeopardized, some Western diplomats believe there is little time left before the accord’s basis is irreparably undermined.

Such drills by the US and Israel might respond to pleas from Dennis Ross, a former top US diplomat, and Middle East expert, and others to publicly demonstrate to Tehran that the US and Israel are still committed to preventing it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“Biden must persuade Iran that the United States will not intervene militarily and will prevent Israel from doing so,” Ross wrote last month.

Ross also recommended that the US express its willingness to hand over the US military’s bunker-busting Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bomb, to the Israelis.

“When President Biden says Iran would never have a nuclear weapon, I mean, he means it,” the senior US official said when asked about similar remarks concerning deterrence.

According to a report released on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces would perform a large-scale drill over the Mediterranean in the spring, with dozens of planes simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear program.

Aviv Kohavi, the army chief, revealed in January that he had ordered the military to draw up new preparations for a strike against Iran’s nuclear program. As part of the recently passed national budget, the IDF received billions of shekels in additional money to prepare for such an attack.

The army “is intensifying operational preparation and preparedness to cope with Iran and the military nuclear threat,” Kohavi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last month.

Though Israeli officials have stated that a strike could be carried out without the involvement of the US, some analysts have questioned the IDF’s ability to do so because several Iranian facilities are buried deep underground, necessitating the use of particularly powerful munitions, which are currently only available from the US.



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