By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Israel is revising military options for a possible clash with Iran, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government braces for differences with the incoming U.S. administration on Iranian nuclear policy.
U.S. President Donald Trump delighted Netanyahu by quitting the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing sanctions on it that had been lifted in return for limits on activities that could, potentially, produce nuclear weapons in the future.
Tehran responded by breaching many of those restrictions. President-elect Joe Biden wants to rejoin the deal if Tehran – which denies seeking the bomb – returns to strict compliance.
Israel, alarmed by Iranian rhetoric that it is a state that should not exist, is wary of the softer line, even though threats of U.S. military action from Trump did not curtail Iran‘s nuclear moves.
A front-page article in Israel’s largest-circulation daily said the military is crafting three options to “undermine Iran‘s nuclear efforts or, if need be, counter Iranian aggression, which will soon be presented to the government”.
The paper, Israel Hayom, did not cite any sources. But it went on to quote Defence Minister Benny Gantz as saying: “Israel needs to have a military option on the table.”
Israel has long had plans in place to counter Iran. The article appeared designed to signal that these were now being updated.
During the previous Democratic administration of Barack Obama, which championed diplomacy with Iran, Israel occasionally threatened preventive airstrikes against Iranian nuclear sites.
Some U.S. officials at the time doubted that Israel – whose advanced military includes a reputed nuclear arsenal – could effectively hit Iranian targets that are distant, dispersed and well-defended.
Israeli officials have voiced hope that Biden will maintain Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, involving tough sanctions, until the Iranian nuclear programme is dismantled.
But one of them, Finance Minister Israel Katz, acknowledged on Army Radio: “There are disputes (with Biden) regarding the perspective on Iran, and of course that will prove challenging.”
Katz sounded encouraged by Biden’s intent to include Iran‘s ballistic missile programme in any re-negotiation of the nuclear deal. Biden’s pick for U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, signalled openness, during a Jan 3 CNN interview, to consulting “regional players” – a possible allusion to Israel.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Ynet TV the Netanyahu government was not yet in formal dialogue with the incoming administration. But asked if Israel was trying through informal channels to sway Biden on Iran, Cohen said: “Yes. There are efforts.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Philippa Fletcher)