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Israel threatens to attack Iran if US eases sanctions, rejoins 2015 nuke deal

Israeli F-16I "Sufa". (Maj. Ofer, Israeli Air Force/Released)
January 26, 2021

Israeli officials warned they will attack Iran if President Joe Biden eases U.S. sanctions on Iran and rejoins the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

Two weeks ago, Tzachi Hanegbi, a cabinet member and top advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, threatened that Israel will take action, as it did against Iraq in the 1980s and against Syria in 2007, to prevent Iran from advancing its nuclear program.

Habegbi said, “If the United States government rejoins the nuclear deal — and that seems to be the stated policy as of now — the practical result will be that Israel will again be alone against Iran. . . This of course we will not allow. We’ve already twice done what needed to be done, in 1981 against the Iraqi nuclear program and in 2007 against the Syrian nuclear program,” as The Times of Israel reported.

Hanegbi’s comments referred to strikes by Israel on Iraq and Syria’s nuclear reactors.

On Monday, an Israeli source told Breaking Defense that Israel could go so far as to set a Biden administration decision to ease sanctions on Iran as a redline before Israel launches a strike.

“Israel needs to know — and fast — whether Washington plans to stop Iran’s race to the bomb or take some action to do this,” the source told Breaking Defense.

Since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal in 2018, the U.S. has increasingly sanctioned Iran under a “maximum pressure” campaign. Iran has in turn violated its own commitments to the nuclear deal and has been stockpiling and enriching uranium beyond levels allowed under the deal.

The Breaking Defense source said Israeli intelligence is closely monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities and “The people who need to know are updated by the hour.”

Israel has already allegedly taken action to counter Iran’s nuclear program. On Thursday, Israel allegedly attacked an Iranian target in Syria. Iran has been assisting Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad’s regime throughout the Syrian civil war in recent years.

“This pressure will continue and grow, as a preparation for a direct attack on targets in Iran,” the source said, addressing Thursday’s alleged Israeli attack.

Iran also accused Israel of carrying out the November roadside ambush that killed a leading Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Biden has repeatedly suggested bringing the U.S. back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and his campaign website said he “would re-enter the agreement, using hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities.”

Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli analyst on Iran and the Arab world, told Breaking Defense he believes the new U.S. administration will ignore Israel’s requests. Kedar said, “The new administration will do everything to bring Iran back into the family of nations, without really understanding their real goals.”

Previewing his expectations for the Biden administration in December, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani predicted Biden would return to the Iran deal and the U.S. sanctions “will be broken.”

By contrast, Biden’s secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken said during a Senate confirmation hearing last week, that a return to the Iran deal is still a “long way” off. Blinken said, “We would have to see, once the president is in office, what steps Iran actually takes” and evaluate whether “they’re coming back into compliance with their obligations” and said a return to the 2015 agreement would serve as a platform for a “longer and stronger agreement” to address Iran’s missile program and its sponsorship of terrorism and other malign activities.