Israel’s former military intelligence chief endorsed a return to the Iran nuclear deal this week, asserting that such a move would be in Israel’s interests at the current time.
A renewed deal would “deduct and reset the amount of enriched material that Iran has, roll it back and buy you a lot of time, because enrichment takes a long time," Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman said in an interview with Israel Hayom, published on Wednesday.
“During this time many other things can be done: threaten, improve military capabilities, build international coalitions or create an agreement for the period after the current agreement,” he said.
Hayman, who headed the Israeli military's Intelligence Directorate until late last year, is now the director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). With his comments, Hayman joined a growing body of former Israeli security officials diverging with Jerusalem’s hardline opposition to the deal, which was scuttled when the United States withdrew its participation in 2018.
Earlier this year, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said in an interview with another Israeli daily, Maariv, that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not informed defense officials that Trump was about to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May 2018. While they had their own criticism of the deal, they also saw the agreement as an opportunity to prioritize other resources than the Iranian nuclear program, and Trump’s announcement disrupted the IDF’s long-term plans.
“We weren’t warned about it, we weren’t prepared for it,” Eisenkot said, calling the U.S. withdrawal a “a strategic mistake.” “It was like thunder on a clear day."
Several months earlier, in November 2021, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the Haaretz-UCLA national security conference that the “main mistake” in a decade of Iran policy “was the withdrawal from the agreement," adding that it gave the Iranians an excuse to go ahead [with enrichment].
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Following the American withdrawal from the agreement, the Iranians started to violate the terms of the agreement and to reboot enrichment, which reached high levels in 2021. Earlier this month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Tehran has doubled its stores of 60% enriched uranium over the past two months, and that the country is weeks away from having stockpiled sufficient material to construct its first nuclear bomb.
Iran holds about 60 kilograms of 60% enriched uranium, Gantz said in a speech at Reichman University near Tel Aviv – a number that compares with the 33 kilograms figure reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last March.
To produce a single nuclear bomb, 25 kilograms of uranium must be enriched to 90%.
During a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Washington several days later, Gantz declared that action was required "against Iran's aggression in a number of ways, including strengthening the U.S.-led regional coalition."
While Israeli leaders have said that there is a diplomatic solution for ending Iran’s nuclear escalation and that Tehran can be brought back to the negotiating table, they have indicated that a military solution is still on the table and that they retain freedom of action regardless of the outcome of talks to restart the nuclear accord.
It remains unclear how likely a return to the 2015 deal is in the wake of U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent decision to keep Iran's Revolutionary Guards on the American list of terrorist organizations. The decision is indeed expected to make it difficult to advance nuclear talks with Iran, which have stalled in recent months.