Analysis: Israel's military option won't vanish in a post-Iran deal era

So long as Iran continues to call for Israel's destruction, the defense establishment will not stop developing means to attack its nuclear program

Satellite image shows a nuclear facility in Iran (photo credit: REUTERS)
Satellite image shows a nuclear facility in Iran
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel's defense establishment is quietly monitoring every development in the nuclear talks between world powers and Iran, and any forthcoming deal will be subject to the most intense scrutiny.
The final form of a nuclear deal will influence Israeli military plans for the possibility of, one day, receiving an order from the cabinet to launch an assault on the Iranian nuclear program. This is a capability that Israel has no intention of forfeiting, even in a post-deal era.
The IDF will need to set aside considerable defense budget funds in the forthcoming multi-year military plan, dubbed Gideon, to continue to build on its long-range strike options.
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According to Israeli intelligence assessments, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has not given up on his goal of possessing nuclear weapons. Yet, constraints posed by a complex reality have forced Khamanei to delay this goal, at least for the time being.
Hence, the first conclusion one can draw is that a nuclear deal does not mean Iran has given up on nuclear weapons as a goal, but also, that an arrangement, even a poor one, could result in a short-term decrease of the threat of Iran breaking out to the weapons production stage.
As a result, the option of a military strike remains firmly on the table, but does not appear to be imminent, since only an Iranian attempt to break through to the nuclear weapons stage can trigger an Israeli attack.
Over the past year, Israel has not detected an active nuclear weapons project in Iran.
What is active in Iran is a large-scale uranium enrichment program, based on a relatively high number of spinning centrifuges.
Additionally, Iran continues to make progress in research and development of more advanced enrichment techniques.
The Iranian missile arsenal, which could act as a delivery mechanism for a future nuclear weapon, is expanding. Iran has hundreds of liquid fuel missiles that can strike Israel and parts of Europe, and it is working on solid fuel missiles for much longer strike ranges.
Senior Israeli defense sources hold that in the short term, a combination of intelligence monitoring and intrusive international inspections could actually result in a decrease of the threat from Iran.
It seems, however, that the deal being put together in Vienna now falls short of ensuring adequate inspections, meaning that intelligence will play a crucial role as a tool that can deliver a warning of an Iranian breakout attempt. Iran could reactivate the nuclear weapons project at any time.
The reason the nuclear deal is bad is because it leaves too much enrichment capability in Iranian hands and infrastructure that can lead to nuclear weapons in the future. A good agreement would have ensured that Iran would not possess enrichment abilities for many years.
Instead, Iran is left with a high number of centrifuges and no guarantee that these won't be diverted into a nuclear weapons production drive in the future. That is bad news for Israel, the region, and for international security.
The Iranian regime continues to officially call for Israel's destruction, and so long as Tehran retains a basis from which it could one day build nuclear weapons, the defense establishment will retain its ability to intervene, if ordered to do so.
In the meantime, the IDF and intelligence agencies will have their hands full with Iran's regional subversive activities and aggression, and its weapons and funding network, for Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Islamic Republic's many activities in Syria.