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Ex-IDF intel chief: In a revived nuke deal, Iran will be much closer to bomb

Amos Yadlin blasts former Netanyahu gov’t for pushing Trump to leave JCPOA, without drawing up plan for what Israel would do if Tehran advanced enrichment in retaliation

Director-General of the National Security Studies (INSS) Amos Yadlin speaks at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, on January 29, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Director-General of the National Security Studies (INSS) Amos Yadlin speaks at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, on January 29, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

The former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence warned Friday that Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear bomb will be much shorter if there is a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as a result of the progress Tehran made in enriching uranium since former president Donald Trump vacated the agreement in 2018 at Israel’s behest.

Amos Yadlin told Channel 12 Tehran will be just “two months away” from a nuclear bomb under a renewed deal. Yadlin may have actually been referring to the time Iran would need to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for a nuclear bomb. Experts have estimated that constructing a weapon would take another 18-24 months after enough material is amassed.

Yadlin, a onetime Labor candidate for defense minister, blasted the previous Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu for encouraging then Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA without planning for how Iran would subsequently respond.

Yadlin — who served as head of the IDF Military Intelligence Unit from 2006 to 2010 and was Israel’s defense attaché in Washington for two years before that — made the comments days before world powers were set to renew talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the JCPOA. The former Air Force general did not sound particularly optimistic.

“The problem started in 2018. If someone fell asleep on guard duty in 2015 [when the deal was signed], then they left the watchtower entirely in 2018,” Yadlin said. “Because when Israel convinced Trump to leave the agreement — the Iranians are not suckers. It was clear that either they would leave the agreement or they would violate it, and there should’ve been a plan formulated for what we would do then.

“What happened in 2018, the Iranians advanced toward a bomb… they continued with their enrichment… to 60%. They have today three tons of enriched uranium, and most dangerously, they developed advanced nuclear centrifuges.”

“Now, even if we return to the 2015 agreement, it’s not the same agreement. It doesn’t keep Iran a year away from a bomb [as it was before the JCPOA was signed], rather only two months from a bomb,” he continued. “And that is what is the most serious, that when the Iranians moved down this path, neither Trump nor Israel prepared a plan for how to stop them.”

Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi, left, meets with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at the foreign ministry headquarters in the capital Tehran on November 23, 2021. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

While the Biden administration maintains that it is reserving every option if talks in Vienna fail to result in a return to the JCPOA, Washington has avoided publicly verbalizing that those options include a military strike.

Yadlin maintained that the US has effectively taken the military option off the table and thus arrives in Vienna at a much weaker position.

The Biden administration is determined to return to the JCPOA, but whether that happens will be up to Iran, not the US, Yadlin argued, as Iran has been the one dragging negotiations on for seven months.

Moreover, Israel’s say is very limited at the moment because the IDF’s military strike capabilities are not what they once were, he said. But after years of neglect, he added, the military finally received a budget to update those plans and once it does so, Israel’s ability to influence the nuclear talks will expand.

The former military intelligence chief speculated that there are three possible scenarios moving forward: There could be a return to the agreement, the tail end of which would be bad for Israel, he said; there could be a failure to reach an agreement, resulting in a crisis between the US and Iran; or there will be some sort of drawn-out period where the sides will go back and forth in negotiations, all while Iran continues advancing toward a nuclear weapon.

None of the options are great for Israel, Yadlin lamented.

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