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Ex-IDF intel chief questions Netanyahu’s authority to order attacks on Iran

Amos Yadlin says sensitive operations require cabinet approval, suggests PM acting out of domestic political interests

Institute for National Security Studies chairman Amos Yadlin, a former head of IDF Military Intelligence (Tomer Neuberg/ FLASH90)
Institute for National Security Studies chairman Amos Yadlin, a former head of IDF Military Intelligence (Tomer Neuberg/ FLASH90)

Amos Yadlin, a former IDF chief of Military Intelligence, said on Tuesday following a blast at a key Iranian uranium enrichment site that Israel’s process for approving sensitive security-related operations was not being followed, indicating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was acting without the necessary legal authority.

He further suggested that Netanyahu was dangerously stoking tensions with Iran for domestic political purposes as the prime minister tries to form a coalition following last month’s inconclusive elections.

Yadlin raised the concerns in a scathing attack on policy regarding Iran and its nuclear program in the wake of a Sunday explosion that caused a power outage at the Natanz uranium enrichment site, which Tehran has blamed on Israel. Media reports citing intelligence officials have also attributed to the attack to Israel, which has not officially confirmed any role but has hinted at its involvement.

“Sensitive operations, with diplomatic and security significance that include the potential for escalation, require government approval,” Yadlin wrote in a series of tweets. “The cabinet can authorize the [security] cabinet to decide, and the cabinet [can authorize] the prime minister and defense minister.”

“All these processes did not happen, and the decisions are being made while excluding all the decision-making bodies. Knesset oversight has not existed for a long time,” he wrote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s security cabinet, which has not met since February, is scheduled to convene next week to discuss the recent developments.

“It is doubtful whether Israel has a comprehensive and up-to-date strategy for conducting the campaign in the era of the Biden presidency, and without a doubt, in the shadow of the political crisis, the essential discussions have not taken place,” Yadlin said.

“Even taking a cautious view, it is doubtful whether we are not witnessing a political timing that influences the initiation of a security crisis with the goal of making it easier for Netanyahu to form another government under his leadership,” he wrote. “These are not the considerations that should inform such fateful decisions.”

Yadlin also assessed that no matter the extent of the damage inflicted by the incident at Natanz, “it is clear that the attack is not the final word on the nuclear program,” in contrast to Israel’s airstrikes against Iraqi and Syrian reactors that destroyed those countries’ programs before they became operational.

He warned that Iran was likely to respond to the attack with force, though in a measured way so as to keep the escalation in check. In addition, Yadlin predicted, Iran will defiantly further advance its nuclear program and will likely stiffen its stance in ongoing talks aimed at salvaging its 2015 pact with world powers. The attack could also boost calls from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps to abandon the nuclear agreement, he cautioned.

The actions are also not helpful at building trust with the Biden administration, Yadlin assessed, even if Israel informed the US ahead of acting. Netanyahu met Monday with visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at his office in Jerusalem and vowed that Israel would never let Iran get nuclear weapons.

Also Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Israel made a “very bad gamble” if it believed its alleged sabotage at the Natanz nuclear plant would stop efforts to lift US sanctions on Tehran.

“What they did in Natanz, they thought it would reduce Iran’s leverage” in the talks on bringing the US back into the deal, Zarif said. “But it makes it possible for Iran to legally, legitimately, and in order to make up for this terrorist stupidity, use any capacity it has at Natanz.”

He said the enrichment plant would be made “more powerful” with advanced centrifuges.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses in a conference in Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

The US, Israel’s main security partner, is seeking to reenter the 2015 atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so that it cannot pursue a nuclear weapon — a move staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly Netanyahu.

Former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018, claiming it did not go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Trump then applied strict sanctions on Iran, in particular its oil export, ravaging the Iranian economy. Since then the Iranians have stepped back from their own commitments to the JCPOA, including upping uranium enrichment to a point that is a short technical step from making fissile material for a bomb.

US President Joe Biden is keen to bring Washington back to accord, but insists that Iran first recommit to the deal. Tehran says it wants full sanctions relief first, leaving the two sides in a deadlock that the Vienna talks, mediated by the European Union, hope to break.

An Iranian official acknowledged that Sunday’s blast at Natanz took out the plant’s main electrical power system and its backup. “From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, told Iranian state television on Monday. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

The comments from Davani, the former head of Iran’s atomic energy organization, came as reports in Israel and the US provided new details of the early Sunday bombing and its consequences.

The explosion came the day after Tehran announced it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the 2015 deal, calling it an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowing “revenge on the Zionist regime.”

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