Israeli security chiefs ramped up their rhetoric against Iran on Tuesday, with the head of the Israel Defense Forces warning that the military was ramping up its preparations for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel will carry out operations that “haven’t been seen in the past” if regional war breaks out.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the army “is accelerating operational planning and preparedness to deal with Iran and the military nuclear threat. Thankfully, the budget that was approved [last week] makes it possible to contend with a variety of threats.”
His comments came as the Israeli Air Force is expected to resume practicing for a strike on Iran’s nuclear program.
In January, Kohavi announced he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and last month the government reportedly allocated billions of shekels toward making those plans viable.
In his remarks to the committee on Tuesday, Kohavi also told Knesset members that Israel faces “many security challenges” on numerous fronts.
“In the past year we’ve continued to act against our enemies in missions and secret operations throughout the entire Middle East. The IDF will continue to act to remove threats and will respond forcefully to any violation of [Israeli] sovereignty, in Gaza or in the north,” he said.
In his appearance before the committee, Kohavi hailed Israel’s current security level, saying “there is no existential threat facing the State of Israel, Israel’s freedom of operation is unprecedented and our military cooperation with our partners is highly effective.”
However, he said that the military is focused on two other main threats besides Iran’s nuclear program: air-based attacks in the form of rockets, precision missiles, cruise missiles and drones; and infiltration units, which would attempt to take over an Israeli border community.
Regarding the latter threat, Kohavi told the lawmakers that work was underway to shore up Israel’s defenses along the border with Lebanon, the main area of concern for such invasions.
The military has long called for a concrete barrier along the frontier to help prevent such attacks, but the efforts have been stymied by a lack of funds. Kohavi said a “significant portion” of the barrier had received a budget and that planning and construction of it had begun.
On the Gaza front, where Israel fought a punishing 11-day conflict in May, the army chief said the military was preparing for yet another round of fighting there during the current period of relative calm due to the general instability in the beleaguered enclave.
Meanwhile, Gantz on Tuesday inaugurated a new factory opened by Israeli weapons-maker Rafael in the northern town of Shlomi, vowing that Israel will not allow advanced weaponry to reach Iran’s regional proxies, amid a recent uptick in airstrikes in Syria that have been attributed to Israel.
“Fifteen years ago, this place burned from Hezbollah rockets and the threat from Iranian [military] entrenchment in Syria,” he said.
Gantz touted the factory’s opening as a “clear symbol to our enemies that our determination cannot be undermined.”
“On an operational level, we are acting extensively,” he said. “We won’t allow Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in the area to be equipped with weaponry that will harm Israel’s [military] superiority in the region.”
Gantz added that Israel was simultaneously “working continuously to prevent war,” but that if one breaks out, “we will be prepared to carry out operations that we haven’t seen in the past, with means we didn’t have in the past, that will hit the heart of terror [entities] and their capabilities.”
In recent months, Iran has dragged its feet on returning to indirect negotiations with the United States about a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which then-US president Donald Trump abrogated in 2018 and Iran abandoned a year later.
Last week, Iranian officials said they planned to return to the talks by the end of November, but US President Joe Biden’s administration has expressed growing impatience and threatened to explore “other options” should the negotiations fail.