Must 'strengthen' capabilities for broad campaign against Iran

IDF chief on Iran nuke program: ‘Negative developments’ could prompt Israeli response

Halevi says Israel’s capabilities against Iran are ‘good’ but need to be enhanced; national security adviser insists even bunker-buster-bomb-proof nuclear site can ‘be reached’

IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya on May 23, 2023. (Gilad Kavalerchik)
IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya on May 23, 2023. (Gilad Kavalerchik)

Military chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi warned Tuesday of potential “negative developments” regarding Iran’s nuclear program that would cause Israel to react.

“Iran has made more progress in uranium enrichment than ever before. We are also closely examining other aspects of the [Iranians’] path to nuclear capability,” the IDF chief of staff said at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya.

“Without going into details, there are possible negative developments on the horizon that could prompt action,” Halevi said.

“We have abilities and others have abilities. We have the ability to hit Iran. We are not indifferent to what Iran is trying to build around us, and it is difficult for Iran to be indifferent to the line we are taking,” he added.

Halevi said Israel’s capabilities against Iran, “are good… we need to strengthen them more so that we can carry out a broad campaign against Iran.”

The military chief said that a potential war against Iran would not be conducted in the same way as a battle in a single arena. “Given a game against five players, the strength of our power will be greater.”

Speaking before the IDF chief at the same conference, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel was not surprised by Monday’s reports on a new underground Iranian nuclear facility that is likely impervious to US bunker-buster bombs.

Hanegbi acknowledged that “of course it limits the ability to attack,” but added that “there is no place that can’t be reached.”

This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows construction on a new underground facility at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, on April 14, 2023. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

He declined to clarify whether Israel could successfully strike such a site, or if only the US has such capabilities. Hanegbi stressed that Israel prefers that Iran’s nuclear program be reined in by an agreement rather than a military response — but that Jerusalem would take action if needed.

Hanegbi said: “If we believe there is no avoiding military action against the nuclear facilities in Iran… I think that any Israeli leader will have full backing from Israel’s citizenry and the state to do what Menachem Begin did in 1981, what Olmert did in 2007. To act when all the other options aren’t effective anymore.”

Israeli jets destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s suspected nuclear facility in Deir Ezzor 26 years later.

Despite fundamental disagreements over the wisdom of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Hanegbi said Israel and the US are united in their determination to stop Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon. “We are sending the message — so is the US — that if you cross the red line, the price you will pay as a regime and as a country is one you wouldn’t want to pay, so be careful.”

He said that “red line” would be a determination Iran is “coming close to the moment of no return.” Hanegbi added that Israel and America agree on the red line, but have different approaches on how to keep Iran from getting there.

National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Halevi also addressed several other topics in his speech.

On Hezbollah, the IDF chief said the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group was “very deterred from an all-out war against Israel.”

“[Hezbollah] thinks it understands how we think. This thought brings it to dare and challenge us where it is sure it will not lead to war. I see this as a good way to create surprises if necessary,” Halevi said.

“We have good preparedness in the northern arena. A campaign in the northern arena will be difficult on the home front. We will know how to deal with it, but it will be difficult. It will be seven times harder for Lebanon, and even more so for Hezbollah,” he added.

Fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah carry out a training exercise in Aaramta village in the Jezzine District, southern Lebanon, May 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

On Syria, Halevi said, “Iran uses Syria for a potential war zone with Israel.”

“We are not indifferent to this. I would remind [Syrian president] Bashar Assad of one very interesting fact in an era where data is being talked about: The countries that clung to Iran became failed states. If he wants to build after the civil war, let him take that to heart,” he said.

Turning to the West Bank, he said, “Every cell and every terrorist who carried out an attack, or plans an attack — will eventually meet our forces.”

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the Israeli military conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank in the wake of a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Israeli soldiers leave after a raid at the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus early on May 22, 2023 (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)

Halevi also touched on the politically charged issue of military conscription, urging the ultra-Orthodox community and its leaders to “encourage each time a little more to draft.”

The IDF has indicated its opposition to plans discussed by the government last month that would essentially give Haredim a blanket ban from army service.

“We have outstanding draft routes, people [who go through them and then are] released from them are no less Haredi, and are better citizens for the country. It’s good for everyone,” Halevi said.

Additionally, Halevi warned that reserve service should not be used as a political tool, as many reservists have threatened to refuse to show up for duty over the government’s controversial judicial overhaul plans.

“In the last two months, we are at 95 percent of reservists reporting for training. This is a very impressive percentage and it warms the heart. It’s not taken for granted,” he said.

“The IDF is a great opportunity for Israeli society — the broadest common denominator, which should remain out of disputes,” he added.

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