IDF chief presses US to step up joint plans to counter Iran militarily

Aviv Kohavi says ‘we are at a critical point in time’ following meetings on Iranian threat with American military chief, national security adviser, CIA director

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Two Israeli and one American F-16 fighter jets fly alongside one another during a joint exercise in southern Israel in January 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Two Israeli and one American F-16 fighter jets fly alongside one another during a joint exercise in southern Israel in January 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi told American defense officials in Washington that the two militaries must accelerate joint plans for offensive actions against Iran, the Israeli military said Tuesday.

Kohavi landed in the US on Sunday morning for five days of meetings with senior officials focused on the Iranian threat, the IDF said.

On Monday, Kohavi met with Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and CIA Director William Burns. He also met with the Israel Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog.

“During the discussions, it was agreed that we are at a critical point in time that requires the acceleration of operational plans and cooperation against Iran and its terrorist proxies in the region,” Kohavi said in remarks provided by the IDF Tuesday.

“On the one hand, Iran is under many economic, military, and internal pressures, and on the other hand, it continues to promote its nuclear program. The IDF strongly promotes all operational plans against the Iranian threat,” Kohavi said.

The Kan public broadcaster reported the Israeli and US militaries would hold an imminent drill simulating strikes against Iran and its proxies, citing the IDF, but a military source said they were unaware of such a drill, and there was no mention of such plans in the statement.

The Israeli statement marked a departure from an earlier US readout of Kohavi’s meeting with Sullivan, which focused on reaching a negotiated solution to thwart Iran’s nuclear intentions, echoing Biden administration talking points.

“The two discussed the importance of taking steps to de-escalate the security situation in the West Bank, and Mr. Sullivan reiterated that a negotiated two-state solution remains the best avenue to achieve a lasting peace,” the White House readout said.

File: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Jerusalem opposes US President Joe Biden’s attempts to revive the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers that traded sanctions reliefs for curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

But that disagreement has been less relevant lately, as nuclear talks have fizzled and the US has preferred to focus on addressing the ongoing civilian protests in Iran against the regime.

Iran said Tuesday it had begun producing uranium enriched to 60 percent at its Fordo plant, a level it never reached before, and a short, technical step away from the 90% enrichment necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed the move and said Tuesday that its chief, Rafael Grossi, had reported the development to its member states.

The US expressed “deep concern” Tuesday over the announcement, which was also condemned by Germany, France and the UK.

“We’re going to make sure we have all options available to the president,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary, but still prefers exhausting the diplomatic route first.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers amid long-stalled negotiations, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

This September 1, 2014 file photo, shows a nuclear research reactor at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

European Union-sponsored talks have failed to bring the US back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The deal, signed between Iran and the US, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia, has unraveled since the Trump administration pulled out in 2018. The US reimposed stiff sanctions and Iran responded by dropping many of its own commitments to the pact while also ramping up its uranium enrichment to levels far beyond the agreement’s limits.

While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, non-profileration experts warn Tehran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Israeli officials have also warned of Iran’s proxies across the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen.

The official Washington visit marked Kohavi’s final scheduled one as chief of staff, as his tenure is set to end on January 17.

Milley, who met with Kohavi on Monday, awarded his Israeli counterpart the Legion of Merit commander degree.

Jacob Magid and AFP contributed to this report.

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