Netanyahu refused to fund plans for Iran strike during 2019 budget battle – reports

Planning for strikes on nuclear program was reportedly delayed 18 months, with budget only finalized once Benny Gantz became defense minister; Netanyahu denies it

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attend a drill in northern Israel in June 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attend a drill in northern Israel in June 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi turned to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice in 2019 seeking money to put together a plan for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, and was turned down both times, Channel 13 news reported.

The Defense Ministry was only able to find the money to begin planning in 2020, once Benny Gantz became defense minister, working out a deal by which the funds for planning and for necessary arms would be advanced against money expected to come in from the $3.8 billion Israel receives in US defense aid annually, according to the report.

The result, the channel said, was that planning was delayed by a year and a half.

The country’s leadership has been criticized in recent weeks for failing to have a plan in place to deal with Iran, with drills currently only scheduled to begin sometime early next year, despite attempts by Jerusalem to hype up the military threat it potentially poses to Iran’s nuclear program.

The report said Netanyahu attributed his inability to allocate funds for the drills to Israel’s inability to pass a budget in 2019 and 2020, during an unprecedented political crisis. Netanyahu was widely perceived to have engineered the budget crisis in order to stay in power.

Speaking to his faction on Monday, Netanyahu denied having delayed funding, saying that while he was in power, money, plans and weapons were all at the ready. “We are the ones who were pushing for it, sometimes against the opposition,” he said.

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

During the meeting, Netanyahu also criticized the current government for reportedly consulting with the US before carrying out attacks on an Iranian nuclear facility and a missile base, calling it “a grave mistake.”

This came after a report Saturday in The New York Times that says that Israel spoke with the US ahead of an attack in June on a facility in Karaj used in the construction of centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, and again before allegedly striking a secret missile base belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in September.

The strike in Karaj occurred some 10 days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s power-sharing government was sworn in, replacing Netanyahu as premier.

The report said that in the wake of the consultations, the White House praised Bennett’s government “for being far more transparent with it” than Netanyahu had been.

At the meeting, Netanyahu also claimed that the current government opposed striking Iran. Since taking office, Bennett has adopted a generally similar approach on Iran to Netanyahu’s.

Bennett is opposed to a US return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action just as Netanyahu is, and in a recent call urged US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to immediately walk out of talks aimed at reviving the deal rather than capitulate to Iran’s “nuclear blackmail.”

That deal started to fall apart in 2018 when the US withdrew from it and reinstated sanctions, following which Iran began to publicly breach the terms of the accord. US President Joe Biden, however, is seeking to reenter negotiations over the deal.

Israel has not been fully able to dissuade the US from engaging in indirect talks with the Iranians. Gantz was in Washington Thursday to meet with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon, but the NYT report said Israel was left “concerned” that the US will agree to a weak deal that will allow Iran to continue with its nuclear program.

While in Washington,  Gantz said that Iran is building up its forces in the country’s west “in order to attack countries and forces in the Middle East in general and Israel in particular.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Furthermore, the report said there were increasing tensions between Washington and Jerusalem as the US and Israel diverged on whether strikes on Iranian targets were an effective course of action, with Israel believing Tehran’s nuclear program has suffered setbacks while some in the US assessed that the sabotage meant that Iran was rebuilding its facilities with more up-to-date technology.

US officials were nevertheless said to be making efforts to bridge the differences with Israel, leaking this week that there would be a review of a plan for potential military action against Iran if the talks fail, as well as a move to tighten sanctions on Tehran.

Israeli and American military leaders are also set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario, according to a senior US official.

Diplomatic solutions for the Iran situation are seemingly deteriorating. Talks in Vienna on Thursday between Iran and the remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal ended an hour after resuming, with tensions high after Tehran made demands that European countries strongly criticized.

European diplomats had urged Tehran to come back with “realistic proposals,” after the Iranian delegation made numerous demands that other parties to the accord deemed unacceptable.

The talks were the first in over five months, a gap caused by a new hard-line government assuming power in Tehran.

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