Israel fears ‘major escalation’ by Iran-backed terror groups after deal

Foreign Ministry head Dore Gold says accord boosts Iran terror threat on Israel’s doorstep; admits clash with White House ‘uncomfortable’

Dore Gold (EinGedi2 via Wikimedia Commons)
Dore Gold (EinGedi2 via Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — Israel anticipates a “major escalation” of Iranian-backed terror attacks on its borders as a direct result of the nuclear agreement the US and five additional world powers struck with Tehran, Foreign Ministry’s director-general Dore Gold said Wednesday evening.

Although he did not detail the specific threats for Israel that could be impacted, or list specific accommodations that Israel sought to counter the threats, Gold warned that “the moment that the funds become available from frozen accounts…that’s when the Middle East goes south and things become extremely dangerous in the region.”

Saying that the release of $150 billion of frozen funds would free Iran from having to choose which terror activities to support, Gold said Iranian troops and their proxies in the region “will have an ability to be everywhere simultaneously.”

“we would expect a major escalation of the insurgent and terror threat against the State of Israel, along most of our border[s]. And that’s a direct result of removing sanctions and having this money that results from [it] go to Iran, first for Iran’s own military buildup and secondly for Iranian surrogates, which surround the State of Israel,” he said during a conference call hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

While the Iranian-backed Shiite terror group Hezbollah has been operating in Lebanon since the 1980s, its recent involvement in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime has brought its forces to the Golan Heights, where altercations between the group’s fighters and IDF troops have already taken place.

Iran has also made great efforts to acquire and distribute advanced weaponry to terror groups, Gold said. “We have been seeing an expansion of Iranian deployment around Israel.”

He stressed, however, that even though the P5+1 states had already ratified a resolution that enabled lifting sanctions against Tehran, the US could retain leverage against Tehran.

“People tend to play down the leverage that a US negotiator has,” he said, suggesting that the US can continue its own unilateral sanctions against Tehran with or without parallel sanctions regimes in place in the other P5+1 member states.

Gold reiterated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the deal, reached earlier this month in Vienna, was a “bad agreement.” Although at the onset of his comments, Gold said “it is very uncomfortable for us to have to be in this kind of a struggle with the United States,” the senior diplomat stressed that ultimately, his “goal is a strong US-Israel relationship,” and “sometimes that requires being candid.”

The “tensions” between the Israeli government — which has been vociferously opposed to the deal — and the US administration are “very saddening for someone who has been so close to this relationship,” Gold said. “We will get through this as allies. But we have to tell you the truth about how dangerous this agreement is.”

Among the most problematic aspects of the deal, Gold said, was Iran’s ability to continue research and development on centrifuge technology.

“If you have a centrifuge that’s operating 20 times faster than the IR-1 centrifuge that is currently used,” he explained, “you could build a clandestine enrichment facility that is relatively small, but its output would be extremely impressive because it could enrich the same amount of uranium as one of the big plants like Natanz. Once you get smaller enrichment at undeclared sites – the same is true with weaponization – the sites can be the size of a room in a school.” These technologies, he suggested, would make it difficult for international observers to detect cheating at small, clandestine sites.

Gold, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1997-1999 as that body worked on monitoring and dismantling Iraq’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, said that he had seen information according to which Iran was already studying how to switch the warheads of its Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles with round nuclear warheads.

Provisions in the new UN Security Council resolution passed Monday shifted the ballistic missile restrictions delineated in previous UN sanctions resolutions from a Chapter Seven violation to a lesser category, effectively rendering them non-binding on member states, Gold noted.

“The resolution as a whole is not binding international law, according to [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif,” Gold said. “It should not come as a surprise that Iran’s defense minister made the following statement: ‘Issues related to missiles have never been on the agenda with the talks,’ and said that Iran is moving forward with its missile programs.”

A day after Zarif’s boast that Iran could continue its ballistic missile program with impunity, Gold was not alone in expressing alarm at the development.

Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, respectively the chairman and chief executive of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued a statement Wednesday in which they “expressed deep concern regarding the provisions in the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] arrived at by the P5+1 and Iran, including the five year prohibition on conventional weapon sales to Iran and eight year suspension on technology transfers for ballistic missiles, which can be short circuited by a declaration of Iranian compliance that leads to a ‘Broader Conclusion’ by the IAEA.”

“Further,” the two wrote, “it appears that the language of [UN Security Council Resolution] 2231 is not ‘binding.’ Foreign Minister Zarif said that restrictions on Iran’s missile program have been removed from Chapter 7 of UN Resolution 1929 and ‘has turned into a non-binding restriction.’”

Greenberg and Hoenlein expressed “hope that steps can be taken to assure that these provisions be binding under Chapter 7 and restrictions be sustained for at least the full time designated to assure Iranian compliance and to enhance security in the region.”

Former senator Joe Lieberman, who heads the Conference of Presidents’ “Task Force on Iran” and presided over the conference call, said there was a good chance for US lawmakers to kill the deal.

“It’s a tough fight but I want to say to you, based on 24 years of experience in the Senate: Don’t believe anyone who says that this is over, that we can’t get two thirds in both houses to override a veto,” the former Connecticut senator said. “I can tell you for sure that there are well over two thirds of the members of both chambers who are against the agreement or undecided. And we can bring them over with strong arguments and facts.”

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