As the incoming Biden administration plans to re-engage diplomatically with Iran, it is important for the United States to take into account the concerns of Israel about its security. It is not only Iran’s nuclear ambitions that worry Israeli leaders. It is the combination of Iran’s nuclear program with its precision guided missile project that keeps Israeli military leaders awake at night.
In a chilling speech given just over a year ago, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Aviv Kochavi warned Israeli civilians, “It must be known and recognized that in the next war — whether in the north or against Hamas — heavy fire will be directed against our home front. I’m looking people in the eye, and saying, there will be heavy fire. We have to recognize this and we have to prepare for this… We have to prepare for this militarily; the civil hierarchies have to prepare for this; and we have to prepare for this mentally.”
The “heavy fire” that Kochavi referred to is the combined threat of rockets and precision guided missiles from Iran and its terror proxies across the region. Since 2013, while the international community has been focusing on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has been quietly but relentlessly working to build a parallel threat to the existence of Israel in the form of precision guided missiles in the hands of its terror proxies.
Hezbollah is a prime example of this threat. Given the fact that Iran has already supplied 130,000 rockets to its loyal proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s efforts to upgrade this massive arsenal with precision guided missiles would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Precision guided missiles could threaten both Israel’s civilian and military infrastructure. They not only have longer ranges that could hit any target in Israel, they are also deadly accurate.
In an op-ed by Tom Friedman in the New York Times about Iran’s missile threat he wrote, “We’re talking about Israel’s nuclear plant, airport, ports, power plants, high-tech factories and military base.”
Yet, the threat does not only come from Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran has been working to surround Israel with a “Ring of Fire” of precision guided missiles across the wider Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.
As Friedman wrote in the op-ed, “That is why Israel has been fighting a shadow war with Iran for the past five years to prevent Tehran from reaching its goal of virtually encircling Israel with proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza, all armed with precision guided missiles.”
Dr. Uzi Rubin, one of Israel’s leading experts on the missiles, outlined the extent of the threat in a presentation in April, 2020.
Rubin said that in addition to Hezbollah’s 130,000 rockets, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza have 20,000-30,000 rockets. As for precision guided missiles, Rubin said that Iran has about 1,000 missiles that can reach Israel, and Iran’s terror proxies in Iraq have 200-300 missiles capable of reaching Israel.
Add to that the unknown factor: the number of precision guided missiles already in the hands of Hezbollah and Iran’s proxies in Syria.
It does not take a leap of the imagination to envision a nightmare scenario where Iran and its proxy forces could try to overwhelm Israel’s vaunted missile defense system with massive salvos of thousands of rockets, precision guided missiles and cruise missiles which are hard to detect.
What would this future war look like?
In an article in The Atlantic titled “The Coming Middle East Conflagration”, Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, described the scenario.
He wrote, “If rockets fall near Ben-Gurion Airport, as during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, it will close to international traffic. Israel’s ports, through which a major portion of its food and essential supplies are imported, may also shut down, and its electrical grids could be severed… Millions of Israelis would huddle in bomb shelters. Hundreds of thousands would be evacuated from border areas that terrorists are trying to infiltrate… The hospitals, many of them resorting to underground facilities, would quickly be overwhelmed, even before the skies darken with the toxic fumes of blazing chemical factories and oil refineries.”
This potential disaster explains why Israel is extremely concerned about a return to the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which did not address Iran’s precision guided missile threat.
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), focused entirely on Iran’s nuclear program. Simply reinstating the JCPOA would free Iran from crushing economic sanctions and allow Iran to direct even more funds into further expansion of its precision guided missile project.
Nor was the JCPOA even a permanent solution to the nuclear issue.
Whereas the JCPOA did succeed in implementing temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, due to a fatal flaw in the JCPOA, the restrictions on uranium enrichment would have ended by 2030. The “sunset clauses”, as they are typically referred to, would have opened the door for Iran to achieve “breakout” and create highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons after 2030.
Based on his past record, President-elect Biden should show understanding for Israel’s concerns.
In a recent op-ed on the website of NBC, former Senator Joe Lieberman and Ambassador Mark Wallace, wrote on behalf of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), “Consistent with Biden’s history and policy priorities, there should be no sanctions relief for the mere promise of negotiations; US allies and partners from the region should be involved in any negotiations; and the totality of the Iranian threat, especially human rights, should be considered alongside the nuclear threat.”
In order to achieve true peace and stability in the Middle East, the concerns of Israel and America’s Middle East allies must be taken into account. A failure to do so would only serve as an invitation to the next war.