The Biden administration fears regional escalation as Iran approaches a level of uranium enrichment necessary for its first nuclear bomb.
The surprise visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to the region is intended to tighten the security and political coordination of the United States with its allies in the Middle East and Israel.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, General Mark Milley, arrived in Israel on March 3, 2023, and immediately met with senior members of the defense establishment.
The United States is concerned about two main developments: the escalation of violence in Judea and Samaria, which could develop into a regional escalation and spread to the borders of the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, and the developments in Iran in the nuclear field. Iran is approaching the red line of uranium enrichment at a level of 90 percent, which will allow it to produce its first nuclear bomb.
Dr. Colin Kahl, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy affairs, said on February 28, 2023, that Iran could produce enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb within 12 days.
Senior political officials in Jerusalem say that the forthcoming – and surprise – visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to the Middle East will include Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.
The visit will take place before the follow-up meeting of the Aqaba Summit, which is supposed to take place in a few days in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.
The American Secretary of Defense will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Egyptian President al-Sisi. The visit will likely focus on two main issues:
1. Saving the American security plan formulated by U.S. Gen. Michael Fenzel for the war against Palestinian terrorism through the recruitment and training of thousands of Palestinian security personnel to be deployed in the northern West Bank.
The Americans fear that the recent ambush in the town of Hawara, in which two Israeli citizens were murdered, and the violent reaction to the attack, damaged the motivation of the parties to implement the American plan.
The Americans will demand that Israel compensate the residents of Hawara who were affected by the riots and punish those responsible.
The Biden administration fears the collapse of the understandings reached at the Aqaba meeting after the statements of Ministers Ben Gvir and Smotrich, who renounced the conclusions at the conference. Washington wants to ensure that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government are committed to what was agreed upon.
2. U.S. forces and its allies in the region have been conducting wide-ranging exercises in the face of alarming developments in Iran regarding the enrichment of uranium to a level approaching 90 percent. At the same time, the United States is busy dealing with the war in Ukraine and watching the close military cooperation between Iran and Russia.
Security officials in Israel contend that Iran has become a global danger and that its threats are not only focused throughout the Middle East; it challenges the entire world.
According to them, Iran sees a golden opportunity in Russia’s military dependence on Iran’s military capabilities in the field of drones and missiles in order to further its nuclear research and weapons procurement.
The Russians need Iranian drones and missiles for the war in Ukraine and, in return, Russia is ready to provide modern fighter planes, guarantee Iran technical assistance on the nuclear bomb production mechanism, and provide political backing in the UN Security Council by vetoing any proposed resolution against Iran. The United States understands the problem and is beginning to prepare accordingly.
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi will go to Washington for discussions with senior government officials about the Iranian threat and the escalation in Judea and Samaria ahead of the month of Ramadan. The Hanegbi-Dermer visit could lead to Prime Minister Netanyahu being invited to a meeting with President Biden at the White House soon, at the center of which will be the issue of the Iranian threat.
At the end of January 2023, the United States and Israel conducted their Juniper Oak military exercise, the “largest U.S.-Israel-partnered exercise in history.” According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Juniper Oak “integrated unmanned aerial vehicles, strategic bombers, jet fighters, and precision fires. In addition, U.S. and Israeli forces conducted long-range strikes, suppression of enemy air defense, electronic attacks, offensive counter and air interdiction, and air operations in the maritime domain.” The USS George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group participated in the exercise with more than 140 aircraft and roughly 6,400 U.S. troops alongside more than 1,500 Israeli troops.