A version of this article appeared in Israel Hayom.
Iran dismissed IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi’s warning1 against a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and his declaration that he had ordered the Israel Defense Forces to present additional plans for an offensive action to prevent the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The Iranians labeled the Israeli’s warning worthless “psychological warfare.”2
According to Mahmoud Vaezi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, Israel is concerned by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration’s new salutary approach to Iran and is trying through such tough statements, together with several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, to prevent Washington from returning to the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian army spokesman Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarch emphasized Iran would defend itself from any aggression.3
Things, however, are a bit more complicated than the Iranians would like us to believe.
Iran’s Psychological Warfare
Even if Kochavi’s statements were aimed at making Israel’s fervent opposition to a return to the nuclear deal clear to the White House, Iranian spokespeople and actions are engaging in far more significant psychological warfare to convince the United States to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
On January 22, 2021, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif published an article in the American Foreign Affairs, the prestigious international relations and foreign policy magazine,4 with ties to the new U.S. administration. In the article, entitled “Iran Wants the Nuclear Deal It Made, Don’t Ask Tehran to Meet New Demands,” Zarif laid out Iran’s demands for the American return to the JCPOA, and official and non-official spokespeople for Tehran echoed his message in recent days.
Moreover, the Iranians have not sufficed with words. They are backing up their psychological warfare with steps that shorten their “breakout” time to produce a sufficient quantity of military-grade enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by starting to enrich uranium to 20%, installing advanced centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, accumulating a large amount of uranium enriched to 4.5%, and announcing their intention to produce uranium metal usable in nuclear warheads.
These steps are not just aimed at acquiring a weapon; they are aimed at pressuring the United States to return to the nuclear deal by providing justification for such a move and presenting former President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy as a failure. Iran’s clear preference to return to the deal and its energetic efforts to this end are themselves proof that Kochavi was correct in his analysis that a return to the deal is good for Tehran and threatens regional and global peace as well as Israel’s security.
It is quite natural that as the top advisor to the Israeli government on strategic and operational military affairs, the chief of staff will refer to his threat assessment and to the implications he derives from it.
The JCPOA allows Iran to “legitimately” obtain the capability to produce a large arsenal of nuclear weapons by 2030 without being exposed to economic difficulties or a military threat. It also enabled Tehran to generously support its terror and insurgent proxies in the region and beyond. To the contrary, in the current situation, its efforts are focused on achieving one nuclear device while enduring severe economic hardships and having to cross a threshold in which it may expect military action against its facilities.
Iran’s Bluster Shows Israel’s Deterrence
The attempt by Tehran to present readiness to defend its infrastructure reflects not only an ongoing effort to improve its relevant military capabilities but also the deterrent effect of the IDF chief of staff’s remarks. Iran has not suddenly grown overly confident. It has been deterred from challenging the Americans following the assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. In the past, Iran refrained from challenging the United States or Israel directly out of recognition of their capabilities. For example, when Prime Minister Netanyahu clarified in the UN General Assembly in 2012 that the Israeli “red line” is the accumulation of more than 250 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium, Iran made sure not to cross the line, and even when it produced a surplus amount of this material, Iran immediately converted it to uranium oxide that is hard to reconvert for further enrichment.
In other words, despite their claims otherwise, the Iranians are likely taking Kochavi’s remarks very seriously, very seriously indeed.
In fact, an effective deal regarding the Iran nuclear program must guarantee that the limits on its nuclear activities will not be lifted, military-related facilities are dismantled, ballistic missile projects are also restricted, and the monitoring and inspection can be conducted anywhere and anytime and include access to relevant scientists. An effective deal must also deal with Iran’s support for terror and destabilization throughout the Middle East.
* * *