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Thursday Jan 14 2021

Israel revisits military options for war against Iran as Biden to replace Trump: media

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, July 7, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS/Files

  • Israeli govt apprehensive over likely differences with Biden administration on Iran
  • Trump had earlier delighted Israel's Netanyahu by quitting the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing sanctions on the country
  • "Israel needs to have a military option on the table," says Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz

JERUSALEM: Israel is apparently revisiting its military options for possible war against Iran, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday, as US President-elect Joe Biden is set to replace Republican Donald Trump on January 20.

The move reportedly comes based on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government bracing for likely differences with the incoming US administration — under Biden — on the Iranian nuclear policy.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump had delighted Netanyahu by quitting the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing sanctions on it that had been lifted in return for limits on activities that could, potentially, produce nuclear weapons in the future.

Tehran responded by breaching many of those restrictions. Biden wants to rejoin the deal if Tehran — which denies seeking the bomb — returns to strict compliance.

Interestingly, the Israeli premier had removed Trump from the banner photo on his Twitter account earlier this week in an apparent break with a political ally facing possible impeachment post Capitol Hill riots and especially after the Republican president lost to his Democratic rival.

Israel, feeling threatened by Iran's view that it is a state that should not exist in the first place, is wary of the softer line, even though threats of US military action from Trump did not curtail Iran’s nuclear moves.

A front-page article in Israel’s largest-circulation daily said the military is crafting three options to "undermine Iran’s nuclear efforts or, if need be, counter Iranian aggression, which will soon be presented to the government".

The paper, Israel Hayom, did not cite any sources. But it went on to quote Defence Minister Benny Gantz as saying: "Israel needs to have a military option on the table."

Israel has long had plans in place to counter Iran. The article appeared designed to signal that these were now being updated.

During the previous Democratic administration of Barack Obama, which championed diplomacy with Iran, Israel occasionally threatened preventive airstrikes against Iranian nuclear sites.

Some US officials at the time doubted that Israel — whose advanced military includes a reputed nuclear arsenal — could effectively hit Iranian targets that are distant, dispersed and well-defended.

Israeli officials have voiced hope that Biden will maintain Trump’s "maximum pressure" campaign on Tehran, involving tough sanctions, until the Iranian nuclear programme is dismantled.

But one of them, Finance Minister Israel Katz, acknowledged on Army Radio: "There are disputes (with Biden) regarding the perspective on Iran, and of course that will prove challenging."

Katz sounded encouraged by Biden’s intent to include Iran’s ballistic missile programme in any re-negotiation of the nuclear deal. Biden’s pick for US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, signalled openness during an interview to CNN on January 3 to consulting "regional players" — a possible allusion to Israel.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Ynet TV that Netanyahu's government was not yet in formal dialogue with the incoming administration. But asked if Israel was trying through informal channels to sway Biden on Iran, Cohen said: "Yes. There are efforts."