November 21, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

The challenge for Israel: Prevail against Hamas while preventing an Iranian nuclear breakout

Iran's Supreme Leader likely wants to exploit the world's focus on Gaza to finally build a nuclear warhead. Israel must not allow him to.
November 21, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

The challenge for Israel: Prevail against Hamas while preventing an Iranian nuclear breakout

Iran's Supreme Leader likely wants to exploit the world's focus on Gaza to finally build a nuclear warhead. Israel must not allow him to.

For the Islamic Republic of Iran, a critical benefit of the war in Gaza is that it distracts both Israel and its closest allies from Tehran’s systematic march toward a nuclear weapons capability. This past week, the International Atomic Energy Agency — the UN’s nuclear watchdog — reported that the Islamic Republic has continued to violate its commitments and expand its stockpile of enriched uranium, including uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, which is almost weapons-grade and has no civilian use in Iran. All the while, the regime has continued to stonewall UN inspectors.

For good reason, the IDF’s immediate priority is to fulfill completely the cabinet’s instruction to eliminate all Hamas military, governmental, and organizational capabilities from Gaza, capture or kill all Hamas leaders and those responsible for, and participating in, the massacre of October 7, and liberate the 238 hostages still being held by the terrorists. However, while prioritizing Gaza, Israel must also prevent the regime in Iran from taking advantage of this moment to achieve its nuclear ambitions.

There is an ongoing debate about whether Tehran gave Hamas a specific time and green light for the October 7 attack. But the brutal aggression was undoubtedly part of the Islamic Republic’s decades-long effort to destroy Israel. Specifically, it was the first stage in Tehran’s grand plan to drag Israel into a multi-front campaign in which the Islamic Republic would not take part directly. The doctrine and weapons used by Hamas’ “Nukhba” commando forces were copied from Hezbollah’s “Radwan” forces. This means that doctrine and training came from Iran, financed by Iranian money, and relied on knowledge, planning, and training under the auspices of Hezbollah and other tentacles of the Islamic Republic’s octopus.

It is very likely that the final stage of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s plan is to take advantage of the world’s focus on Gaza to produce and conceal enough military-grade fissile material for several bombs, and to achieve a breakthrough in its weaponization program to build a nuclear warhead. The warhead is the last stage he requires after enrichment and the development of long-range missiles for a deliverable nuclear weapon. In effect, Khamenei set off in Gaza a weapon of mass distraction to advance his aspiration of building his own weapon of mass destruction.

The White House insists Tehran did not give a green light for the October 7 attack, but that is no exoneration. As Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, observed, Iran is “complicit” in the atrocities of October 7 because “They have provided funding, training, and capabilities.”

Israel must investigate, strike Iran’s nuclear progam

What to do? First, the Israeli government must ensure its intelligence and covert forces continue to collect information on the Iranian nuclear program — and its progress on weaponization in particular — and strike at the program’s components and scientists inside the Islamic Republic. The second task is diplomatic, but potentially more difficult: Persuade Washington there is no purpose in continuing nuclear negotiations and looking for a diplomatic solution with a regime that enthusiastically approved of the slaughter of Israeli men, women, and children on the day now known in Israel as Black Saturday. Gone should be the assumption that Khamenei is not willing to murder millions of Israelis in his maniacal pursuit of the destruction of Israel.

Israel must continue hitting nuclear assets and leaders inside Iran. Israeli leaders must direct their intelligence agencies, especially Unit 8200 and Mossad, to continue identifying key targets and determining their vulnerabilities. This effort will require Mossad operatives to take the lead on missions inside the Islamic Republic. It’s important for Mossad to kill Hamas leadership around the world; it’s equally important that they kill the relatively small number of nuclear weapons scientists capable of developing a nuclear warhead.

After Hamas’s atrocities on October 7, and Israel’s war to eliminate Hamas, there is an understandable impulse to dedicate every available resource to help the forces fighting inside Gaza, liberate the hostages, and punish their tormentors. Yet for as long as Khamenei pursues a multi-front campaign to destroy the Jewish State, Israel must respond in kind and continue all efforts to deny the regime in Iran its ambitions.

When fighting an octopus, rather than becoming tangled up in its tentacles, you have to strike at the head. Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria are all tentacles, as is Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The head is in Tehran, and it is pursuing a weapon that could pose a true existential threat to the Jewish state.

Biden must realize diplomacy and cash are not enough to deter Iran

President Biden admirably has stood firmly by Israel’s side since October 7, and he has consistently described Iran’s development of nuclear weapons as unacceptable. Yet Biden’s approach to defusing the nuclear threat rests on the hope that diplomacy and ever-greater infusions of cash can persuade Tehran to back down on its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

This week, the Biden administration re-issued a sanctions waiver that allows Tehran to tap more than $10 billion of previously frozen assets. That followed a recent transfer of $6 billion to Qatar for Iran’s use in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages held by the Islamic Republic. Congress, so far, has persuaded the Biden administration to block that $6 billion and should do the same for the $10 billion.

A gift of even greater value is the deliberate non-enforcement of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports, which brought in an estimated $26 billion to $29 billion of surplus revenue as of September 1, and whose value grows with each tanker that sails from Iranian ports. The Islamic Republic has welcomed all of the cash but massively accelerated its nuclear program on Biden’s watch, sensing that the president would offer more concessions the greater Tehran’s provocations.

Since the war began, the White House has done its best to act as if Iran and Hamas pose separate challenges. This past weekend, Biden penned a lengthy column on his approach to the wars in Gaza and Ukraine. He did not mention Iran even once, despite dozens of attacks on U.S. forces in the region by Iranian-backed militias.

Prime Minister Netanyahu himself must take the lead in persuading Biden to reverse his policy toward Iran. Israeli cabinet members who have forged strong relationships in Washington, like Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, can also play a critical role in discussions with Jake Sullivan and other members of Biden’s inner circle.

What Israel needs is not a mea culpa from the White House for a failed policy toward Iran. What it needs is a partner who understands that Hamas is part of the network of terror led by Khamenei, and that the United States and Israel must strike together at the octopus head as well as its tentacles.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a professor at the Technion. He served as National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and as acting head of the National Security Council. Mark Dubowitz is FDD’s chief executive and an expert on Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions. In 2019, he was sanctioned by Iran.


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Nuclear Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Nonproliferation Sanctions and Illicit Finance