A former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israeli actions against Iran may lead to a war that endangers civilian life, but supported that strategy over the Biden administration’s current diplomacy with Iran.
Speaking at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, retired major general Yaakov Amidror found a receptive audience of American hawks who believed the Biden administration needed to be saved from its own policy choices.
Amidror, who served as Israel’s national security adviser from 2011 to 2013 and is now a distinguished fellow at JINSA, spoke about the Israeli-Iranian “shadow war,” which has involved alleged Israeli sabotage attacks on Iran.
“At the end, we might face Iranians who decide to retaliate,” he said. “Might it lead to a war? I think that the decision makers understand that the answer might be yes.”
Amidror claimed that Israel may have to strike at missiles stored in densely-populated areas by the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
“No question, it will be a very bad war from the point of view of civilians in Lebanon, and Israel, and probably in Iran as well,” he said.
Israel, many believe, launched a sabotage operation against the Natanz nuclear complex earlier this month, capping off months of quiet Israeli attacks against the Iranian nuclear program and military assets, as well as attacks on shipping by both sides. The Biden administration rebuked Israeli officials for leaking the Natanz attack and other incidents to the press, arguing that the “embarrassing chitchat” compromises U.S.-Iranian diplomacy, Israeli media reported Monday.
The United States is currently in negotiations to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, in which six world powers lifted their economic embargo against Iran in exchange for strict restrictions on its nuclear program. The Trump administration broke from the deal, demanding a “better deal,” and Iran ramped up its nuclear activities in response.
Amidror denounced the 2015 agreement as a “bad deal.” Despite the risks of the sabotage campaign, Amidror claimed that the attacks were effective at rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. While he claimed the sabotage campaign would increase U.S. leverage, Amidror was “pessimistic” about the Biden administration’s negotiating strategy.
Other JINSA members agreed with Amidror’s assessment.
Former U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman, now co-chair of JINSA’s Iran Policy Project, claimed that some Biden administration officials are “allowing themselves to get stampeded into getting back” to the 2015 deal by Iran’s increasing uranium stockpile and the looming Iranian presidential election.
Iran responded to the Natanz attack by ramping up its uranium enrichment to 60 percent purity, its highest level ever.
Edelman worried that President Joe Biden’s “relatively simplistic views” on the Iranian issue may win out, just as his views on Afghanistan have purportedly been “triumphant over the deliberations of the interagency process,” leading to U.S. withdrawal.
John Hannah, a JINSA senior fellow and adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that the Biden administration should see moves like the Natanz attack as additional “leverage” rather than “a hostile action by Israel to undermine the United States.”
“This is going to become a theme of this administration that allies are going to realize they cannot rely on this administration and they are going to start taking action themselves,” Hanna later added.
Speakers offered a different view at the left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street’s national conference, which also took place on Monday.
Former Obama administration official Ben Rhodes brought up Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress against the nuclear deal. The speech caused controversy at the time, as House Speaker John Boehner had not notified the White House before inviting a foreign leader to speak against U.S. policy.
Netanyahu’s speech “helped us secure Democratic votes” for the 2015 deal, Rhodes claimed, because it showed that “this guy is totally in league with Republicans. This is not a good faith effort to improve our Iran policy.”
And another retired Israeli general offered a starkly different view from that of Amidror.
“Diplomacy is the way to mitigate the Iranian threat to the region and to Israel,” said retired major general Yair Golan, now a member of parliament for the left-wing Meretz Party, in his own speech. “Israel should help the Biden administration to lead these efforts as an ally and not interfere as we did in 2015.”