IranIran’s Strategic Challenge to Israel

Published 4 August 2021

In a report prepared for the newly elected president of Israel, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) highlights the main strategic challenges facing Israel and policy recommendations for addressing those challenges.

A few weeks ago Israel has elected a new president, Isaac Herzog. The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) presented President Herzog with a report highlighting the main strategic challenges facing Israel and policy recommendations for addressing those challenges.

The report deals with domestic, regional, and global developments, including a new administration in Washington, President Biden’s decision to try to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, the formation of a new government in Israel, and growing tensions within Israeli society.

Here is the section of the INSS report dealing with Iran:

Iran’s Nuclear Program
The Iranian nuclear program is the most serious threat to Israel. Iran is acquiring the necessary knowledge and experience to obtain nuclear weapons – it is making progress on high level enrichment of uranium and has begun producing metallic uranium, suitable for a military rather than a civilian program. Iran is also acquiring technological nuclear capabilities in the operation of advanced centrifuges.

Iran is continuing and even accelerating the development of fissile material essential for nuclear weapons, under cover of the negotiations underway primarily in Vienna, i.e., the six rounds of discussions to date with the superpowers over the return to the nuclear agreement of 2015 (the JCPOA). As the talks drag on, the question arises whether Tehran wishes to return to the agreement or is playing for time. Meanwhile it has crossed lines that were never previously crossed – uranium enrichment to 60 percent, production of metallic uranium, and reduced supervision – in order to position itself as a nuclear threshold state, and reduce the time required for a breakout to nuclear weapons.

With respect to the short term, two scenarios must be considered: reaching and not reaching a new agreement. Each of these scenarios has great significance for Israel. If an agreement is reached, Israel and the United States must discuss the next stage in depth – how to promote a lengthy follow-up agreement with stronger supervision, what it will include, and what will happen if it is not achieved, while maintaining Israel’s freedom of action. At the same time, Israel must ensure the existence of a credible military option to counter Iran, and prepare for the second scenario – failure to reach an agreement, while Iran positions itself as a near nuclear threshold state with the ability to breaking out to a nuclear weapon within a few months.