Israel predicts attacks by Iran 'proxies' to pressure Biden on nuclear deal

By: AFP      Published: 10:09 PM, 9 Feb, 2021
Israel predicts attacks by Iran 'proxies' to pressure Biden on nuclear deal

An Israeli intelligence report predicts Iran will seek to project strength as it seeks a return to the 2015 nuclear accord by using its "proxies" in the Middle East to sow unrest.

The report, parts of which were shared with journalists in Tel Aviv this week, estimates that arch foe Tehran will attempt to demonstrate its influence towards Washington, possibly by using allied groups to carry out attacks on "Western targets".

Israel has been a vocal and consistent critic of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated between world powers and Iran, which placed curbs and checks on Tehran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic incentives.

Iran maintains it has only pursued a civilian nuclear programme.

Former president Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the accord in 2018 and implemented a "maximum pressure" campaign against the Islamic republic, earning praise across Israel's security establishment.

This week, President Joe Biden's administration confirmed its intention to rejoin the accord -- but only once Tehran returns to compliance.

Iran had pulled back from its commitments to protest Trump's sanctions and insists that Washington now act first.

According to the Israeli assessment, Iran will aim to bolster its negotiating position by creating instability in the Middle East through its allies and proxy groups.

"The proxy threat in Iraq and Yemen is an inexpensive, effective and a 'deniable' solution for Iran to carry out attacks without risking war," a senior Israeli military commander said on condition of anonymity.

"In the coming year, Iran may return to launch terror attacks against Western targets around the world, while maintaining ambiguity," the official added.

According to the Israeli assessment, Iran also wants to show strength following two high-profile setbacks last year: the killing of powerful general Qasem Soleimani in a US air strike near Baghdad and the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near Tehran.

Iran blamed Fakhrizadeh's death on Israel, which has not directly commented on the killing.

Irreversible

Last month, Iran said it had begun enriching uranium to 20 percent, well in excess of the threshold set out in the nuclear deal and among Tehran's most high-profile walk backs since Trump torpedoed the accord.

While a 2020 Israeli intelligence report focused on Iran's enrichment, this year top military brass in the Jewish state are emphasising a broader enhancement of Iran's scientific capacity.

"It has made significant progress in collecting fissile material and taking advanced steps regarding research and development," the military official said.

"Although agreements can prevent the collection of fissile material, some research and development projects are irreversible," the official added.

Late last month, Israel's army chief Aviv Kochavi said he had ordered that plans be drawn up to counter Iran's nuclear capabilities in the event of an order to strike, calling a return to a deal that resembled the JCPOA "a bad thing".

Abraham Accords

The intelligence assessment also warned that Shiite Iran and its allies, notably the Lebanese group Hezbollah, were continuing to threaten Israel along its northern border.

The Israeli army has repeatedly warned of attempted cross-border attacks by Iran-backed fighters in Syria, from Hezbollah and other groups, and responded with air strikes on Syrian territory.

Enemy groups operating along Israel's northern border continue to be deterred by the prospect of a war with Israel, the army commander said.

"But the 'deterrence deficit' within the Shiite Axis requires a response and may undermine the stability in the northern arena," the military official added, referring to the possible consequences of Israeli military action in the region.

The official said the Abraham Accords -- a series of Trump-brokered pacts under which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalised tied with Israel -- pointed to a "systematic change" occurring in the Middle East.

Closer ties between Israel and Arab states seeking to counter Tehran's influence offers "a significant opportunity to increase pressure on Iran," the official said.