IDF Chiefs: Nuclear Deal Could Enhance Israel’s Security Position

by Eli Clifton

Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and is the biggest security concern for the Jewish state. This mantra is constantly repeated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, congressional opponents of the White House’s Iran diplomacy, and Republican presidential hopefuls, several of whom have been competing to stake out the most extreme policy positions vis-à-vis Iran.

But one key group of experts doesn’t buy into that threat assessment: namely, the heads of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg reported on Tuesday that:

Israel’s military General Staff and intelligence services are in the midst of a series of formal discussions focused on just the opposite assumption: the likelihood that the emerging nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers could minimize the Iranian threat for an extended period, allowing the military to redirect budgets and resources toward areas of more immediate concern. The discussions are chaired by the deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Major General Yair Golan, under the supervision of the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot.

And what does keep the IDF awake at night? “[The] likelihood of renewed flare-ups within the next few years with the heavily armed Islamist militias on Israel’s northern and southern borders, Hezbollah and Hamas,” reports Goldberg.

A longer-range concern, says Goldberg, is the growing threat of global jihad movements, such as those led by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS or IS).

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has time and time again told audiences in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere in the world that Iran is the biggest threat to Israel’s security. His Iran fixation, according to Goldberg, is of serious concern to Israel’s military leadership. Speaking to The New York Times and through senior military commentator Alex Fishman of Yediot Ahronot, these anonymous “senior military officials” have been issuing “both a warning to Hamas and Hezbollah and a plea for greater realism from Israel’s new government.”

IDF strategists are also worried about hawkish pro-Israel members of Congress and their donors .

The Forward reports on “nervous snickers of ranking IDF strategists in response to congressional efforts,” such as the recent initiative by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R- NY) to provide Israel with bunker-busting bombs “to bolster what the military command considers the fantasy of an Israeli attack on Iran.” (At least two former Israeli security chiefs have warned that attacking Iran makes a nuclear-armed Iran far more likely.)

And there is “a growing curiosity tinged with alarm among current and retired commanders over the influence in Washington of American Jewish conservatives who claim to be defending Israeli security but have little grasp of Israeli strategic thinking,” says Goldberg.

That jab might be directed at casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major campaign contributor to both Netanyahu and Republican members of Congress and presidential hopefuls here in the U.S.

Adelson, who generously supports pro-Israel Iran hawks at organizations such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, United Against Nuclear Iran, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the Zionist Organization of America, has made no secret of his views about how Obama and Netanyahu should deal with Iran.

In October 2013, the Las Vegas Sands CEO told an audience at Yeshiva University that Obama should launch a first-strike nuclear attack on a swath of uninhabited Iranian desert and threaten Iran that it will be “wiped out” if the country’s leadership doesn’t dismantle its nuclear program.

Interestingly, Adelson has contributed millions of dollars to Friends of the IDF. Judging by J.J. Goldberg’s reporting, Adelson’s poor “grasp of strategic thinking” is making him more of a threat than a friend to the IDF leadership.

Photo: IDF leadership with Yair Golan second from the left and Gadi Eizenkot second from the right, along with former Minister of Defense Ehud Barak on the left and former Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz on the right.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.