Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks during his transition ceremony with the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and the outgoing chief, in Jerusalem, January 16, 2023.

Israel Raises Prospect Of Military Action Against Iran

Tuesday, 05/23/2023

Israel’s top military official has raised the prospect of "action" against Iran amid renewed concerns over Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi, chief of Israel's armed forces, warned: "Iran has advanced with uranium enrichment further than ever before ... There are negative developments on the horizon that could bring about (military) action.”

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an international security forum, Halevi said global efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear activity have so far been in vain.

An Associated Press report Monday showed the regime is building a deep underground nuclear facility near the Zagros Mountains in central Iran, close to the Natanz nuclear site, with experts claiming development “is likely beyond the range of a last-ditch US weapon designed to destroy such sites."

Completion of such a facility “would be a nightmare scenario that risks igniting a new escalatory spiral,” warned Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

“Given how close Iran is to a bomb, it has very little room to ratchet up its program without tripping US and Israeli red lines. So at this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict,” Davenport added, reiterating worries that Iran is producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels after the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, officially known as the JCPOA.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told the Herzliya Conference that while the new underground site would be challenging to attack, ”there is nowhere that cannot be reached."

Experts are divided over whether Israel has the military might to deal lasting damage to Iranian nuclear facilities that are distant, dispersed and defended, leading to speculations that Israel might use countries on Iran's borders – such as Azerbaijan -- as springboards for strikes.

Deputy Azeri Foreign Minister Fariz Rzayev, who spoke at the same conference, said "We refrain from interfering in the disputes or problems (of other countries), including by allowing or giving our territory for some operations or adventures," denying previous reports about preparing an airfield to assist Israel during an attack on the Islamic Republic.

Halevi, Israel’s top general, said elsewhere in his speech that "We have capabilities, and others also have capabilities,” in an apparent allusion to the military clout of Israel's US ally which this month posted pictures of a powerful bomb designed to penetrate and destroy underground facilities.

The US Air Force released rare images of the weapon, the GBU-57, known as the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” designed to destroy weapons of mass destruction located in well protected facilities. However, it immediately took the photos down because they revealed sensitive details about the weapon’s composition and punch.

According to Rahul Udoshi, a senior weapons analyst at open-source intelligence firm Janes, the latest photos revealed stenciling on the bombs that listed their weight as 12,300 kilograms (27,125 pounds). It also described the bomb as carrying a mix of AFX-757 — a standard explosive — and PBXN-114, a relatively new explosive compound. The weight of the bomb, coming from its thick steel frame, allows the explosives to chew through concrete and soil before exploding.

This is not the first time reports surface about Iran building a vast tunnel network near Natanz, purportedly able to withstand cyberattacks and bunker-penetrating bombs. 

Last year, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, reacted to a report by the New York Times revealing underground work, claiming Iran had notified the UN nuclear agency of its plan to relocate the activities of the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) complex in Karaj to the city of Natanz.

He claimed the move aimed to prevent the recurrence of attacks, referring to a recent drone attack at the TESA complex near Karaj which manufactures parts for centrifuges.

Over the years, a series of attacks has seemed to slow Iran’s nuclear activities. In 2010, the Natanz uranium enrichment facility suffered serious damage following a major cyber-attack involving the Stuxnet virus. Three years later, the Fordow enrichment site was rocked by an explosion. More recently, in July 2020, a centrifuge assembly facility was hit by an explosion and in April 2021 an explosion at the enrichment plant caused a power outage that reportedly damaged thousands of centrifuges.

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