Israel's Master Plan to Crush Iran's Nuclear Program

If it happens, here's how it would go down.

If you were asked to summarize the feelings within the White House and the U.S. State Department this week, they lie somewhere between ecstatic and relieved. Ecstatic, because President Barack Obama has succeeded for the time being (assuming that Congress doesn’t override a presidential veto) in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability over the next ten to fifteen years. The administration is relieved because, despite all of the saber rattling over a U.S. military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Washington was able to remove the nuclear file from the table through diplomacy. “This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change,” President Obama remarked in the East Room of the White House, “change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.”

There is one person, however, that firmly and sincerely believes that the agreement that was signed by all of the parties is a bad one. And he represents the state of Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—indeed, one could say the very notion of negotiating with the Iranians directly—is not exactly a surprise. In fact, lobbying against the deal has been (and will remain) a top priority in Netanyahu’s mind for as long as he has occupied the prime minister’s chair. He’s been vocal every step of the way, from the November 2013 interim arrangement that he called “a historic mistake” to his interview with NPR last week, where he described the final product as a deal that paves “Iran's path to a nuclear arsenal.”

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Although there may finally be a comprehensive, verifiable agreement that the United States and its negotiating partners are comfortable with, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to keep all his options open. President Obama has consistently said that “all options remain on the table” to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon—diplomatic-speak for the use of military force. Yet Netanyahu has been far more blunt and straightforward, going so far as to order Israeli military planners in 2010 to begin preparing for a unilateral air campaign against Iran’s nuclear-enrichment facilities. It’s conceivable, if not entirely possible given Netanyahu’s strong disagreement with the Obama administration on how to manage the Iranian nuclear portfolio, that Netanyahu will give a similar order in the future.

What would a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities look like? This question has been pondered by numerous analysts ever since Iran’s first enrichment facility was outed in 2002, and the consequences of such an attack have been explored in depth from Washington to London to Moscow. But, notwithstanding the JCPOA, an operation from the air is still very much a high-risk but potentially high-reward last option for the Israelis.

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1. Pick up the intel and share it with Washington ASAP

It would be enormously complicated from a diplomatic standpoint (although still very much possible) for Prime Minister Netanyahu (or any future prime minister of Israel) to authorize an aerial campaign against Tehran’s nuclear facilities if he lacked the hard and convincing evidence needed to substantiate his concerns. Based in part on Netanyahu’s poor assessment of the consequences of any interim nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, Washington will be loath to support a claim about Iranian cheating without information that can be corroborated by the U.S. intelligence community. One of the reasons why the George W. Bush administration tacitly approved of a 2007 unilateral Israeli strike on Syria’s nuclear reactor at the al-Kibar facility was because Israeli officials shared information with the White House in a relatively short period of time.