BY STUART WINER
ISRAEL – Israel is still preparing for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, including a specific military budget running to NIS 10 billion ($2.89 billion), despite the developments in talks between world powers and Tehran.
Details of the budgeting came to light during Knesset joint committee sessions on IDF plans that were held in January, Haaretz reported on Thursday.
Three MKs, who were present during the hearings but asked to remain anonymous, said that the funding was to cover preparations throughout 2014 and was similar in size to the Iran strike budget for 2013, the report said.
According to the report, some of the legislators present at the sessions grilled Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, and Brig. Gen. Agai Yehezkel of the IDF’s Planning Directorate, about the necessity of a strike plan despite talks between world powers and Iran. Those talks led to an initial agreement in November 2013 for Tehran to scale back its nuclear program, and are still ongoing.
The IDF officials responded that they had received instructions from the highest levels of government, apparently Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, to continue with preparations for a strike, the report said. Netanyahu publicly slammed the November interim deal as a “historic mistake,” and he has demanded the full dismantling of Iran’s “military nuclear” capabilities under a permanent deal, whereas US President Barack Obama has spoken of allowing Iran to maintain a closely supervised low-level enrichment capability.
Haaretz noted that both the Prime Minister’s Office and the IDF’s Spokesperson declined to comment on the report.
Last week Ya’alon hinted at a change in his stance from opposing to supporting solo action by Israel on Iran’s nuclear program.
“The one who should lead the campaign against Iran is the US,” he said, but instead, “the US at a certain stage began negotiating with them, and unfortunately in the Persian bazaar the Iranians were better,” he said. Therefore, “we (Israelis) have to look out for ourselves.”
Two days of talks between world powers and Iran came to an end on Wednesday with what EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton described as “substantive and useful discussions covering a set of issues including (uranium) enrichment, the Arak reactor, civil nuclear cooperation and sanctions.” The parties agreed to reconvene April 7-9.
However, Russia has warned that tensions with the US over the Crimea crisis could lead to it altering its position regarding Iran to erode the unified front that Western countries have presented against Tehran. The US and Europe have been strongly critical of Russian actions to annex Crimea following a revolution in Ukraine last month.