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Weekly Update: Israel and the threat posed by Iran

19 May 2022

While the entire world seems to be obsessed with condemning Israel for the death of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli counter-terrorist operation in Jenin, Israel continues to fight daily for its existence.

One of the main existential threats facing Israel is its simmering conflict with Iran, which is nearing a breaking point. The coming weeks may be critical in determining whether there will be an escalation of military conflict in the region.

Since 1979, the US has imposed various sanctions against Iran in response to the Iranian nuclear program, and Iranian support for Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Shi’ite militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. Further international sanctions were imposed in 2006 after Iran refused to halt its nuclear enrichment program.

In 2015, the US and several European countries entered into an agreement with Iran called JCPOA, under which Iran had to limit the volume of uranium it enriches, and the quality and number of centrifuges it operates at any one time, in exchange for sanctions relief. In 2018 President Trump pulled out of the agreement, citing Iranian breach of the agreement.

Iran has been working on nuclear capability for decades, and is close to achieving a nuclear bomb. This week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz stated that Iran “stands just a few weeks away from accumulating fissile material that will be sufficient for a first bomb,” as it now “holds 60 kilograms of [fissile] material enriched to 60%, produces metallic uranium at the enrichment level of 20% and prevents the IAEA from accessing its facilities.”

Over recent months there have been indirect negotiations between Iran and the Biden administration. It is reported that a draft agreement for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal is almost done. The last remaining stumbling block is Iran’s demand that the Biden administration remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations blacklist.

It seems Biden will be unwilling to do so. Whether Iran will give in and accept a deal, requiring it to limit its enrichment program in return for lifting of sanctions, is unclear. Haaretz correspondent Yossi Melman is optimistic that a deal can be reached with the Iranians because “[t]he Iranians are desperate for a deal to lift the sanctions on them. $100bn is at stake and they need it for their economy. The IRGC is also an economic empire in Iran, so they also see the utility in getting the sanctions lifted.”

Enrique Mora, the European Union’s coordinator for Iran nuclear deal negotiations, recently visited Iran to help salvage the deal. The Europeans believe that only an agreement with Iran can avert war.

Israel and its (Sunni) Arab allies in the region disagree. At a meeting late March, Israeli PM Bennett told Secretary of State Blinken that Iran can only be deterred from moving toward enriching uranium to the military level of 90% if it knows that the U.S. and European countries would ramp up sanctions to the level placed on Russia. Bennett also told Blinken that the nuclear deal will only be “a Band-Aid” solution for just a few years, and at the same time, it will give Iran billions of dollars it would be able to use for its regional malign activities and to arm its proxies.

Deal or no-deal, Israel is vigilant in monitoring the situation in Iran, and intervenes where necessary. Last December Israel reportedly struck the Natanz nuclear plant in Iran. Israel regularly strikes Iranian-sponsored facilities in Syria.

For Israel, Iran’s activities in the region present a real existential threat. Iranian militia and proxies surround Israel – Hezbollah in the north, Hamas/PIJ in the West, pro-Iranian militias in Syria, and the Houthis in the south. Their objectives are aggressive. Iran remains committed to the expansion of its revolutionary ideology, which includes destruction of the Zionist entity [Israel], and the liberation of Al-Quds [Jerusalem].

Iran is not only opposed to the existence of Israel, it sees the influence of Israel and the USA in the region as a threat to itself and the entire Islamic umma. Iran has recently warned that it sees Israeli cooperation with Bahrain as endangering its own security interests, and it will not hesitate to attack in response. Iran also claims that the Israeli presence in Kurdistan endangers its national security and hence launched missiles at a “Mossad base” in Erbil on February 13, 2022.

Israel takes these threats seriously. According to Defense Minister Gantz, “the State of Israel will continue to act against any enemy that threatens it, and prevent the transfer of advanced capabilities from Iran that endanger the citizens of Israel and harm the stability of the entire region.”

Israeli Defense Forces are prepared, if necessary, to strike Iranian nuclear facilities that are buried deep underground. The Israeli Air Force will have to deal with increasingly sophisticated Iranian air defenses in order to conduct such a strike, and also have to prepare for an expected retaliation against Israel by Iran and its allies throughout the region.

The situation is explosive. The whole geopolitical context of this conflict has changed with the war in Ukraine, and the growing rift between Russia, China and other countries on the one hand, and the West, on the other, which itself is internally divided.

Within the next few weeks we will know whether Iran will choose a diplomatic resolution, or open the door to a possible military escalation.

At the end of the day, Israel knows that she will probably be left alone to stand against those who seek to destroy her. This may require her to take anticipatory action, as she has so often done in the past.

In these very uncertain times, our task as church is to pray incessantly for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray that those who seek to annihilate Israel will be prevented from doing so.

The Editorial team 
Israel & Christians Today



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TOI reports: “Collaboration involving Israeli fighter jets and American refuelers seen as message to Iran regarding potential for US assistance in an actual Israeli attack.”
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Will the next Iran deal deadline, June 6, finally lead to a resolution? – analysis

Yonah Jeremy Bob at Jpost: “A deal signed by the IAEA and Tehran is set to end in June 6-10, and the next meeting of the IAEA board of governers is planned for June 6.”
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All eyes are on Ukraine, but another crisis is brewing in Iran

Carl Bildt and Javier Solana write in Washington Post: “Unless we can get the 2015 nuclear deal back on track, we are headed to a new conflict with Tehran. President Biden and European leaders have acted swiftly and decisively on Ukraine; now they must take steps to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state.”
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Iran Threatens: We Won’t Hesitate to Fire Missiles at Bahrain

Michael Segall writes at JCPA: “Iran has repeatedly warned recently that it sees Israeli activity in Bahrain as endangering its own security interests, and it will not hesitate to attack in response.”
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Iran Facing Economic Uncertainty

Seth J. Frantzman writes in JPost: “Iranian media are admitting the country has severe economic hurdles ahead.”
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God is the Author of History
| Romans 9-11 with Johannes Gerloff #46

Not coincidence, not powerful people like Vladimir Putin, not even dark powers or conspiracies determine what happens as “history”, but – according to the teaching of Scripture – it is the one, true and only God who indeed is the decisive power behind everything that happens in this world.

 

SCRIPTURE FOR THE WEEK:

Ezekiel 39:21-29

21 “I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them. 22 From that day forward the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God.23 And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword.24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offenses, and I hid my face from them.
25 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. 26 They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. 27 When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.”