By JPOST.COM STAFF
Time: Planned exercise signals to Iran that West is keeping military option alive should the need arise to deny the Islamic Republic a nuclear bomb.
Israel and the United States will stage a large-scale military exercise toward the end of the six-month period in which the interim agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran takes effect, Time magazine reported on Thursday.
The drill is intended to signal to the Iranians that while the West may prefer diplomacy to solve the nuclear stalemate, it is still keeping the military option alive should the need arise to use force in order to deny the Islamic Republic a nuclear weapons capability.
“[The exercise] is going to be big,” an Israeli officer told Time magazine. “The wind from the Americans into the Israeli sails is, ‘We will maintain our capability to strike in Iran, and one of the ways we show it is to train. It will send signals both to Israel and to the Iranians that we are maintaining our capabilities in the military option. The atmosphere is we have to do it big time, we have to do a big show of capabilities and connections.”
According to Time, the Israeli government has taken a “strategic decision to continue to make noise,” the source said.
Amid sharp disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington over the Iranian issue, US Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive next week to talk with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about those matters.
Kerry, who will leave next Tuesday for Brussels and Moldova, will then fly to Israel for meetings with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Kerry was last in the region some three weeks ago, when deep divisions with Netanyahu emerged both over the Iranian issue as well as on the Palestinian one.
His visit will come days after France and Britain sent over their top negotiators with Iran, Jacques Audibert and Simon Gass, to brief Israeli officials on the just-concluded Geneva interim agreement, as well as to discuss the parameters of a possible comprehensive agreement.
The accord signed Sunday morning restrains Iran’s nuclear program for six months, in exchange for some sanctions relief. During this six-month period the P5+1 – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – will negotiate with Iran in the hopes of reaching a comprehensive agreement.
Israel and the P5+1 have indicated a desire to “engage” closely with one another during this period.
Gass, who arrived Wednesday, said the purpose was to “continue our close consultation with Israel on the Iranian dossier.” He held talks with Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz in the morning and with Foreign Ministry officials in the afternoon.
He said that Britain “always had a very close and friendly dialogue with Israel over Iran, which we recognize as a core security interest for Israel.”
He characterized the talks with Steinitz as “good,” and said there were some elements in the agreement that both recognized as good, and “some we disagreed on.”
Now, he said, “we need to focus on the road ahead.”
Steinitz issued a statement after the meeting, which included representatives from the different intelligence branches, saying that the sides discussed in detail different elements of the Geneva agreement, and started preliminary discussions on the comprehensive accord.
Gass, who served as Britain’s ambassador to Tehran from 2009- 2011, said that his government was “confident” this was a good first-step agreement and that under its terms Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to move forward.
Addressing one of Israel’s primary concerns about the agreement – that it will mark the beginning of the end of the sanctions regime that finally got Iran to budge – Gass said that while Iran received “modest sanctions relief, the core sanctions on oil and gas and financial transactions remain in place.”
Those sanctions will act as a strong incentive for Iran to continue toward a comprehensive solution, he said, adding that Britain will work to ensure the sanctions regime is “policed and enforced tightly.”
Gass said that when British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke out in favor of the interim Geneva accord on Iran during a speech to the British parliament on Monday, he did not intend to threaten Israel, and that his words were misinterpreted.
Gass said that in Britain’s view, the Geneva accord was a “good agreement,” and Hague was merely expressing his hope that countries with reservations will still work to move forward to play a constructive role in enabling a comprehensive agreement.
On Monday, Hague said, “We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned.”
Iran, meanwhile, made clear it would pursue construction at the Arak heavy-water reactor, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
According to the agreed text, Iran said it would not make “any further advances of its activities” on the Arak reactor, under construction near a western Iranian town with that name.
“Capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there,” Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcasted on Iran’s Press TV.
Gass said that there were a number of controls in the agreement to prevent the Iranians from using the facility to open a plutonium route to a bomb. These controls included an Iranian agreement not to produce nuclear fuel or install it at the reactor, as well as “tough and intrusive monitoring arrangements” there to ensure they abide by the agreement.
Herb Keinon contributed to this story.