Hamas attack ‘weapon of mass distraction’ as Iran goes nuclear

A former Israeli national security adviser tells JNS that Hamas’s attack could be part of multi-staged plan devised by Tehran leadership.

By Yaakov Lappin | | Topics: Hamas, Iran
The damage after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit a building in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, Feb. 11, 2024. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
The damage after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit a building in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, Feb. 11, 2024. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.

Israel needs to be prepared for the possibility of conducting high-intensity strikes on Hezbollah in Lebanon and on Iran’s nuclear program simultaneously, a former senior Israeli defense official told JNS in recent days.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Professor Jacob Nagel, former acting national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ex-head of Israel’s National Security Council, is currently a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a professor at the Technion‒Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Nagel raised the possibility of a multi-staged Iranian strategy to go nuclear, involving regional proxies keeping Israel and the world distracted with conflicts.

Iran may have activated a “weapon of mass distraction” in order to make progress on building weapons of mass destruction, its nuclear program,” said Nagel. The possibility of a long-term Iranian plan—with a secret timetable and multiple stages—must be taken seriously, he said.

The first stage of such a plan begins with the mass-murder attack launched on Oct. 7 against southern Israel by Hamas in Gaza, which, even though it likely occurred without prior coordination with Iran on its timing, still serves Iran’s interests and could not have happened without Iranian support for Hamas.

Hezbollah entered the conflict from Lebanon with attacks on northern Israel in a lower-intensity but steady manner, starting on Oct. 8.

In the second stage of the potential plan, Nagel said, Israel begins “treading water” in Gaza, and the international community becomes involved in responding to Iran’s proxies, particularly the Houthis, while Hezbollah maintains its involvement in a low-intensity manner.

In a future possible third stage, Hezbollah becomes involved in full-scale war, and in a potential fourth stage, Iran—taking advantage of the distraction—races ahead in its nuclear program.

“This scenario cannot be ruled out,” said Nagel.

 

‘This is our fight’

According to a report released by Reuters on March 15, Hezbollah told its Iranian patron recently that it would fight any future full-scale war with Israel alone.

The report noted that the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, who oversees Iranian support for proxies, visited Beirut in February to “discuss the risk posed if Israel next aims at Lebanon’s Hezbollah,” adding that the visit was his third to Beirut since Oct. 7.

“The conversation turned to the possibility of a full Israeli offensive to its north, in Lebanon,” the report said, citing unnamed Iranian sources, adding that Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah “reassured Ghaani he didn’t want Iran to get sucked into a war with Israel or the United States and that Hezbollah would fight on its own.”

“This is our fight,” Nasrallah reportedly told Ghaani.

“The events that have occurred so far do not disprove the idea that Iran has a multi-stage plan,” said Nagel. “I think today we are at the stage where Iran is developing the components of the ‘weapons group’ in the nuclear program,” he added, in reference to the work that needs to occur alongside uranium enrichment in order to assemble nuclear warheads.

“There is no categorical Iranian decision to break through to nuclear weapons, nor will such a decision be seen anywhere, because this would attract pressure on Iran,” said Nagel.

Instead, he argued, there is constant gradual progress being made by multiple Iranian teams, enriching uranium, and creating the necessary components and systems for nuclear bombs. These teams, which operate at one level below the Iranian leadership, “are doing what they can without being caught with a smoking gun in their hand,” he said.

“Israel has to prepare—as it has prepared all of these past years—to strike the nuclear program,” stressed Nagel. “If it was not for Israeli activities, Iran would have long ago become a nuclear state. It’s clear that it would have already had enriched enough military-grade uranium for a bomb. Many do not understand this.”

The longest part of the uranium enrichment process has already been completed by Iran, Nagel stressed, referring to the enrichment of 20% and 60% uranium. “The big majority of the time needed to reach military-grade (90%) uranium is spent reaching those two enrichment levels of 20 and 60,” he said. “Little time is needed to subsequently, from there, reach 90% enrichment level—the military-grade,” he cautioned.

“Hence, I am of the belief that there is no need to attribute great importance to estimates of how long is needed for Iran to reach 90% enrichment. This is something they’ll do at the end.”

 

‘Strike the weapons system part of it’

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that despite German, French and Dutch efforts to advance the placement of sanctions on Iran for its supply of weapons to Russia and to Middle Eastern proxies, the United States has torpedoed the move based on the fear that this would lead to regional escalation and disrupt diplomatic efforts surrounding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

The three European countries, known as the E3, warned earlier this month that Iran pushed its nuclear program to “new heights.”

On March 7, The National reported that Britain, France and Germany told the board of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had installed more advanced centrifuges and “laid ground for a further expansion” of its ability to enrich uranium.

“Iran’s overall stockpile has grown by 30%,” the statement said, “although Iran appeared to have down blended some of its stock of 60% uranium to 20%,” according to the report.

On March 15, Washington reissued a $10 billion Iran sanctions waiver that allows Iran access to revenue from its electricity sales to Iraq.

On March 4, Reuters, quoting unnamed diplomats, said a quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s main policy-making body saw Western powers “again choosing not to seriously confront Iran over its failure to cooperate with the agency on a range of issues.”

Nagel assessed that the United States and Europe will never attack Iran’s nuclear program, adding that the sanctions relief being offered to Iran aligns well with Tehran’s intention to continue with creeping nuclear progress. “Hence, Israel must be ready for anything. For being able to strike the enrichment part of the program, but also for being able to strike the weapons system part of it,” said Nagel.

Asked how the IDF can take on Iran and Hezbollah simultaneously, if necessary, Nagel replied: “Before Oct. 7 and after it, Israel has been building for itself the ability to work in more than one arena. It is not easy, and we have learned lessons. Part of our defense doctrine has changed since Oct. 7.”

Those changes include estimates of how long wars can last with the Gaza war soon approaching its sixth month. “Israel must build munitions capabilities, mainly artillery and tank shells, and Israel must be ready to work in more than one arena. Because of what is occurring in the south, the timing of war with Hezbollah could change. One must be smart and not always right,” he added.

 

‘Falling into a trap’

On March 2, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies published an assessment co-written by Nagel and Mark Dubowitz, FDD’s chief executive and an expert on Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions.

In the assessment, Nagel and Dubowitz wrote that Israel “risks falling into a trap set by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. In supporting Hamas’s brutal attack on Oct. 7 and keeping multiple Israeli military battalions tied down in the north and in the simmering West Bank, Khamenei has unleashed a weapon of mass distraction that is consuming the attention of Israel’s military, intelligence and political establishment. This fits neatly into the supreme leader’s strategy of advancing his atomic weapon of mass destruction.”

Those who are concerned with issues of Israel’s international “legitimacy,” he said, are missing the far more important aspect of Israel’s military readiness, and this is what should be the main factor guiding its timing for engaging enemies on new fronts, he argued.

Meanwhile, Russia recently set up military positions in southern Syria near Israel. While Nagel doubted that Moscow posed any current operational threat to Israel, he added that Jerusalem must be cautious about future potential Russian assistance to Iran’s nuclear program, which could be given as repayment for the Iranian supply of unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles to Russia’s war effort against Ukraine.

“I hope the Russians do not do this, but it can happen,” said Nagel. “We are talking about knowledge in the nuclear field.”