We can assume that Kochavi thought very carefully before choosing to insert himself — and thereby, the IDF — into what looks like an inevitable clash between Jerusalem and Washington over the Iranian issue. We should hope that his remarks won’t cast a pall over relations with the top American defense echelon, which have always been maintained even during times of diplomatic dispute.
There are a number of Israeli defense officials who think that it would have been better if Kochavi had said what he did to the Americans behind closed doors to avoid conflict, especially at such a sensitive time. This is the opinion of, among others, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as many high-ranking IDF officials, all of whom think Israel should be in discreet talks with the new U.S. administration in an attempt to influence any future agreements it might reach with Iran.
Israel would prefer that the United States not return to any agreement with Iran and keep up the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure,” though hopes that the Iranian regime would collapse have not panned out, and the past year has seen Iran step up its nuclear program. As part of this activity, Iran has installed advanced centrifuges at its nuclear facilities in Natanz and Fordow, amassed a large quantity of low-enriched uranium and even started to enrich uranium to 20 percent.
U.S. President Joe Biden and senior members of his administration have already made it clear that they intend to go back to the 2015 nuclear deal while at the same time recognizing how dangerous Iran is and promising not to allow it to develop a nuclear bomb. The current disagreement on the Israeli side has to do with the best approach to take with the new administration to reach optimal results. Past experience shows us that a contrarian approach is unlikely to be the right tactic, especially when the new administration is focused mainly on domestic issues.
Nevertheless, Kochavi’s remarks were also intended for an Israeli audience. The Iranian challenge he presented — and the operational plans it demands — cost money. A lot of money. Readiness to counter the threat is the reason for the IDF’s request for billions of shekels more for its budget, which would go mainly to armaments, intelligence and training. Netanyahu and Gantz support the request, so it’s likely it will pass, but at a time of economic distress and worse economic blows yet to come, they have an obligation to ensure that the IDF uses the money for its intended purpose and avoid wasteful spending, a mission in which the IDF has not always excelled.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.