It was no surprise that Iran passed 300-kilogram enriched uranium threshold limit on Monday.
If anything, it was a surprise that Tehran did not pass that limit last week when it had said earlier in June that it would violate the limit by June 27.
And although violating the 300-kilogram limit, part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), does not actually bring the Islamic republic all that much closer to a nuclear bomb, it is already changing the conversation in the Israeli defense establishment.
There is still a preference in most circles for a negotiated outcome, but now calls for discussion of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel will get louder.
The Jerusalem Post has followed differing points of view within the Israeli defense establishment, and on this issue, there are fundamentally two major camps.
One camp is not only committed to diplomacy, but has always believed that attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities is a massive risk that could lead to regional war, including tens of thousands of Hezbollah rockets raining down on Israel’s home front.
Those in this camp, still sign off on Israel carrying out a pre-emptive strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities if it has already enriched enough uranium for a bomb and is close to being able to deploy one, but broadly speaking, they oppose an attack before that final point.
They also oppose too much public discussion of an Israeli attack before that final point, as they believe too much sword waving harms chances at diplomacy and makes the Trump administration feel it does not have an obligation to carry out the attack.
This second camp prefers that the Trump administration carry out a pre-emptive strike if it becomes necessary, and cringes at the idea of Israel going at it alone unless there is really no other choice.
The other camp is more triumphalist.
They take the threat from Hezbollah and regional war with Iran seriously, but overall, they believe Israel’s military and deterrence are so strong that Jerusalem could order a surgical strike on the Islamic republic’s nuclear facilities and likely avoid a major conflict from Tehran’s proxies.
In this narrative, the proxies know that they would pay too massive a price and will avoid getting involved, especially if it is clear that Israel attacked surgically and is not threatening Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime’s survival.
This camp believes that Jerusalem should talk loudly and repeatedly about its readiness to carry out a pre-emptive strike going solo and without global support.
In their telling, making the threat clearer will make diplomacy more likely to work as Iran will not view the threat of force as a bluff.
Further, this camp believes that the Trump administration has lost respect in the eyes of the Iranians and that, therefore, only a clear threat from Israel might pressure Khamenei to be ready to compromise in the nuclear standoff.
Finally, this camp appears ready to order a pre-emptive strike earlier, possibly before Iran has enough enriched uranium for a bomb, even if it cannot yet deliver the explosive material.
All of this is likely jumping the gun, as it comes in the context in which there have been more than a dozen significant developments in the US-Iran nuclear standoff in recent weeks, but with none of them having moved either party closer to a deal or to a nuclear breakout.
Part of the reason is that the 300-kilogram limit is more symbolic than meaningful.
In contrast, Khamenei could have announced that he was ordering the enrichment of uranium to the 20% level, which would have shortened its breakout time to a nuclear bomb.
Iran could have reduced IAEA access to its nuclear facilities or the Islamic republic could have exited the 2015 deal or the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
By sufficing with the 300-kilogram symbolic violation of the deal, Iran is still signalling it does not want an escalation into a military conflict.
The next Iran deadline is July 7.
It is unclear what new escalated violation Iran will commit on July 7, but the latest reports from Tehran are that it will enrich uranium to 3.7% up from the nuclear deal’s 3.67% or start violating the 300-kilogram limit much more substantially.
These likely would still be merely symbolic violations.
Without jumping to at least the 20% enrichment level as Khamenei ordered before the 2015 deal, the breakout time to a nuclear bomb will only get reduced on a very incremental basis.
So, in all likelihood, Monday’s “big” news will probably not change the ongoing game of chicken radically.
However, it will likely change the tone and focus of the conversation in Israel, and those calling for putting the Israeli pre-emptive strike option front and center probably have gained at least a temporary upper hand.