The upcoming period is fateful for the Iranian nuclear program, and if an agreement with the Islamic Republic is not reached soon, Israel will take the necessary steps to defend itself and remove the threat, said Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party and a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
In an interview with Israel Radio Saturday, Hanegbi warned that Israel has made it clear that it reserves the right to defend itself in the face of the nuclear threat from Iran, and that even US President Barack Obama acknowledged this right.
“Obama knows that speeches end and that if no real solution is found to the nuclear dispute, Israel — as it has said in the past — will take the necessary measures to defend itself.,” said Hanegbi
“The military option is definitely still on the table,” he added.
A longtime lawmaker, Hanegbi previously served in a number of ministerial posts, including justice minister and intelligence and nuclear affairs minister.
He said that there exists a wide gap between world powers and Iran in the nuclear race which he described as one ”between a powerful, ambitious athlete with his eye on the prize and a fat, disunited athlete who is panting away behind him.”.
Hanegbi also echoed statements made by Netanyahu recently regarding Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s real authority in bringing the nuclear dispute to a close, calling Rouhani’s powers limited and subject to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — the person really in charge of Iran’s nuclear policy.
Hanegbi called for an increase in sanctions on Iran, saying now was the perfect time to up the pressure. He added that the sanctions are what led Iran to voice its desire to negotiate with world powers.
“The sanctions have affected them greatly. They are now trying to smile to ease them. And we should tell them that now is the time for more pressure because we understand that the sanctions were more effective than we had hoped,” he said, adding that “this is what Netahyahu has said and, I imagine, will say in his UN address [ to the General Assembly this week],” he said.
Earlier this year, Hanegbi warned that Israel should make a decision on what action to take by 2014.
“We’re getting closer and closer to the point of no return,” Hanegbi said at a symposium at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in May. “Decisions should be made this year, no later than the beginning of 2014. And I believe that Israel’s future cannot be dependent on others, even on our best allies.”
Various Israeli media reports on Friday indicated Iran was very close to the bomb — or even had one already, according to a report in the Maariv daily.
Hanegbi’s statements come a day after the US and Iran took a dramatic step toward ending more than three decades of estrangement when Obama phoned Rouhani and they agreed to work toward resolving the dispute over global suspicions that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The last direct conversation between the leaders of the two countries was in 1979, before the Iranian Revolution toppled the pro-US shah and brought Islamic militants to power.
Israeli officials have repeatedly derided Iran’s seeming willingness recently to engage in talks as a charm offensive aimed at deflecting pressure from its nuclear program. Rouhani has said he is ready for an agreement in the coming months.
On Wednesday, Communications and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan acknowledged a growing sense that Israel was increasingly isolated in its tough line on Iran.
Erdan said it now fell to Netanyahu to refocus international attention “on the facts” behind the rhetoric, which made plain that Iran’s bid for nuclear weaponry had not been slowed, much less halted. “The centrifuges are spinning faster,” Erdan told Israel Radio. “There’s also a plutonium core.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that Iran and the US could reach a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program within 3 to 6 months or sooner, amid a whirl of diplomatic activity.
Kerry told CBS news, however, that the US would not remove punishing sanctions imposed by the West until Washington was sure Tehran was complying with world demands to curb its nuclear activity.
“The United States is not going to lift the sanctions until it is clear that a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place, whereby we know exactly what Iran is going be doing with its program,” Kerry told the US news station.