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As Blinken heads here, PM hints Israel may take independent action against Iran

In unusually stark remarks, PM says he appreciates US friendship, but there could be a situation where Tehran’s nuclear threat necessitates ‘brave and independent decisions’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a televised address, May 15, 2021. (GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a televised address, May 15, 2021. (GPO)

On the eve of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first visit to Israel and neighboring countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made unusually tough remarks regarding Iran, including hinting that Jerusalem could take military action against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites without Washington’s okay.

In a ceremony marking the appointment of incoming Mossad chief David Barnea, and with many Mossad members in attendance, Netanyahu said: “The first task of each one of you is to prevent Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons.”

“I very much appreciate our friend the United States, which has been standing by our side for many years. That’s an integral part of our national security,” Netanyahu continued.

“But there could be a situation in which our highest goal — to guarantee that the ayatollahs don’t end the thousands of years of existence of the Jewish people — will require us to take brave and independent decisions,” the premier said.

“In any event — with or without a deal — we will do everything to deny Iran nuclear weapons, because this concerns our very existence.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, outgoing Mossad director Yossi Cohen, right, and incoming director David Barnea at a ceremony conferring the Prime Minister’s Award on exception Mossad agents, May 24, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Global powers have been meeting in Vienna since early April in a bid to bring Washington back to the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which the US left in 2018.

The withdrawal under then-US president Donald Trump and the reimposition of sanctions has led Iran to step up its nuclear activities.

Iran’s parliament speaker said Sunday that international inspectors may no longer access surveillance images of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites, escalating tensions.

Over a year ago, a US drone strike killed a top Iranian general, prompting Tehran to later launch ballistic missiles that wounded dozens of American troops in Iraq.

A mysterious explosion also struck Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, which Iran has described as sabotage and blamed on Israel. In November, Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country’s military nuclear program some two decades earlier, was killed in an attack Tehran also blames on Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane on May 24, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, en route to the Middle East. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

Blinken was heading to Israel Monday for his first trip to the region as US secretary of state, days after Washington helped broker a ceasefire that brought an end to the most significant escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in seven years.

The goals of the three-day trip — which will also include stops in Ramallah, Cairo and Amman — will be to ensure that the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza terror groups holds while also pushing steps that will improve the quality of life for both sides in the absence of immediate peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a senior State Department official told reporters in a phone briefing ahead of Blinken’s takeoff.

The secretary will also work with the parties to help kickstart efforts to rehabilitate Gaza, while preventing international aid from reaching the enclave’s ruling Hamas terror group, the official added.

In Israel, Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and other senior Israeli officials, discussing the Biden administration’s “ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House said in a statement.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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