Israel’s foreign minister warns Iran veering toward war after uranium ramp-up

Israel’s foreign minister warns Iran veering toward war after uranium ramp-up

Israel Katz says Tehran will suffer heavy blows in a conflict, Israel could act alone against nukes if needed

Foreign Minister Israel Katz at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, during a UN climate conference in the city, in late June, 2019. (Courtesy Katz's office)
Foreign Minister Israel Katz at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, during a UN climate conference in the city, in late June, 2019. (Courtesy Katz's office)

Israel’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Iran was sliding toward a war in which it would suffer heavy losses, and threatened that Israel could take unilateral action against the Islamic Republic if needed to keep it from getting nuclear weapons.

The comments by Israel Katz came a day after Iran said it had breached an agreed-upon limit on its stocks of low-enriched uranium, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “significant step” toward building a nuclear weapon.

“Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, even if it has to act alone on that,” Katz told Army Radio.

Iran’s “mistakes in the gray area will lead it to the red zone — a war in which it will be hit hard,” he added.

On Monday, Iran acknowledged that the country had exceeded a 300 kilogram stockpile limit for enriched uranium laid out in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal that saw sanctions lifted from Iran in exchange for it dismantling the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear program. The US pulled out of the deal last year.

Tehran has also threatened to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent starting July 7.

Iran’s uranium conversion facility near Isfahan, which reprocesses uranium ore concentrate into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment, March 30, 2005. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Breaking the stockpile limit by itself doesn’t radically change the one year that experts say Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, if it chooses to pursue one. But by coupling an increasing stockpile with higher enrichment, it begins to close that one-year window and hamper any diplomatic efforts at saving the accord.

Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67%. Previously, Iran had enriched as high as 20%, which is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels. It also held up to 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of the higher-enriched uranium.

While Iran has insisted it can reverse course and the deal’s remaining signatories called on it to stick to the deal Monday, Netanyahu urged Europe to scrap the deal and reimpose punishing sanctions on Iran.

Katz echoed that sentiment, calling the Iranian move a “wake-up call” to Europe.

“Feeding the Iranian tiger will not help; only an aggressive policy and sanctions and support for the US policy will quickly show that it is a paper tiger,” Katz said.

Katz made the comments a day after returning from a visit to the Gulf city of Abu Dhabi, where his office said he held consultations on Iran with a United Arab Emirates official.

Katz, who was in the UAE for a UN climate conference, said he also spoke to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres while there about efforts to return Israeli captives and the remains of two IDF soldiers held in the Gaza Strip since 2014.

Israel and several Gulf countries have stepped up open contacts in recent years against the background of shared consternation over Iran’s nuclear program and other malign activities.

Iran’s uranium enrichment announcement Monday came as tensions remain high between Iran and the US. In recent weeks, the wider Persian Gulf has seen Iran shoot down a US military surveillance drone, mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen launching bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.

At the White House Monday, Trump told reporters Iran was “playing with fire,” and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the international community to require Iran to suspend all enrichment, even at levels allowed under the nuclear deal.

“The Iranian regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the region and to the world,” Pompeo said in a statement.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted, “There is no reason for Iran to increase its enrichment unless it’s part of an effort to reduce the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons.”

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