Former defense officials back US return to Iran deal, urge new long-term pact

In letter to Netanyahu and Gantz, ex-senior military and intelligence figures call for fresh international agreement to curtail Tehran’s military activities in the region

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press regarding the Iranian nuclear program, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on September 9, 2019. (Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press regarding the Iranian nuclear program, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on September 9, 2019. (Sindel/Flash90)

Over 20 former senior military and intelligence officials in Israel sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz backing a US return to the Iran nuclear deal, while calling for a new international agreement that will curtail Tehran’s military activities in the region.

The letter, dispatched by former IDF deputy chief of staff Matan Vilnai — also a former Labor minister — welcomed the Biden administration’s efforts to reengage with Iran.

“We welcome the American initiative to bring Iran into compliance… with the nuclear deal, provided that it also requires Iran to fully comply with its obligations under UN Security Council resolution 2231 on the development of missiles and the IAEA inspections agreements,” the letter said.

The United States is prepared to return to the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran shows “strict compliance” with it, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.

The Biden administration has also reversed the Trump administration’s assertion that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored. Trump’s move had been ignored by the rest of the Security Council and the world, and the overwhelming majority of members in the 15-nation council had called the action illegal because the US was no longer a member of the nuclear deal.

US President Joe Biden (left) and Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Collage, AP)

Washington also eased stringent restrictions on the domestic US travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.

The former Israeli security officials called for a “new, long-term agreement that will address the loopholes and weaknesses discovered in the previous deal.”

They said the Biden administration must lay out for Iran which violations will not be tolerated, and emphasize that the United States will not allow the Islamic Republic to obtain nuclear weapons — even if diplomacy fails.

The signatories include former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, former IDF general Nitzan Alon, former National Security adviser Uzi Arad, and over a dozen others.

Israel has voiced strong opposition to Washington returning to the 2015 nuclear deal in its original form.

Netanyahu responded on Friday to a US announcement that it was willing to hold talks with Tehran on a return to the nuclear deal, saying Israel believes the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”

“Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to US President Joe Biden on February 17, 2021. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Days earlier, Netanyahu vowed opposition to those who oppose his hawkish stance, shortly before speaking on the phone with Joe Biden for the first time since the US president took office, after an eyebrow-raising four weeks of waiting.

Among the topics the two discussed was “the Iranian threat and challenges of the region.”

The 2015 accord is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking such an arsenal.

Israel, along with many Gulf states that are also worried about Iran’s expansionism, is hoping a broader deal can be negotiated that will include longer-lasting limitations on the nuclear program, as well as limits on Tehran’s ballistic missiles and support for regional proxy groups.

Iran has said it will stop some of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspections of its nuclear facilities if the West does not implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal.

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