PM to US lawmakers: Iran as dangerous as 50 North Koreas

Gallant: Iran has amassed enough uranium for 5 nuclear weapons

Visiting Athens, defense minister says Tehran ‘won’t be satisfied by a single bomb,’ warns the Islamic Republic against efforts to establish military foothold in Syria

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks during a meeting with his Greek counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos, in Athens, May 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks during a meeting with his Greek counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos, in Athens, May 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday said Iran has amassed enough fissile material for five nuclear bombs, warning the Islamic Republic against further enriching uranium toward weapons-grade levels.

“Make no mistake — Iran will not be satisfied by a single nuclear bomb. So far, Iran has gained material enriched to 20% and 60% for five nuclear bombs,” Gallant told his Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos during a visit to Athens.

“Iranian progress, and enrichment to 90%, would be a grave mistake on Iran’s part, and could ignite the region,” he added.

Iran is not believed to have yet enriched uranium to 90%, the purity needed for nuclear weapons, but can quickly do so from current enrichment levels if it chooses.

It holds stockpiles of uranium enriched to 20% and 60% in violation of the 2015 accord limiting its nuclear program, which it has increasingly breached since then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Western powers warn there can be no civilian use for uranium enriched to such levels.

Talks to reinstate the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers restarted in April 2021, but have been stalled since last year as Iran forges ahead with its nuclear ambitions.

Top US officials recently estimated that Iran could produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon in two weeks if it desires, but would need additional months to ready a bomb for use.

The US also believes Iran does not yet have all of the technology required to build a bomb and has not made a final decision to build a weapon, which Iranian leaders have repeatedly claimed they have no intention of doing.

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP)

In his remarks, Gallant vowed that Israel will not allow Iran to continue its efforts to establish a military foothold in Syria, where the Israeli Air Force has reportedly carried out a number of strikes in recent months, including an attack Monday on the airport in Aleppo.

“Over the past six months, Iran has sent aircraft to Syria on a weekly basis, delivering weapons to be used for terrorism,” he said. “The Syrian regime should be aware that the IDF will respond forcefully to any attacks launched from its territory. We will not allow Iran to establish military power in Syria, or to build a ‘highway’ for the delivery of advanced weapons to Lebanon.”

Separately on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a bipartisan congressional delegation and told the group of lawmakers that Iran could threaten the entire United States if it gets a nuclear weapon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with a group of visiting US members of Congress in Jerusalem on May 4, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“Iran is 50 North Koreas; it is not merely a neighborhood bully like the dynasty that rules North Korea,” said Netanyahu in response to a question about Tehran. “This is an ideological force that views us, Israel, as a small satan, and views you as the great satan — and to have Iran being able to threaten every city in the United States with nuclear blackmail is a changing of history.”

The warning came as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi made a two-day visit to Syria, where he met with leaders of Palestinian terror factions and pledged continued support against Israel, while calling for “the defeat of the Zionist regime.” Iran also backs the Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon, which is similarly committed to Israel’s destruction, as well as other armed militias throughout the region.

Gallant commented on the fighting this week between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip, which broke out after the death of a hunger-striking Palestinian Islamic Jihad security prisoner in Israeli custody, ending after one day with a reported Egyptian-mediated ceasefire.

“This week, Palestinian terror organizations have tried to challenge Israel. They are launching rockets at innocent civilians. My message to them: Do not misjudge the strength and unity of our nation,“ he said.

The defense chief linked the rocket fire from Gaza to other recent attacks from Lebanon, Syria and in the West Bank, saying “They all share one common sponsor: Iran.”

“Iran supports, finances, trains and equips terror groups across the Middle East and around the world,” he added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) and his Greek counterpart, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, meet in Athens, May 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Gallant hailed security ties between Israel and Greece, noting the two countries’ cooperation to foil an alleged Iranian attack plot on a Chabad house in Athens.

“This is not the only attack that was prevented. In fact, Iran has launched a global terror campaign, under the direct command of its leader,” Gallant said, pointing to alleged efforts in Germany, Cyprus, the United Kingdom and elsewhere to target Israelis.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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