US says Iran has 'made concessions'

Gantz heads to US, vowing Israel will do ‘everything it can’ to sway Iran deal

Defense minister to meet CENTCOM chief, US national security adviser before flying to Japan; ex-PM Bennett issues last-minute appeal to Biden not to sign new nuclear agreement

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a National Unity faction meeting at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem on August 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a National Unity faction meeting at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem on August 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the resurrection of the Iran nuclear deal appears to be imminent, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced Tuesday that he will travel to the United States for a series of meetings with American defense officials later this week.

Earlier Tuesday, Gantz said that Israel was in touch with both the US and regional countries about the talks to restore the Iran nuclear deal, amid reports of recent progress in the negotiations.

“We will do everything we can to influence the agreement,” Gantz said during a faction meeting of his National Unity party.

Noting Israel won’t be a party to any agreement, he added that the Jewish state “will know how to maintain its freedom of action as needed.”

Shortly afterward, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued what he described as a last-minute appeal to US President Joe Biden not to sign a renewed Iran nuclear deal.

“This agreement will send approximately a quarter of a trillion dollars to the Iranian terror administration’s pocket and to its regional proxies and will enable Iran to develop, install and operate centrifuges, with almost no restrictions, in a mere two years,” Bennett wrote on Twitter.

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives to testify at the commission of inquiry into Nahal Tzafit disaster in Tel Aviv, August 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

He said that previously, “even when it was very close,” Israel convinced the White House “not to give in to Iranian demand,” and expresses hope it will again do the same.

“One way or another, the State of Israel is not a party to the agreement. Israel is not committed to any of the restrictions stemming from the agreement and will utilize all available tools to prevent the Iranian nuclear program from advancing,” he added.

Since resigning as prime minister, Bennett has largely maintained a low profile on the national political scene, issuing few public statements since leaving office.

A US official said Tuesday that Iran has “made concessions on critical issues” recently, sparking further speculation that a deal between Tehran and world powers is closer than ever. The official said Iran has agreed to drop demands to block some UN nuclear inspections.

Gantz is scheduled to fly to Florida Thursday morning and meet with the chief of the US Central Command Michael Erik Kurilla at the command’s headquarters.

There he will receive a briefing on “the operative aspects of collaborations” between Israel and CENTCOM, his office said.

CENTCOM commander Michael Erik Kurilla (left) meets with Defense Minister Gantz (center) and military chief Aviv Kohavi (right), July 17, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Minstry)

CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the US military’s relationship with Israel in September last year. Until then, Israel had been kept in the area of responsibility of the European Command (EUCOM) in order to prevent possible tensions between CENTCOM and the Arab and Muslim nations under its purview, many of which did not maintain formal ties with Israel and would therefore not want to be considered as mutual allies.

In recent years, however, CENTCOM’s Arab allies have increasingly developed relations with Israel, some informally, so the issue has largely faded.

Kurilla was in Israel last month for his second official trip to Israel since becoming CENTCOM’s commander in April.

Gantz’s office said the defense minister would also meet US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington on Friday, before flying to Japan on Saturday night for an official trip.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House on June 3, 2021. (Shmulik Almani/Defense Ministry)

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata was also in Washington this week to conduct a series of meetings with US officials on Iran’s nuclear program and the deal.

The 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — gave the Islamic Republic sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

The deal was designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — something it has always denied wanting to do.

But in 2018, then-US president Donald Trump, a strong critic of the deal, unilaterally pulled out and slapped heavier sanctions on Iran.

Earlier this month, after more than a year of talks coordinated by the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and his team, the bloc submitted what it called a “final” proposed text — which has not been made public — to revive the accord.

“Iran responded by saying ‘yes but,’ that is to say they want some adjustments,” Borrell told TVE on Tuesday, without providing further details.

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, File)

Israel believes Iran wishes to build a nuclear bomb, and has reportedly carried out sabotage operations within the Islamic Republic to delay the development of such a weapon.

Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though it has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

Two major roadblocks reportedly remain in the negotiations if Tehran does want to return to the deal: Iran is demanding an end to International Atomic Energy Agency investigations into its nuclear program, and wants guarantees to cover the possibility of the US ditching the agreement again in the future.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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