Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Israel is still keeping open the possibility of taking action against Tehran’s nuclear project if necessary.
“Israel has a clear objective: that Iran not be nuclear. It is not just an Israeli interest. It is first and foremost a global and regional interest,” Gantz said in an interview with an Egyptian television outlet broadcast on Sunday
“The IDF and Israel’s defense establishment are holding onto the option of taking action against Iran’s nuclear project if that is what has to be done,” he said, according to quotes from the interview provided by his office. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Israel has twice conducted military strikes against the nuclear programs of its enemies — Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 — under what’s become known as the Begin Doctrine, which maintains that Jerusalem will not allow an enemy country to obtain an atomic weapon.
Gantz also said that Iran obtaining nuclear capabilities would lead to a Middle East arms race, and that Tehran’s support of the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group and Yemen’s Houthis also required action.
“A nuclear Iran would lead to a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. The regime is fundamentalist and radical and ultimately wants to obtain nuclear capability not just to have it, but primarily for the leverage it would give them in nuclear deterrence,” Gantz told Arabic Alghad TV.
“I want the public in Iran to understand me: I don’t have anything against them. Iranian citizens deserve a normal life like every other human being. But the regime’s support of terrorism, of Hezbollah, of the Houthis demands action,” he said.
Gantz also said that any future war would involve Hezbollah and Hamas firing missiles toward Israeli civilians and that Israel would eventually need to respond by striking missile stores in civilian areas.
“When I tell you I know there are homes in Lebanon that have guest rooms and missile rooms, it’s not just a slogan. It’s the reality on the ground,” Gantz said. “Eventually, we will have to attack missiles that are being stored within civilian populations. This is verified intelligence, and we saw the repercussions of such reckless practice by Hezbollah in the port of Beirut.”
The terror group has been blamed for stockpiling the ammonium nitrate that caused the deadly blast in the Lebanese capital last year.
Gantz also expressed hope for further normalization deals between Israel and Arab countries, naming Saudi Arabia as a country with “many abilities.” Additionally, the defense minister said there was a need for direct contact between Israel and the Palestinians.
“There is no reason that the wealth of Arab countries and commercial ties with them can’t be shared by the Palestinians as well. I think we need to be in direct contact. It’s all of a 10-minute drive between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It’s unfortunate that we travel so far rather than finding a way to meet with each other right here,” Gantz said.
The interview, conducted last week, was broadcast on Sunday, hours after Gantz visited the Depth Corps, the Israel Defense Forces unit tasked with conducting operations far beyond the country’s borders, reviewing operational plans, his office said, in an apparent threat to Iran.
The IDF Depth Corps is a shadowy multidisciplinary unit responsible for military operations beyond Israel’s borders, and its activities are almost always classified. Were the IDF to conduct a strike against Iran, the Depths Corps would likely play the central role in preparing and executing it.
The visit came days after IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said in a speech that he had ordered the military to draw up fresh plans for conducting a strike against Iran in order to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The army chief also criticized US President Joe Biden’s intention of returning to the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran resumes compliance with the agreement, saying such a move would be “bad” and “not the right thing to do.”
Gantz initially appeared to rebuke the army chief for his frank remarks, saying that discussions about Israel’s Iran policies should remain behind closed doors, but later walked back the criticism, saying that Kohavi was an excellent chief of staff.
Earlier in January, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent — far beyond the 3.5 percent permitted under the nuclear deal and just a small technical step away from the 90 percent needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran also said it was beginning research into uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses but is overwhelmingly seen as a step toward a nuclear bomb.
Iran said last Tuesday it would also move to restrict short-notice inspections of suspect nuclear facilities from late February.
Biden administration officials have indicated that Israel will be involved in its decision-making process regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
According to a Channel 12 report, the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, is expected to travel to the United States shortly to meet with Biden and lay out Israel’s demands for a future Iran deal, which would relate not only to Tehran’s nuclear program, but also to its missile program and support for proxies throughout the Middle East.