Gantz: Israel working with US to step up Iran nuclear oversight

Defense minister also says ‘all options remain on the table’ in dealing with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, ahead of IDF chief’s visit to Washington later this week

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with a delegation from the Jewish Institute for National Security of America at his office in Tel Aviv, June 17, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with a delegation from the Jewish Institute for National Security of America at his office in Tel Aviv, June 17, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday that Israel and the United States were working to increase the monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear program, while warning that “all options are on the table” regarding Jerusalem’s preparedness to conduct a military strike in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Gantz made his remarks to a group of visiting former top American defense officials, brought to Israel by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) advocacy group.

The defense minister told the delegation he was concerned that with the formation of a new Israeli government, and with an expected change of government during the upcoming Iranian presidential election, there could be a “reshuffle period in which Iran accumulates achievements in nuclear development.”

“We are working closely with our American allies, in order to both increase oversight at this time and to clarify to Iran that all options are on the table, always,” Gantz said.

JINSA has long served as a hawkish, pro-Israel think tank and lobbying group, with its members including former high-ranking officials in the US military, the Pentagon and other security services.

Gantz said he thanked the delegation for its support and “shared my thoughts on the different challenges on the agenda, chief among them the continued Iranian pursuit of nuclear arms.”

This week, Iran announced that it had amassed 6.5 kilograms (14.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60% purity, and 108 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity in five months. Uranium enriched to those levels can be relatively easy to further enrich into a weapons-grade level of 90% purity.

Since taking office earlier this week, the newly inaugurated Israeli government has clarified that it opposes US President Joe Biden’s plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, just as the previous government did, but that, unlike its predecessor, it would voice its criticism in private.

“It was a bad deal. I opposed it. I still oppose it. Israel could have, with a different approach, influenced it far more,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said of the matter during his first speech on the job this week, lamenting former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s combative approach.

Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018, imposing fresh sanctions on Iran and Iranian officials, leading Tehran to follow suit shortly thereafter. Since then, Tehran has ratcheted up tensions on the nuclear front by amassing greater quantities of enriched uranium at greater degrees of purity and by making advancements in the developments of missiles that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.

In recent months, Iranian and European negotiation teams have been meeting in Vienna to discuss a return to the nuclear deal by the US and Iran — a move staunchly opposed by top Israeli officials. Though all sides have reported progress, the talks have stalled somewhat in recent weeks as Iran gears up for presidential elections.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, leaves the Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks took place in Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

In an effort to influence America’s presumed return to the JCPOA, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi is scheduled to travel to Washington, DC, on Saturday night. There he will meet with top American defense officials before returning to Israel next Friday.

He was originally meant to make the trip last month, but his visit was postponed in light of rising tensions between Israel and the Hamas terror group in Gaza at the time, which culminated in a 11-day battle between the two sides.

Kohavi is expected to present American officials with Israeli assessments of the threats posed by Iran to the region, should the sanctions currently in place against the country be lifted. He will also discuss reconstruction plans for the Gaza Strip.

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