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Gantz says Iran nuclear deal could be signed within days

Defense minister vows Israel to continue to act ‘whether [an agreement] happens or not’; on Ukraine, he says Jewish state a partner to international effort to restore order

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a graduation ceremony for Israeli Navy officers at the Haifa naval base, March 2, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a graduation ceremony for Israeli Navy officers at the Haifa naval base, March 2, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz vowed Wednesday that Israel will never give up on making sure Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons, as a deal between Tehran and world powers seemed imminent.

“In the coming weeks, perhaps even in the coming days, a nuclear agreement may be signed between [world] powers and Iran,” Gantz said during a graduation ceremony for navy officers in the Haifa bay area.

“Whether that happens or not, Israel will continue to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from becoming an existential threat and possessing nuclear capability,” he said.

The negotiations to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, involve Iran as well as France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China directly, and the United States indirectly.

France said on Monday it was “critical” that negotiators trying the restore the deal reach an agreement this week.

The original 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but the US unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, who reimposed heavy economic sanctions.

That prompted Iran to begin rolling back its own commitments and enrich uranium to a purity level only a short technical step away from what is needed to produce atomic weapons.

“We will continue our diplomatic activity, because Iran is first and foremost a global and regional problem, and we will continue to build our military force. All means are valid,” Gantz said.

“Even if an agreement is signed, we will never stop operating in diplomatic channels with the goal of tightening observation on Iran, and with real and painful consequences for any violation [of the agreement] and progress in nuclear development,” he added.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel must make sure Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons, “not on our watch or ever.”

Hitting back, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter, “Bennett and [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid are saying nothing and doing nothing while Iran is rushing for a terrible nuclear deal that endangers the security and future of the State of Israel.

“This bad deal will give Iran money for terror against us from the north and south, and international authorization for an arsenal of nuclear bombs against all Israeli citizens,” he added.

File: Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

Gantz, in his speech, also addressed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying, “We see the difficult and painful fighting in Ukraine, and we do not stand by idly. We are sending humanitarian aid, helping evacuate our citizens, absorbing immigrants and refugees, and are willing to expand aid in ways that will stop fighting and save lives.”

“Israel is a partner and will continue to be a partner in the international community’s effort to restore order,” he added, without mentioning Russia by name.

Israel has so far been careful in its comments on the conflict. This is believed to be at least partly due to its need to work with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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