Iran official: 'Unprecedented' response if nuke sites hit

In veiled threat to Iran, Gallant says air force preparing for ‘main goal’

Defense chief hails recent strikes in Gaza but says IDF readying for threat that is ‘more complex, more difficult, and more significant’; PM: Israel ‘constantly surprising Iran’

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a video message at an Israel Air Force base on May 23, 2023. (The Ministry of Defense)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a video message at an Israel Air Force base on May 23, 2023. (The Ministry of Defense)

In a thinly veiled threat to Iran, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday said the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip pales in comparison to the complexity and difficulty of the “main goal” that Israel is preparing for.

Touring the Gaza border area and Hatzor air base, Gallant commended Israeli Air Force personnel for their performance during the conflict in Gaza earlier this month against the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“But the main goal, for which we are preparing, is more complex, more difficult, and more significant. You need to be prepared at any moment,” said Gallant, unshaven in connection with his mother’s passing earlier this month.

The defense chief spoke dressed in black and standing before Israeli flags and a parked Eitan unmanned reconnaissance aircraft — a long-range platform capable of cruising for 36 hours straight at 45,000 feet.

In parallel to Gallant’s remarks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told coalition lawmakers that “we are constantly surprising Iran.” Earlier in the day, Netanyahu said that he’d seen new artificial intelligence technology during a rare visit to an unspecified Israel Defense Forces intelligence facility.

“Our enemies should know that we are ahead of you. Way ahead,” the premier said.

In this handout photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Military Intelligence Directorate chief Aharon Haliva tour an undisclosed intelligence base, May 23, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In a video statement following the intelligence base visit, Netanyahu said he was “very encouraged Israel has opened a gap against all of our enemies.”

“And it has done so with a combination of human intelligence and artificial intelligence. What I saw is the future, already here, today,” he added.

The comments by both Gallant and Netanyahu added to a growing chorus of Israeli warnings over potential action against Iran’s nuclear program. Speaking at the Herzliya conference Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Iran’s nuclear progress may require a response, without offering specifics.

“Iran has made more progress in uranium enrichment than ever before. We are also closely examining other aspects of the [Iranians’] path to nuclear capability,” Halevi said. “Without going into details, there are possible negative developments on the horizon that could prompt action.”

In response to such remarks, an Iranian official said late Tuesday that any Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities would spark a wider regional war.

In an interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, the unnamed official said that Israel’s threats “reflect the depth of its internal problems” and prove that the Jewish state is the true source of instability in the region.

The Iranian official added that “the world must realize” that Tehran has “no red lines” when it comes to any response to Israeli attacks, and called Israel’s threats “incitement and propaganda.”

The official added that any Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “met with a wide and unprecedented response.”

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