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IDF Intel chief: Iran enriching ever more nuke material, but we’ll constrain it

Maj. Gen. Haliva tells intelligence officers Tehran is looking to challenge Israel’s military superiority, as Washington, Jerusalem consider how to confront its nuclear ambitions

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Military Intelligence chief Aharon Haliva, right, presents ranks to a new intelligence officer during a ceremony on October 13, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Military Intelligence chief Aharon Haliva, right, presents ranks to a new intelligence officer during a ceremony on October 13, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The newly installed head of Military Intelligence warned on Wednesday night that Iran was enriching more nuclear material more quickly than ever before and said that the Israel Defense Forces would “continue to constrain” it.

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, who entered his position earlier this week, said Tehran was using “sabotage and terrorism in countries located in the Middle East” in order to challenge Israel’s military superiority in the region.

“Iran is working to expand and to create its nuclear program, enriching at a greater rate and at greater amounts than ever before,” Haliva said, speaking at a graduation ceremony for Military Intelligence officers.

“We will continue to constrain Iran’s steps, to force it back, to damage its capabilities and to preserve the power of Israel,” the intelligence chief added.

Haliva’s comments, some of his first since entering his new position, came as Israel and the United States are increasingly considering steps against Iran and its nuclear program, with ongoing indirect talks between Washington and Tehran to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal having largely stalled in recent months.

Israeli defense officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, have ordered preparations for a military strike in order to stop Iran’s nuclear program if talks fail. In recent weeks, US officials have also increasingly threatened “other options” to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on the Israel Navy’s Haifa Base, on September 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Operations to destroy Iranian capabilities will continue, in any arena and at any time, and the operational plans against Iran’s nuclear program will continue to be developed and improved,” Kohavi said earlier this week at the ceremony marking Haliva’s entrance to his position.

Talks between Iran and world powers over limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief have been at a standstill since June. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday that Iran foresees talks with world powers aimed at reviving its nuclear deal resuming by early November.

Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report that Iran had quadrupled its stockpile of 60-percent enriched uranium since May. It also said that verification and monitoring activities have been “seriously undermined” since February, after Iran refused to let inspectors access IAEA monitoring equipment.

Major powers are losing patience, months after the suspension of negotiations that had begun in April in Vienna, under the aegis of the European Union, to try to resurrect the international agreement of 2015, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The United States is close to abandoning its efforts, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accompanied by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right, appear at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

“With every passing day, and Iran’s refusal to engage in good faith, the runway gets short,” Blinken said. “Time is running short. We are getting closer to a point at which returning to compliance with the JCPOA will not in and of itself recapture the benefits of the JCPOA.

“We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course,” he warned, speaking alongside Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Washington.

The Islamic Republic has been gradually freeing itself from its nuclear obligations since 2019, in response to then-US president Donald Trump’s reinstatement of sanctions.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly opposed the 2015 deal, which he said would pave the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal, and publicly urged Trump to abandon the agreement.

Meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House last month, current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned of the “nightmare” of a radical Islamic regime attaining nuclear weapons. Biden publicly vowed that the US would “never” allow Iran to attain the bomb.

Iran has repeatedly accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear sites and killing a number of its scientists.

Before and after photographs from an explosion at an alleged Iranian missile base, on September 27, 2021. (ImageSat International)

On Saturday, Iran urged the United Nations atomic agency to clearly condemn a “sabotage” attack on a nuclear facility west of Tehran that it has accused Israel of carrying out.

Tehran says that, on June 23, it thwarted the attack on the building belonging to its own nuclear agency near Karaj, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital. At the time, it did not identify the nature of the attack, with state television saying only that “saboteurs failed to carry out their plan.”

On Sunday, Iran’s atomic agency chief Mohammad Eslami said that the UN watchdog and Western powers had failed to condemn the “terrorist act,” which “severely damaged” the site.

AFP contributed to this report.

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