'Iran is the new North Korea'

Intelligence minister urges PM to lobby Trump for Iran deal do-over

At anti-terror confab, Yisrael Katz warns Tehran is establishing itself militarily in Syria, and still on track to become a nuclear power

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

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, July 23, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg)
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, July 23, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg)

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should ask US President Donald Trump to change or cancel the Iran deal during an upcoming visit to New York, amid speculation that the White House plans to declare Iran non-compliant without dismantling the landmark pact.

During a speech at a counterterrorism conference, Katz also said Tehran is establishing itself in Syria with “bases, airports and tens of thousands” of fighters in Shiite militias, which threaten Israel.

The intelligence minister warned that “Iran is the new North Korea. We need to work against it today so that we don’t regret tomorrow what we should have done yesterday.”

Katz pilloried the 2015 nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which he said “protects Iran’s ability to get nuclear capabilities in the future.”

He said Trump needs to adhere to the assurances he made, regarding Iran and the JCPOA.

“Iran needs to be forced to sign a new agreement, one that will never let it advance to nuclear weapons, as President Trump promised, and which will also include the issues of missiles and Iran’s support of terror,” he said.

Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 3, 2017. (Marc Israel

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also called for the Iran deal to be canceled, “without a doubt.”

Bennett said it should be made clear to the world that “either you can do business with the US or with Iran. You can’t have both.”

The two ministers comments came hours after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was abiding by the terms of the JCPOA.

Trump railed against the pact while campaigning for president but has so far stuck to the deal. However, he has indicated he will declare Iran to be non-compliant when he is requires to submit a twice-yearly report to Congress in October, a move that could lead to the US ultimately pulling out of the seven-nation agreement.

Reached in 2015 after years of negotiations, the JCPOA lifts punishing sanctions on Iran in exchange for the Islamic Republic rolling back part of its nuclear program. Israeli leaders vociferously opposed the deal, which they said was unenforceable and allowed Iran to continue supporting terror and other destabilizing activity around the world.

Katz, who also serves as transportation minister, said Iran is in the process of signing an agreement with Syrian leader Bashar Assad that would allow it to maintain military infrastructure in the country for the long term. Israel has long accused Iran of seeking a foothold near the Golan Heights via Shiite militias, including Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border shows smoke rising near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights during fights between the rebels and the Syrian army, June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

“I say this as a fact: Assad is in the process of signing an agreement,” he said.

“These militias, who come from around the Middle East, are meant to threaten Israel and open up another northern front,” he said.

If Iran is not stopped from establishing itself in Syria, “a naval port, an airport and Iranian military bases could be built” there, he said.

Katz said that while Iran’s nuclear weapons development program is on hold, the country is still actively working to improve its ballistic missile and rocket technology, specifically making them more precise.

Katz said the United States and other western countries need to focus on blocking Iran from establishing hegemony in the region, which he said was the rising threat to world stability, following the Islamic State’s recent battlefield losses in Syria and Iraq.

He said Israel has to uphold its “red lines” regarding Syria, namely preventing advanced weapons from reaching Hezbollah and ensuring that Iran-backed militias are not allowed to set up on the Golan border.

The minister added that Israel does already have partners in this effort, in what he described as “moderate Sunni countries,” which is generally believed to mean Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

“We have a shared vision with the moderate Sunni countries, on everything that has to do with Iran and its emissaries in the region,” he said.

The remarks were made at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s annual conference.

Iran featured prominently in the remarks made by Israeli officials.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who spoke briefly at the conference, noted a significant increase in Iran’s defense spending, following the 2015 Iran deal.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on July 10, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The budget of the country’s Iranian Revolutionary Guards “increased by 40 percent,” he said.

This increase in defense spending trickled down to the terrorist groups that are supported by Iran, namely Hezbollah and Hamas, Liberman said.

The defense minister credited the Islamic Republic with being ultimately responsible for the lion’s share of the terrorism happening today.

Ousted former Trump national security adviser Sebastian Gorka and former French prime minister Manuel Valls are slated to speak later Monday.

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