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Israel: Iran’s nuclear actions require immediate international response

FM Ashkenazi says Tehran ‘crushing the last vestiges of oversight by the IAEA’; Defense Minister Gantz says IDF ‘constantly preparing’ for possibility of military action

In this file photo released Nov. 4, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the organization, speaks with media while visiting the Natanz enrichment facility, in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
In this file photo released Nov. 4, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the organization, speaks with media while visiting the Natanz enrichment facility, in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

With Iran moving to limit some UN inspections of its nuclear facilities, Israel on Wednesday said the Islamic Republic’s actions threaten regional stability and require an immediate international response.

“Iran is crushing the last vestiges of oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency and continues to challenge and threaten regional stability,” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement.

“Iran’s extreme steps necessitate an immediate international response,” he said.  “The Iranian policy is a statement of intentions as to its desire to continue to clandestinely develop nuclear capabilities.”

“Israel sees this step as a threat and it must not go by without response. We will never allow Iran to control the capability to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Iran on Tuesday began limiting the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to sites and other information in response to Washington’s refusal to lift sanctions imposed by former president Donald Trump after he pulled the US from the 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers.

Tehran has steadily stepped away from the deal since Trump withdrew in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. It has enriched uranium to 20 percent, a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Nonetheless, the Biden administration and European countries are seeking to keep the nuclear deal alive. The US is demanding that Iran return to compliance before any sanctions are lifted, while Tehran has conditioned its cooperation on eased sanctions.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz addressed the mounting crisis with Iran in a Wednesday speech at a military ceremony.

“We know that Iran is advancing rapidly in several areas in its nuclear program and accumulating many tools. It is enriching uranium and installing hundreds of advanced centrifuges in secret facilities, and sabotaging efforts by the IAEA to monitor it,” Gantz said.

“Much of Iran’s efforts are irreversible because it is gaining much knowledge and experience. The US, Europe and Middle Eastern countries are well aware of Iran’s steps, which could lead to a wider arms race,” Gantz said.

“Iran is a problem for the region and the whole world, but it is also a great threat to the State of Israel. We must therefore work in coordination with world powers to ensure that if an agreement is signed with Iran, it will halt its nuclear program and bring a stop to its activities in Syria,” Gantz said. “The IDF is constantly preparing for the possibility that it will need to activate operational plans.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Jerusalem, January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The IAEA said Tuesday that it was “deeply concerned” by the possible presence of nuclear material at an undeclared site in Iran that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared was a “secret atomic warehouse.” The site in question is in the Turquzabad district of Tehran, previously identified by Israel as an alleged site of secret atomic activity.

Inspectors from the IAEA visited the site several times after Netanyahu identified it in a 2018 address to the UN General Assembly, took soil samples, and later definitively concluded that there were “traces of radioactive material” there, Channel 13 news reported in 2019.

Sources told AFP Tuesday that there is no indication the site has been used for processing uranium, but that it could have been used for storing it as late as the end of 2018.

In a separate report also issued on Tuesday, the IAEA said that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is now more than 14 times the limit set down in its 2015 deal with world powers.

The report said that, as of February 16, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was 2,967.8 kilograms. The limit in the 2015 deal was set at 300 kilos (660 pounds) of enriched uranium in a particular compound form, which is the equivalent of 202.8 kilos of uranium in non-compound form.

Netanyahu on Tuesday vowed Israel would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, regardless of whether a multilateral accord is in place to prevent Tehran from doing so, hours after Iranian state TV reported that the Islamic Republic has officially begun restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

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