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Israel is acting against Iranian ‘existential threat,’ Gantz tells BBC Persian

Defense minister says Jewish state reserves the right to take independent steps against Tehran’s nuclear program, says deal with world powers must be improved

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a conference in the Eshkol region, southern Israel, on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a conference in the Eshkol region, southern Israel, on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz gave an interview Tuesday to BBC Persian, saying that Israel is taking action against Iran’s nuclear program and that the nuclear deal with world powers must be changed if it is to bring stability.

“We have capabilities and methods that I cannot elaborate about, and we are in high preparedness to ensure Iran doesn’t get nuclear weapons,” Gantz said, adding that Israel reserves the right to take independent action.

Regarding the ongoing — albeit stalled — talks to renew the 2015 nuclear deal, he said: “It has weak spots that must be fixed so that it is tight and brings stability. We need a deal that is stronger, longer and more comprehensive.”

“The Iranians are very close to nuclear weapons regarding enrichment, but aren’t that close in other aspects,” Gantz told the outlet. “We are very familiar with their deception tricks and their attempt to deceive world countries. We are also revealing this information.”

“The oppressive regime is violating the human rights of Iranian citizens. There is a shortage of water, food and electricity, and still Iran chooses to develop military nukes,” he said.

“Israel and the Iranian nation had excellent relations in the past, and we have much appreciation of the Iranian people and its legacy, but we are seeing in the field that the Iranian regime has a negative influence both on the nuclear issue and in support for terror in the Middle East,” Gantz warned. “We cannot stand by and turn a blind eye when an existential threat is hovering above our heads.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second right, listens to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

On Sunday, the Kan public broadcaster reported that Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and other Israeli officials had recently warned US officials that Iran was closer than ever to attaining nuclear weapons.

Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran — attended indirectly by the US — went on for months in Vienna, but have stalled in recent weeks.

“Something has to happen with the negotiations with Iran,” a senior diplomat told Kan. “This ‘limbo’ cannot be a time when Iran is quickly advancing toward becoming a nuclear threshold state.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is working to schedule a meeting in Washington with US President Joe Biden next month, though he is hampered by his wafer-thin majority in the Knesset, which requires his presence for every crucial vote.

Since April, Tehran has been engaged in talks with world powers in Vienna over reviving a 2015 nuclear accord, with Washington taking part indirectly in the negotiations.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The talks aim to return the US to the deal it withdrew from in 2018 under former president Donald Trump by lifting the sanctions reimposed on Tehran, and to have Tehran return to full compliance with nuclear commitments it has gradually retreated from in retaliation for the sanctions.

Iran has confirmed that the talks will not resume until its ultraconservative new president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office in August.

Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.

Lapid met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome a month ago, and stressed that Israel has “some serious reservations” about the deal being negotiated in Vienna. Gantz was hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last month.

Also last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned US officials during a visit to Washington about “the failures of the current nuclear deal, which allow Iran to make significant advances in the coming years in the quantity and quality of centrifuges and in the amount and quality of enriched uranium, and he stressed the lack of oversight in the area of developing a nuclear weapon,” according to an IDF statement.

AFP contributed to this report.

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