Likud MK: Israel must strike Iran by year’s end if there’s no new nuke deal

Tzachi Hanegbi says opposition party will give full backing if government decides to attack Tehran’s nuclear program

This October 26, 2010 photo shows the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour)
This October 26, 2010 photo shows the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour)

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said Saturday that in the absence of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, Israel should carry out a strike on the Islamic Republic by the end of the year, adding that the government would have the full backing of his party on the matter.

“Iran is an existential threat. We give full backing to this government if the decision is made to strike. We are approaching the crossroads of a decision on the Iranian issue,” the former minister said at a cultural event.

“If there is no agreement between Iran and the world powers, we should attack Iran by the end of 2021,” he said.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has been sharply critical of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, particularly on the matter of Iran. The premier has responded that his predecessor’s government was stagnant on the issue.

Hanegbi’s comments came as US President Joe Biden and European leaders expressed their “grave and growing concern” at Iran’s nuclear activities, and reportedly discussed potential plans if Tehran refused to return to the negotiating table.

Iran, which has stalled indirect negotiations with the United States in Vienna regarding a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, said last week that it would restart negotiations by the end of November. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan responded that the US was still trying to determine whether Iran was in earnest regarding the negotiations.

Tzachi Hanegbi in Gush Etzion in the West Bank, December 24, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

After meeting in Rome on Saturday, Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “agreed that continued Iranian nuclear advances and obstacles to the IAEA’s work will jeopardize the possibility of a return to the JCPOA.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is supposed to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.

In a joint statement, the leaders said they were determined “to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Around the same time, Israeli F-15 fighter jets escorted an American heavy bomber through the region as it made its way to the Persian Gulf, in an apparent threat to Iran.

The escort mission came as Israeli and American officials have increasingly threatened to act against Tehran’s nuclear program.

(From L) British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden pose within a meeting about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the sidelines of the G20 of World Leaders Summit on October 30, 2021 in Rome. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

The Israeli military shared photographs and video footage of the flight, showing the American B-1b bomber, which is capable of carrying heavy bunker-buster bombs that would be needed for a strike on Iran’s largely underground nuclear facilities, alongside the Israeli F-15 jets.

Israeli officials have explicitly threatened a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, while Americans have discussed the matter more circumspectly, referring to “other options” beyond diplomatic negotiations in order to halt Tehran’s atomic aspirations.

In the beginning of this year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans for such an operation, and recently the government reportedly allocated billions of shekels toward making those plans viable.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

The Times of Israel has learned that the Israeli Air Force plans to begin simulating strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months and that some aspects of its strike plan, which is still in the “draft” stage, could be ready within a short period of time, while others would take more than a year to make fully actionable.

Israel has twice conducted airstrikes on enemy nations’ nuclear programs, bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s in 2007.

However, an attack on Iran’s nuclear program is widely expected to be far, far more complicated as Tehran has spread out its facilities throughout the country, buried them deep underground, and funded a number of powerful proxies throughout the region that would likely retaliate against Israel if such a strike should be carried out.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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