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Netanyahu: Israel will prevent a nuclear Iran whether or not a deal is in place

PM issues warning after Tehran begins restricting access to IAEA inspectors, in further breach of nuke deal; top Israeli officials hold policy meeting as US seeks to reenter accord

Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at a memorial ceremony in Tel Hai on February 23, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at a memorial ceremony in Tel Hai on February 23, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

The comments came hours after Iranian state TV reported that the Islamic Republic has officially begun restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

“On the eve of the Purim holiday, I say to those who seek to harm us — Iran and its proxies in the Middle East: 2,500 years ago, another Persian tyrant tried to destroy the Jewish people and just as he failed then – you too will fail,” Netanyahu said at a memorial ceremony in the northern town of Tel Hai, referencing the Purim story.

Addressing Iranian leaders, Netanyahu said Israel wouldn’t allow “your extremist and aggressive regime” to acquire nuclear arms.

“We did not make the generations-long journey for thousands of years back to the Land of Israel, to allow a delusional regime of the ayatollahs to end the story of the resurrection of the Jewish people,” he said.

“We do not place our trust in any agreement with an extremist regime like yours,” Netanyahu said, in remarks likely to make the Biden administration uneasy as it seeks to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, which former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from in 2018.

In this February 20, 2021, photo, Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, right, speaks with the spokesman of Iran’s atomic agency Behrouz Kamalvandi upon his arrival at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The premier added: “We have already seen the nature of agreements with extremist regimes like yours, in the past century and also in this century, with the North Korean government. With an agreement or without an agreement, we will do whatever is necessary so you do not arm yourselves with nuclear weapons.”

On Monday, Netanyahu held the first major intra-ministerial meeting to discuss Israel’s policy vis-a-vis Iran since US President Joe Biden took office.

Among the senior officials who took part in the meeting were Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan.

Also participating were former national security council chairmen Yaakov Amidror and Yaakov Nagel, who Netanyahu is bringing on as external advisers on the issue, the Walla news site reported. Both of them are considered to have a hawkish stance on Iran more in line with Netanyahu’s.

Amidror was national security adviser while the agreement was being crafted and sparred with his American counterpart at the time, Susan Rice. Nagel, a nuclear expert, also served as an adviser during that period but stayed on longer, leading talks with the Trump administration to institute its “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.

Outgoing national security adviser Yaakov Amidror with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a farewell ceremony in Amidror’s honor, on November 3, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Also expected to serve as an external adviser on the matter is longtime Netanyahu aide and Erdan’s predecessor Ron Dermer, who is set to return to Israel in the coming weeks.

During Monday’s meeting, Kohavi and Cohen emphasized the importance of working to build goodwill with the new US administration by not sparring publicly with Washington over the Iran deal, Walla reported.

“We have not moved from our position against returning to the nuclear deal, but we want to work together with the administration and have a constructive discussion with it, not a confrontation,” a senior official said.

Additionally, Netanyahu plans to delegate talks on Iran to senior staff to prevent any personal tension between him and Biden, according to Reuters.

“The intent is to work everything out at that level, and to keep that communication channel open,” a senior official told Reuters. “Obviously this has benefits where there is a risk of a ‘cold shoulder’ at chief-executive level.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) sits with former interim Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel (R) at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Jerusalem is hoping to keep disputes with the new administration “under the radar” for the time being, Army Radio reported.

Also Tuesday, the Kan public broadcaster reported that senior Israeli and Saudi officials have recently held several phone calls to discuss the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.

During the conversations, the Saudis also expressed concern over the new US administration and lamented its focus on human rights violations in the kingdom, the report said. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relative but have maintained clandestine ties. Netanyahu visited Saudi Arabia in November for the first known meeting between Israeli and Saudi leaders.

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