Netanyahu slams IAEA chief for saying attacks on nuclear facilities ‘outlawed’

PM says remarks ‘unworthy’ of Rafael Grossi, vows Israel will protect itself against ‘oppressors’ like Purim villain Haman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday slammed International Atomic Energy Association chief Rafael Grossi for comments he made against a possible Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, calling them “unworthy.”

Grossi, who had just returned from a visit to Tehran, said on Saturday that “any military attack on a nuclear facility is outlawed, is out of the normative structures that we all abide by,” when asked by a reporter about threats from the United States and Israel to attack Iran if negotiations to curb its nuclear program are unsuccessful.

“Rafael Grossi is a worthy person who made an unworthy remark,” Netanyahu said in response at the weekly cabinet meeting. “Outlawed by what law? Is Iran, which publicly calls for our extermination, allowed to protect its weapons of destruction that will slaughter us?”

“Are we forbidden to defend ourselves?” he added. “Of course, we are allowed, and of course, we are doing this… nothing will prevent us from protecting our country and preventing oppressors from destroying the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu noted the Jewish festival of Purim, set to take place this week, when “2,500 years ago, a certain persecutor arose in Persia that wanted to exterminate the Jews.

“They did not succeed then, they will not succeed today,” he said, referencing the efforts of Haman, the villain of the Bible’s Book of Esther.

International Atomic Energy Organization Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, right, arrives for a meeting with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami as he is welcomed by the spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency Behrouz Kamalvandi in Tehran, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Grossi arrived in Iran on Friday amid a deadlock in negotiations on reviving the landmark 2015 accord curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activity, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

After the meeting, Iran agreed to reconnect surveillance cameras at several nuclear sites and increase the pace of inspections, Grossi said Saturday.

Uranium particles enriched up to 83.7 percent — just under the 90% needed to produce an atomic bomb — had been detected at Iran’s underground Fordo plant, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital, according to a confidential IAEA report.

The JCPOA limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms and enrichment to 3.67% — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. The US’s unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 set in motion a series of attacks and escalations by Tehran over its program.

Tehran denies wanting to acquire atomic weapons and said it had not made any attempt to enrich uranium beyond 60% purity.

Iran’s government claimed that “unintended fluctuations… may have occurred” during the enrichment process.

The discovery came after Iran substantially modified an interconnection between two centrifuge clusters enriching uranium, without declaring it to the IAEA.

Netanyahu has threatened military actions against Tehran, and Israel and Iran have been engaged in a high-stakes shadow war across the wider Middle East since the nuclear deal’s collapse.

Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iranian nuclear and military sites, including an April 2021 assault on the underground Natanz facility that damaged its centrifuges. In 2020, Iran blamed Israel for a sophisticated attack that killed its top military nuclear scientist.

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