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Netanyahu to visiting US defense secretary: We won’t let Iran obtain nukes

Following attack on Iran’s Natanz facility, which has been blamed on Israel, PM says US-Israeli cooperation is ‘crucial’ to combat threats facing both countries

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Hosting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at his office in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel and the US agree on never allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

“As you know, the US-Israel defense partnership has continually expanded over successive administrations and our cooperation is crucial in dealing with the many threats confronting both the United States and Israel,” Netanyahu said at a press conference alongside Austin.

“In the Middle East, there is no threat more dangerous, serious and pressing than that posed by the fanatical regime in Iran,” said Netanyahu, citing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, arming of terror groups, and calls for Israel’s annihilation.

“Mr. Secretary, we both know the horrors of war. We both understand the importance of preventing war. And we both agree that Iran must never possess nuclear weapons. My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear — I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.

Speaking days after an apparent attack on the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility, which Tehran has blamed on Israel, Netanyahu concluded by saying that “Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism,” the prime minister added.

Austin, speaking after Netanyahu, refrained from explicitly mentioning Iran but said he had decided to travel to Israel to “express our desire for earnest consultations with Israel, as we address shared challenges in the region.”

With his two-day visit, the first official visit to the Jewish state by an American secretary of defense since 2017, Austin is the first member of US President Joe Biden’s administration to pay an official visit to Israel.

Affirming the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s security and qualitative military edge in the region, Austin said he and Netanyahu discussed “ways to deepen our longstanding defense relationship in the face of regional threats and other security challenges, and I affirm the department’s support for our ongoing diplomatic efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority nations,” he says.

“I am confident that together we can chart a path toward enduring peace in this region and advance open and stable order — now, and in the years ahead,” Austin said.

Austin’s visit comes amid ongoing talks in Vienna regarding a return to the 2015 nuclear deal by both Iran and the United States, a move that is staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly by Netanyahu.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu warned that Israel will not be bound by a revitalized nuclear deal between world powers and Iran. Israeli defense analysts have warned that there is a growing rift between Jerusalem and Washington on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program, which may have significant ramifications on Israel’s security.

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on April 7, 2021 (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Austin arrived in Israel Sunday as reports emerged from Iran that its Natanz nuclear site had suffered a total power cut in what was widely assumed to be the result of an Israeli cyberattack. Jerusalem refused to comment on the matter, while Iran has blamed Israel, with its foreign minister vowing on Monday to “take revenge on the Zionists.”

The electrical glitch came hours after Tehran began using a new, more powerful centrifuge that could reportedly enrich uranium at a much faster rate than its existing equipment.

Just a day earlier, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report released that Iran had again violated limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium, according to Reuters.

Austin’s visit also comes amid indications the Israel-Iran conflict was increasingly being waged at sea, marking a change in the conflict that previously took place primarily via airstrikes, cyberattacks, alleged espionage activities, and on land.

Israeli officials have refused to comment on the matter, in line with a longstanding policy of ambiguity regarding its military actions against Iran in the region, save for those that are direct, immediate retaliations for attacks on Israel.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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