PM says Iran nuke deal won’t boost stability; implies it won’t stop Israeli strike

Bennett’s comments come as the Vienna talks aimed at salvaging the moribund 2015 accord enter a critical phase

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, January 11, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, January 11, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett implied Sunday that Israel could launch a military strike against Iran even if the Islamic Republic and world powers revive their 2015 nuclear deal.

“The greatest threat against the State of Israel is Iran,” Bennett said during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “As the government, we are responsible for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program and, of course, we are monitoring the Vienna talks.

“Our position is well-known and clear: An agreement – according to the apparent terms – will damage the ability to deal with the nuclear program. Anyone who thinks that an agreement will increase stability is mistaken,” he added, according to a readout from his office. “It will temporarily delay enrichment but all of us in the region will pay a heavy, disproportionate price for it.”

Bennett accused Iran of ramping up its belligerence in recent weeks — seemingly alluding to a string of regional attacks by Tehran-aligned Yemeni rebels — despite its ongoing negotiations on returning to the nuclear deal.

“That is how you conduct negotiations, Tehran-style,” the premier declared.

“We are currently closing gaps and building up Israel’s military strength for years and even decades to come. Israel will maintain freedom of action in any case, with or without an agreement,” he added.

Bennett’s comments come as the Vienna talks aimed at salvaging the languishing 2015 nuclear deal enter a critical phase.

European and Iranian diplomats meet as part of closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, Austria, February 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Roland Zak)

On Friday, as US negotiators headed back to Vienna for what could be a make-or-break session, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed several sanctions waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. The move reversed a previous decision by the Trump administration to rescind them.

The waivers are intended to entice Iran to return to compliance with the 2015 deal that it has been violating since former president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed US sanctions. Iran says it is not respecting the terms of the deal because the US pulled out of it first. Iran has demanded the restoration of all sanctions relief it was promised under the deal to return to compliance.

Friday’s move lifts the sanctions threat against foreign countries and companies from Russia, China and Europe that had been cooperating with non-military parts of Iran’s nuclear program under the terms of the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

The Trump administration had ended the so-called “civ-nuke” waivers in May 2020 as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran that began when Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018. The former US leader complained that it was the worst diplomatic agreement ever negotiated and that it gave Iran a pathway to developing the bomb.

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden made a US return to the nuclear deal a priority, and his administration has pursued that goal, but there has been little progress toward that end since he took office a year ago. Administration officials said the waivers were being restored to help push the Vienna negotiations forward.

“The waiver with respect to these activities is designed to facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and lay the groundwork for Iran’s return to performance of its JCPOA commitments,” the State Department said in a notice to Congress that announced the move.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, on Jan. 26, 2022. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP)

“It is also designed to serve US nonproliferation and nuclear safety interests and constrain Iran’s nuclear activities,” the department said. “It is being issued as a matter of policy discretion with these objectives in mind, and not pursuant to a commitment or as part of a quid pro quo. We are focused on working with partners and allies to counter the full range of threats that Iran poses.”

World powers have been warning Iran that time is running out to restore the accord, as it continues to develop its nuclear program.

And while the Biden administration has been pushing for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue, Israel has insisted time and time again that “words do not stop centrifuges from spinning” and that Israel “will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” as stated by Bennett during his first address to the United Nations General Assembly last September.

The Israel Air Force has conducted a drill simulating a massive attack on Iran’s nuclear program, which employed dozens of fighter jets, public broadcaster Kan reported.

The exercise, held some two weeks ago, was attended by a US Air Force officer who participated as an observer, signaling that the US might be exploring alternative courses of action in case talks in Vienna fail.

The drill reportedly included various scenarios, including mid-air refueling, long-range strikes and responses to anti-aircraft missiles.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed