Security cabinet set to meet to discuss threat of multi-front clash with Iran

Netanyahu and Gallant will also hold security assessment Sunday, as Jerusalem sharpens threats against Islamic Republic’s nuclear program

In this handout photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a security cabinet meeting at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 9, 2023. (Avi Ohayan/GPO)
File: In this handout photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a security cabinet meeting at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 9, 2023. (Avi Ohayan/GPO)

The security cabinet is set to convene next week to discuss a potential multi-front conflict including Iran and Hezbollah, amid concerns over Tehran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capabilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will also hold a security assessment before the security cabinet meets Sunday, Channel 12 news reported Thursday.

The meetings were set up amid escalated tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and Israeli warnings that a broad conflict could break out over the issue.

Tehran has been ramping up nuclear development since 2018 when the US unilaterally withdrew from a landmark pact capping enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

Talks to revive the deal fell apart last year, but recent reports have indicated steps to possibly renew the diplomatic initiative, sparking Israeli concerns that a new deal could legitimize Iran’s nuclear activity and erase international support for potential military action.

Israel continued to warn against such an agreement Thursday, with both Netanyahu and Gallant adding to fevered saber-rattling already taking place between the countries.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at a ceremony at the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, June 1, 2023. (Nicole Laskavi/Defense Ministry)

“I hear all the reports about Iran, so I have a sharp, clear message for Iran and the international community: Israel will do what it must to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb,” Netanyahu said in a short video message.

Speaking at a military ceremony, Gallant responded to what his office called “recent developments regarding the Iranian nuclear issue.”

“The dangers facing the State of Israel are intensifying and we may be required to fulfill our duty in order to protect the integrity of Israel and especially the future of the Jewish people,” Gallant said.

The comments followed a decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to close an investigation into unexplained traces of man-made uranium found at sites in Iran. The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that the IAEA said Iran had satisfied concerns over suspected secret nuclear activity at Marivan and the underground Fordo facility.’

The confidential quarterly report by the Vienna-based body, distributed to member states, said inspectors no longer had questions about Marivan after determining that “another member state” operated a mine in the area in the 1960s and 1970s.

But Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the material at Marivan “could have extremely dangerous consequences.”

“The explanations provided by Iran for the presence of nuclear material at the site are not reliable or technically possible,” Haiat said. “Iran continues to lie to the IAEA and deceive the international community.”

There was no comment from the Foreign Ministry on the closure of the Fordo investigation.

Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, center, briefs the media while visiting the Fordo nuclear site near Qom, south of Tehran, Iran November 9, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Also, this week Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi held meetings in Washington with White House and State Department officials to discuss the Iranian threat.

According to a brief White House statement on Thursday, Hanegbi and Dermer met with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan earlier in the day for “continued discussions” on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and “ways to counter threats from Iran and its proxies.” The trio also discussed shared US-Israel concerns with Russia’s “deepening military relationship with Iran, and the importance of supporting Ukraine in the defense of its territory and citizenry, including from Iranian drones.”

A second IAEA report Wednesday found that Iran has significantly increased its stockpile of enriched uranium in recent months to more than 23 times the limit set out in the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers.

Iran’s nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and enrichment to 3.67 percent — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant, but Iran has been producing uranium enriched to 60% purity — a level for which non-proliferation experts already say Tehran has no civilian use.

The IAEA report estimated that as of May 13, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was at 4,744.5 kilograms (10,460 pounds). Of that, 114.1 kilograms (251 pounds) were enriched up to 60% purity.

Enrichment levels of around 90% are required for use in a nuclear weapon — a short technical step from their current level.

While IAEA head Rafael Grossi has warned that Iran now has enough uranium to produce “several” bombs, months more would likely be needed to build a weapon and potentially miniaturize it to put it on a missile. The US intelligence community has maintained its assessment that Iran isn’t pursuing an atomic bomb.

Iran has always denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapons capability, insisting its activities are entirely peaceful.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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