One of Iran’s most senior leaders threatened on Sunday that if Israel attacked its nuclear program, Tehran’s response would require the Jewish state to spend “tens of thousands of billion dollars” to reconstruct the country.
Tweeting in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Persian, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, commented on reports last week that Israel has approved a budget of some NIS 5 billion ($1.5 billion) to be used to prepare the military for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
“Instead of allocating 1.5 billion dollars budget for atrocities against #Iran, the Zionist regime should focus on providing tens of thousands of billion dollars funding to repair the damage that is going to be caused by Iran’s shocking response,” said Shamkhani in his English tweet. The Hebrew tweet bore the same message.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared before the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday to justify the government’s requested budget increase for the military, warning that the additional funds are necessary in order to prepare for a potential strike on Iran’s nuclear program.
Gantz’s appearance came a day after television reports said the government planned to allocate NIS 5 billion ($1.5 billion) for such an attack on Iran, with NIS 2 billion ($620 million) coming from the 2022 defense budget and the rest coming from the current budget.
This summer, the government announced that it had agreed on a NIS 58 billion ($17.5 billion) defense budget for 2022, an increase from the previous defense budget, which was set in 2019 and has remained in force as the governments since then failed to pass a new one.
Also Tuesday, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said that a conflict with Iran was inevitable and was the only way to stop the Islamic Republic from reaching nuclear capability. Speaking with the Walla news site, Liberman said that “a confrontation with Iran is only a matter of time, and not a lot of time.”
Amid efforts to resume talks between Tehran and world powers about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal, Liberman said that “no diplomatic process or agreement will stop Iran’s nuclear program.” According to the Yisrael Beytenu party chief, Iran is a bigger problem for Israel than for the rest of the international community, “because they have stated that their policy is the destruction of Israel, and they mean it.”
United States President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is still seeking a joint US-Iranian return to compliance with the nuclear deal, while acknowledging that it will not wait indefinitely for Tehran to return to the negotiation table.
If it fails to do so, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid this month that “every option” will be on the table — an apparent escalation in rhetoric after Biden told Bennett in August that Washington was willing to consider “other options” if the nuclear deal cannot be revived.
On Saturday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said the watchdog’s monitoring program in Iran was no longer “intact” after Tehran refused to allow the repair of IAEA surveillance equipment damaged in a June attack on an Iranian nuclear site that has been blamed on Israel.
The drone attack in June reportedly hit the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran. According to a report by the IAEA, the blast destroyed one of its cameras at the site and heavily damaged another. It is unknown how many cameras are there.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in an interview with NBC News that Iran cited its ongoing investigation into the attack in refusing the United Nations watchdog access to the site or the ability to replace the damaged cameras. Grossi told the network that without that access, the IAEA’s monitoring and verification program in Iran was “no longer intact.”
“It hasn’t paralyzed what we are doing there, but [the] damage that has been done, [it has the] potential of us not being able to reconstruct the picture” of what the Iranians have been doing at the site,” he said.
Last month, Iran acknowledged that it had removed several damaged surveillance cameras installed by the IAEA at the Karaj site. In July, Iran accused Israel of mounting the sabotage attack on the site, which makes components for machines used to enrich uranium. Without disclosing details of the assault, Iranian authorities acknowledged the strike had damaged the building.
The attack on Karaj was the latest in a series of suspected assaults targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional hostilities in recent months, as world powers attempt to salvage the now-collapsed nuclear deal. Israel is widely believed to have carried out the sabotage, though it has not claimed responsibility.
Agencies contributed to this report.