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Visiting IDF exercise, Bennett and Gantz say Israel ready to act against Iran

Prime minister, defense minister meet with top military officers at massive drill up north, say army better prepared now that a national budget has been passed

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

From left to right: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a military drill in northern Israel on November 16, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
From left to right: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a military drill in northern Israel on November 16, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Top Israeli officials on Tuesday called on world powers to take action against Iran, ahead of the scheduled resumption of nuclear talks in Vienna later this month, while warning that Jerusalem was prepared to act alone if necessary against the Islamic Republic.

“We have been seeing Iran’s policies within Iran in terms of its nuclear program and in terms of its armament outside of Iran and its influence in Syria and Lebanon,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said after visiting a large Israel Defense Forces exercise in northern Israel. “The world needs to act against Iran, and Israel is prepared to do what is needed on all of these fronts and on the northern front in particular.”

While Israel is primarily concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, which has been steadily advancing toward a potential atomic weapon, the Israeli military also warns of Tehran’s efforts to establish permanent bases of operation across the Middle East through a network of proxies, primarily Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and various Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq.

Last month, a number of drones and other munitions reportedly launched by Iranian proxies struck near American positions in the area of al-Tanf in southern Syria.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who also visited the exercise with Gantz, expressed distrust of the nuclear negotiations that are slated to restart in two weeks, and the limited response by the US to the al-Tanf attack and other acts of aggression by Iran in general.

“We are dealing with Iran and its proxies, in Lebanon and Syria. No matter what happens between Iran and the world powers — and we are certainly concerned about the fact that there is insufficient severity in dealing with Iranian violations — Israel will protect itself with its own forces,” Bennett said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a military drill in northern Israel on November 16, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Recent weeks have seen a significant increase in the number of attacks on Iranian-linked targets in Syria that have been attributed to Israel.

In recent days, a number of top American officials have visited Israel to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue, ahead of the renewed talks and amid general Iranian aggression against Israeli and American interests in the region.

In a meeting with Rob Malley, the US special envoy on Iran, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reiterated Israel’s position that Iran is simply trying to buy time with negotiations over its nuclear program until the issue of rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal is no longer relevant, according to the Ynet news site.

The foreign minister reportedly told Malley that Iran has no intention of actually returning to the deal, which the US pulled out of in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump.

Gantz and Bennett made their remarks during a visit to a massive exercise in the IDF Northern Command’s 36th Division known as “Hewn Stone,” or in Hebrew, “Even Gazit” — simulating a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Some 3,000 soldiers from the Golani Brigade, armored units, artillery and reservist brigades took part in the drill. After the visit to the exercise, Bennett and Gantz received briefings from IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Northern Command chief Amir Baram and other top officers, on the military’s current assessments of the prospects for conflict in the north.

Bennett said the military was now able to better prepare for war after the passing of a national budget, which would allow the IDF to allocate its resources properly.

“The national budget has been passed and this is important particularly for the IDF, which can better plan its resources, to train consistently and intensively, and to invest in what it needs to prepare for the next war,” he said.

The IDF’s Northern Command has been holding a series of major exercises since the beginning of November, with plans to continue the drills through the end of the month, most of them focused on war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, in Syria.

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