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With nuclear deal looming, Gantz implores world to ‘mobilize’ against Iran

In Facebook post, defense minister vows Israel will act against Tehran politically, economically, and militarily, ‘whether or not’ an agreement is signed

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attempted to divert part of the world’s attention from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to what he said was another threat to world peace, seeking to rally the international community against Iran amid speculation that a new pact over its nuclear program may be in the offing.

Gantz called in a Monday Facebook post for the world to “act against Iranian aggression,” vowing that Israel would continue to act regardless of any deal reached by world powers with Iran.

“Today, we must reiterate the warning that Iranian aggression, whether it emanates from Iranian territory or through Iranian proxies, is a threat to global peace and to regional stability, as well as a threat to the State of Israel,” Gantz wrote.

Gantz recalled previous disclosures he had made of malign Iranian activity and those behind it, including Sunday when the IDF claimed it had intercepted an attempt to transfer armed UAVs from Iran to Gaza.

“It is during this important time, when a nuclear agreement is being negotiated in Vienna, that we must remember: Today Iranian aggression is conducted without [it holding nuclear weapons]. If Iran reaches a nuclear threshold, it will become even more dangerous to world peace,” Gantz said.

“Now is the time for the world to mobilize to stop it,” he declared.

A police officer patrols outside the Hotel Palais Coburg in Vienna, where talks are being held on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, December 27, 2021. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Negotiators on all sides have signaled in recent days that a potential agreement to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is close. Last week, Gantz said a nuclear deal may be signed “in the coming weeks, perhaps even in the coming days.”

“Whether or not an agreement will be signed, it will not be the end of the road for us — nor should it be for the countries of the region and the world, which must continue to act against Iranian aggression,” Gantz said Monday, adding that Israel “will take all measures necessary — political, economic and if needed, also military, in order to defend our sovereignty and ensure the security of the citizens Israel.”

But talks have become bogged down due to tensions between Russia and the West over its invasion of Ukraine late last month.  On Saturday, Russia demanded “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that US sanctions would not affect Moscow’s interactions with Tehran. That threw into question the months of negotiations held so far on restoring the 2015 deal, which saw Iran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Russian demand “irrelevant” as the nuclear deal and sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine war were “totally different.”

The original 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but the US unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, who reimposed heavy economic sanctions.

That prompted Iran to begin rolling back its own commitments and enrich uranium to a purity level only a short technical step away from what is needed to produce nuclear weapons.

Israel has urged the international community to use more pressure on Iran and keep a military threat on the table, but has made little concrete progress.

On Monday, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu accused Gantz, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of being “silent” on the Iran deal.

“In the Bennett-Gantz-Lapid government there is only weakness, weakness and more weakness,” he charged. Bennett, Lapid and Gantz “are simply not ready to confront even our allies.”

Efforts to lobby the international community may be a hard sell as Israel has rebuffed pressure from the West to fully back Ukraine, seeking to balance humanitarian concern and its desire to keep ties with Moscow from souring.

Russia has tacitly allowed Israel to carry out operations against Iran-backed targets in Syria, access that Israel fears will be limited should Russia stop allowing the sorties.

A Syrian anti-aircraft missile is fired near Damascus during an alleged Israeli airstrike on March 7, 2022. (SANA)

Hours before Gantz’s post, Israel appeared to strike Syria for the first time since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, killing two civilians and causing material damage near Damascus, according to Syrian state media.

Israel has acknowledged it targets the bases of Iranian forces and Iran-backed terror groups, particularly along the Golan border, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has fighters deployed in southern Syria. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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