Ya’alon: Israel ‘not responsible’ for Iran nuke scientists’ lives

Ya’alon: Israel ‘not responsible’ for Iran nuke scientists’ lives

Defense minister hints assassinations may resume, says Israel considering air strikes against nuclear facilities

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visits the Israel Aerospace Industries center near Tel Aviv on July 26, 2015. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visits the Israel Aerospace Industries center near Tel Aviv on July 26, 2015. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Israel is not responsible for the lives of Iranian nuclear scientists, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an interview published Friday, making a less-than-veiled threat that covert assassination missions blamed on Israel could resume.

As the world moves closer to ratifying a nuclear deal that Jerusalem says won’t keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear arsenal, Ya’alon told German newspaper Der Spiegel that Israel would do anything necessary in order to assure Tehran does not get atomic weapons, including taking military action.

“Ultimately it is very clear, one way or another, Iran’s military nuclear program must be stopped,” Ya’alon said, according to a retranslation from an interview published in the German daily. “We will act in any way and are not willing to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. We prefer that this be done by means of sanctions, but in the end, Israel should be able to defend itself,” the defense minister said.

He added that he was “not responsible for the lives of Iranian scientists,” according to Der Spiegel, which will publish the full interview on Saturday.

Ya’alon further stated that Israel was considering carrying out airstrikes on Iranian military facilities, the German paper reported.

Iranian technicians work at a facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor, outside Isfahan, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, in 2009. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian technicians working at a facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor, outside Isfahan, in 2009. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Five Iranian nuclear scientists were killed in the last decade, most of them by bombs placed on their cars, according to foreign media reports.

Israel was blamed by Iran to be behind the assassinations, but never admitted any involvement.

No Israeli was ever caught, though a number of Iranian were hanged after being accused of collaborating with Jerusalem.

The last assassination occurred in late 2013 and have since halted, reportedly as a result of American pressure as negotiations between world powers and Tehran over the nuclear program ramped up, according to CBS news.

On July 14, Iran and the United States, along with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, recently struck a deal meant to ensure Iran’s nuclear program could not produce a bomb by curbing enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

Israel has loudly criticized the deal as unenforceable and limited in its ability to thwart Iran’s plans for nuclear weaponization, and is heavily lobbying American lawmakers to vote it down, butting heads with the White House along the way.

The nuclear deal must be reviewed and approved by lawmakers in the US and Iran before it can be implemented. The deal has run into fierce opposition from many Republicans and some Democrats on Capitol Hill. Some Arab governments have quietly voiced concerns as well.

US lawmakers will vote in September on whether to endorse the deal.

US President Barack Obama has said voting down the deal will mean the US will be forced to confront Iran militarily to stop it from gaining a nuclear weapon.

Though Israel has threatened to strike Iran to keep it from getting atomic arms, analysts say the Jewish state would need American help to effectively set back Iran’s nuclear program, an idea put on the backburner as diplomacy with Tehran has taken center stage.

On Thursday, Iran dismissed as “preposterous” claims that it was cleaning up its suspected nuclear military site at Parchin ahead of inspections agreed under a nuclear deal with world powers. The statement came in response to media reports quoting US members of Congress and the Washington think-tank Institute for Science and International Security who said the work at the military complex, seen in satellite footage, could complicate inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that are a key provision of the deal.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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