Defense Secretary Benny Gantz vowed on Wednesday that Israel would never give up on ensuring Iran doesn’t get nuclear weapons as a deal between Tehran and world powers appeared imminent.
“In the coming weeks, maybe even in the coming days, a nuclear deal could be signed between them [world] Powers and Iran,” Gantz said during a graduation ceremony for naval officers in Haifa Bay.
“Whether this happens or not, Israel will continue to do everything possible to prevent Iran from becoming an existential threat and having nuclear capabilities,” he said.
Negotiations to revive the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, involve Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China directly, and the United States indirectly.
France said on Monday it was “crucial” that negotiators trying to restore the deal reach an agreement this week.
The original 2015 deal gave Iran sanctions relaxation in exchange for a curb on its nuclear program, but the US unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018, under then-President Donald Trump, who again imposed heavy economic sanctions.
This prompted Iran to reverse its own commitments and enrich uranium to levels of purity just a short technical step away from what is needed to produce nuclear weapons.
“We will continue our diplomatic activities because Iran is primarily a global and regional problem, and we will continue to expand our armed forces. All means are valid,” Gantz said.
“Even if an agreement is signed, we will never stop operating in diplomatic channels with the aim of increasing surveillance of Iran, and with real and painful consequences for any breach.” [of the agreement] and advances in nuclear development,” he added.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett earlier Wednesday said Israel must ensure Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons “not under our supervision or ever.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu hit back, saying on Twitter: “Bennett and [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid say nothing and do nothing as Iran races toward a horrific nuclear deal that threatens the security and future of the State of Israel.
“This bad deal will give Iran money for terror against us from the north and south and international approval for an arsenal of nuclear bombs against all Israeli citizens,” he added.
Gantz also addressed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in his speech, saying, “We see the difficult and painful fighting in Ukraine and we do not stand by idly by. We are sending humanitarian aid, helping evacuate our citizens, taking in immigrants and refugees, and stand ready to scale up aid to end fighting and save lives.”
“Israel is and will continue to be a partner in the international community’s efforts to restore order,” he added, without mentioning Russia by name.
Israel has so far been reluctant to comment on the conflict. This is believed to be due, at least in part, to the need to cooperate with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria.
Agencies contributed to this report.