image Photo: Yossi May (IMoD), Reuters

Iran tops Gantz, US talks

The nuclear threat posed by the Islamic Republic was the focus of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’ visit to Washington.

By Erin Viner

The looming nuclear deal between world powers and Iran topped the agenda during talks Minister Gantz held with United States. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Friday, in addition to the need to step up defense cooperation between the US with Israel and other countries in the region.

According to a statement TV7 obtained from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMoD), Gantz emphasized Jerusalem’s opposition to restoration of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the Islamic Republic; consistent with the long-held view that it is was too weak to prevent Iran from pursuing a bombimpede ballistic missile development or reduce support of its  proxies such as the HamasPalestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) or Hezbollah terror organizations.

“Israel is not against any agreement. We are against this agreement, because it is a bad one; because it cannot be accepted as it is written right now,” declared Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid last week, referring to a “final” draft accord proposed by the European Union that would restore the JCPOA with Iran, under which Tehran was called on to limit its disputed uranium enrichment program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The JCPOA was abandoned in 2018 by then-US President Donald Trump, who also believed it was too soft on Iran. His administration reimposed crippling economic sanctions; after which the Islamic Republic openly violating critical nuclear limits of the deal. Current President Biden has sought to revive the deal to bring both sides back into compliance with its terms.

Stressing that the current proposal “would give Iran a hundred billion dollars a year,” Lapid charged that, “This money will not build schools or hospitals” but “will be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe,” fund the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the “Basij who oppress the Iranian people,” additional “attacks on American bases in the Middle East, and used to strengthen Iran’s Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist proxies.

Lapid nevertheless underscored that Israel maintains an “open dialogue” with the US “on all matters of disagreement” and that he appreciates Washington’s “willingness to listen and work together: the United States is and will remain our closest ally, and President Biden is one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”

Jerusalem, which is not a party to the nuclear negotiations in Austria, is very concerned over the acquisition of nuclear weapons by its archenemy; and has made multiple veiled threats to take pre-emptive military action against Iran if it deems diplomacy a dead end.

“We have made it clear to everyone: if a deal is signed, it does not obligate Israel. We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” reiterated Lapid.

A senior Israeli defense official told reporters that the US indicated to Gantz that Washington is prepared to act with Jerusalem against Tehran if the accord is not revived satisfactorily.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly threatened to annihilate the Jewish State, which has warned that a “Plan B” military option is under consideration to obstruct development of atomic weapons by the Ayatollah regime.

“Minister Gantz also emphasized the importance of maintaining and advancing operational capabilities for both defensive and offensive purposes in face of Iran’s nuclear program as well as its regional aggression. This is regardless of the discussion surrounding the agreement,” said the IMoD statement.

A statement issued by the US National Security Council Spokesperson said that Sullivan and Gantz “discussed US commitment to ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, and the need to counter threats from Iran and Iran-based proxies,” while “Sullivan emphasized President Biden’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and the two exchanged views on ways to deepen the US-Israel security partnership, including via regional cooperation and coordination.”

Gantz also held talks with US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander  General Michael “Erik” Kurilla at the Department of Defense agency’s headquarters in Florida. The two military leaders also reportedly discussed strategies to strengthen bilateral cooperation, counter the threat Iran presents to the region and the Plan B option.

Israel was repositioned to CENTCOM last September from the US European Command (EUCOM), which now concentrates on Russia and its threats against Europe and NATO.

Defense Minister Gantz was also provided with an inspection at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, of  the air refueling wing used for long-range missions.

During a later briefing for the directors of leading think tanks in Washington, following his visits to the CENTCOM HQ and with NSA Sullivan, Gantz emphasized the special, powerful bond between Israel and the US.

He went on to warn the lifting of restrictions under terms of the new deal would further already significant nuclear advancements by Iran – including “knowledge, infrastructure and capabilities”- that he called “irreversible,” according to the IMoD statement.

“The production of thousands of advanced centrifuges is “readily available for enrichment once the agreement comes to an end, or in the case in which Iran chooses to withdraw from the agreement,” stressed Minister Gantz. Pointing to the new advanced cascade at Fordow facility, Israel’s top defense official underscored that an Iranian decision to begin enriching uranium to 90% purity could be achieved within just weeks.

Israel will continue to take action [to ensure the security of the State of Israel] regardless of any developments and to prevent Iran from achieving regional hegemony. Israel will continue to strengthen its military superiority,” pledged Minister Gantz.

The Defense Minister’s visit to the US came at the same time as that of Israeli National Security Advisor Dr. Eyal Hulata, just ahead of this week’s trip by Mossad Intelligence Agency Director David Barnea – all conveying objections to restoration of the JCPOA.

Barnea has previously referred to the deal as “a strategic disaster” that is “very bad” for Israel and that the US “is rushing into an accord that is ultimately based on lies” by Iran that its nuclear activities are peaceful.