Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, Egypt January 14, 2019.
(photo credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps could fire missiles at Israel or activate its proxies Hezbollah or Palestinian Islamic Jihad against the Jewish state if the current Iranian-US tensions continue to escalate, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday.
Steinitz’s words in a Ynet television interview come amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran that in recent days have led to increased US economic and military pressure to get Iran to return to the negotiating table and re-negotiate the nuclear deal, while the Islamic republic has said that it will increase its uranium enrichment and continues to rattle its own saber against the US.
“Things are undoubtedly heating up, and Iran – over the last few weeks – has come under ‘atomic’ pressure,” said Steinitz, a member of the security cabinet. “The economic sanctions are breaking the neck of the Iranian economy and there is now an additional, even more powerful wave of American sanctions. We are starting to see the Iranians lose their balance.”
Until Steinitz’s comments, senior Israeli officials have remained silent over the last week as the situation between Iran and the US escalated, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s only reference to the situation being at a Remembrance Day ceremony last Wednesday when he said Israel would not let Iran get nuclear weapons.
“There is an internal debate inside Iran: whether to surrender to American pressure and dismantle the nuclear program, or wait – maybe [US President Donald] Trump will not be elected again – until the storm passes,” Steinitz said. “The Iranians feel they have to respond in some way to the tremendous pressure on them.”
He said Iran’s announcement last week that they would once again begin enriching uranium beyond the 3.5% limit mandated by the nuclear agreement is one way of responding.
Steinitz said that considering the intense internal pressure the country is under, he would not rule out any Iranian action, including firing rockets at Israel. “The pressure inside Iran – the panic, the internal debate – is so strong, that you cannot know where it will erupt,” he said.
Steinitz pointed out that Iran tried to fire at Israel from Syria last year, an action foiled by the IDF.
“If there is some sort of conflagration between Iran and the United States, between Iran and its neighbors, I’m not ruling out that they will activate Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad from Gaza, or even that they will try to fire missiles from Iran at the State of Israel,” he said.
Steinitz said that Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza is to a “great degree” operated by Iran, “and it is possible that the pressure inside Iran will cause them to activate Islamic Jihad.”
He said that while coordination between Israel and the US has never been better, there is no need for Israel to pressure Washington regarding Iran, since the Trump administration has set the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure “forever” as one of its goals.
Meanwhile, a senior IRGC commander said on Sunday that the US military presence in the Persian Gulf used to be a serious threat but now represented a target, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported.
The US military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East – in a move US officials said was to counter “clear indications” of threats from Iran to its forces in the region.
The USS Abraham Lincoln is replacing another carrier rotated out of the Gulf last month.
“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past, but now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division.
“If [the Americans] make a move we will hit them in the head,” he added, according to ISNA.Reuters contributed to this report.
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