Gantz: Iran is 10 weeks from breakout to a nuclear weapon

"Israel had warned the US that Iran would use a break in JCPOA talks to advance its nuclear program."

The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER/FILE PHOTO)
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021.

Tehran will be able to break out to a nuclear weapon within 10 weeks, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told diplomats from UN Security Council member states on Wednesday as tensions ratcheted up between Iran and the international community over its maritime attacks.

“Iran has violated all of the guidelines set in the JCPOA [nuclear agreement] and is only around 10 weeks away from acquiring weapons-grade materials necessary for a nuclear weapon,” Gantz warned.

“Therefore,” he added, “it is time to act. The world must apply economic sanctions and take operative action against the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps,” which has targeted shipping vessels.

In recent weeks, top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Gantz have expressed alarm to the US and others that Iran is taking advantage of a long pause in negotiations to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to dramatically advance its nuclear program.

The talks have been on hold since June, and the regime in Tehran says they will not restart at least until after its new president, Ebrahim Raisi, forms a new government later this month.

Gantz’s remarks were made in a presentation with Lapid to diplomats from UN Security Council member states on Wednesday, as part of a push by Israel for the UNSC to sanction Iran for its maritime attacks, including on the Mercer Street ship, which is managed by an Israeli company, and the Asphalt Princess in the Gulf in the past week.

These attacks are not just on Israel, but are on the world, and therefore the world must react in a united way to ensure Iran takes responsibility for its aggression, was the senior ministers’ message. However, they told the ambassadors that Israel would retain its freedom to act against Iran in response to any attacks or threats on its citizens.

Security Council members with representation in Israel are the US, UK, France, Russia, China, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway and Vietnam. Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines do not have an embassy in Israel, and the Jewish state does not have diplomatic relations with Niger and Tunisia. In January, the situation in the UNSC will be more favorable to Israel, as all members that do not have diplomatic ties with Jerusalem will leave and be replaced with countries that do.

Israel presented intelligence at the beginning of the week to the US, as well as the UK and Romania, a citizen of each having been killed in the drone attack on Friday. The three countries expressed confidence that Iran was behind the bombing of Mercer Street and said they would coordinate a response.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that his country was working with Great Britain to convene a UNSC meeting on the matter.

The US and Great Britain are among five of the 15 UNSC members with veto power, along with France, Russia and China. Any UNSC action against Iran would need the support of Russia and China, which have often opposed such steps in the past.

Price said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was working closely with Britain, Romania and other allies about “diplomatic next steps” to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation.

Blinken also spoke with British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab about such efforts.

Raab tweeted after that the conversation that they had spoken about the “need for Iran to stop its destabilizing behavior.” He added, “We continue to work together to protect international peace & security,” he added.

Ambassador to the US and the UN Gilad Erdan highlighted the IRGC’s development of drone technology in a letter to the council on Tuesday.

“The Security Council must take all necessary measures to hold the Iranian regime fully accountable for its repeated and unrestrained gross violations of international law,” Erdan wrote.

He spoke out after Israel and the US charged that Iran is behind the drone attack Friday against the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum-product tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime Ltd. The Romanian captain and a British crew member were killed.

Britain, Romania and Liberia also wrote letters to the UNSC stating that it was “highly likely” that Iran used one or more drones to attack the ship as it was off the coast of Oman.

“This attack disrupted and posed a risk to the safety and security of international shipping and was a clear violation of international law,” the countries stated.

“This act must be condemned by the international community,” they added.

DIPLOMATS SAID that Britain was expected to raise the issue in a closed-door meeting of the Security Council in the coming days. The council is also coincidentally due to discuss maritime security in a public meeting on Monday, chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is council president for August.

The countries spoke out as Iranian-backed forces are believed to have seized an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Two sources identified the vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess, allegedly seized in an area in the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s seaborne oil exports flow.

Iran has rejected both maritime allegations.

Erdan told the UNSC in his letter that “Iran’s repeated brazen and murderous actions – which constitute grave violations of the United Nations Charter and of international law more generally – serve not only to threaten the safety of international shipping and navigation and disrupt international trade, but to further destabilize a highly volatile region.

“The Security Council should not sit idly by in the face of such violations by Iran or by the terrorist organizations throughout the region that serve as its proxies,” he said.

He highlighted past Iranian maritime attacks this year including on the Israeli-owned vessels the Helios Ray in February and the Hyperion Ray in April. The CSAV Tyndall, previously owned by an Israeli, was attacked in June.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that he sees an emboldened Iran acting in a negative manner around the Middle East, endangering shipping, arming Yemen’s Houthis and contributing to political deadlock in Lebanon.

“All around the region, Iran continues to be emboldened,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said at a virtual conference of the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, alluding to reports that Iranian-backed forces seized an oil tanker off the coast of the UAE.

“Iran is extremely active in the region with its negative activity, whether it’s continuing to supply the Houthis with weapons or endangering shipping in the Arabian Gulf, which we have got reports coming in today that may indicate additional activity there,” he said.

He also repeated Riyadh’s stance that it could live with a “longer and stronger” version of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if it ensured Tehran never obtained nuclear arms know-how.

“We certainly support a deal with Iran as long as that deal ensures that Iran will not now or ever gain access to nuclear weapons technology,” he said, saying Riyadh would welcome an Iran that contributed to regional stability and prosperity.

“But that would require (Iran) engaging in the region as a state actor in a normal way..., not supporting militias, not sending weapons to armed groups, and most importantly, giving up a nuclear program which might be used... to develop nuclear weapons.”

The US and Iran engaged in indirect negotiations this year to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, whose limitations on uranium enrichment would expire in 2030 and which does not address Iran’s proxy warfare or other malign behavior in the Middle East.

Reuters contributed to this report.