Tehran is two months away from nuclear weapons capacity, warned Defense Minister Benny Gantz as he called for the international community to create a new prevention plan that did not involve reviving the 2015 Iran deal.
“Iran is only two months away from acquiring the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon,” Gantz told a gathering of 60 ambassadors in Tel Aviv.
He spoke just one day before Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is scheduled to present such an alternative plan to US President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday.
Biden has been in favor of reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action designed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which the US exited in 2018.
Indirect talks brokered by the European Union have faltered and have allowed for Tehran to ramp up its uranium enrichment needed to produce nuclear weapons.
“We do not know if the Iranian regime will be willing to sign an agreement and come back to the negotiation table – and the international community must build a viable ‘Plan B’ in order to stop Iran in its tracks toward a nuclear weapon,” Gantz said.
The preferred option, he said, is a diplomatic one.
“At the end of the day, the goal is to reach a ‘longer, stronger and broader’ agreement than the previous one,” Gantz said. An “Iranian nuclear program could incite an arms race in the region and the entire world.”
Nevertheless, he hinted at military action if needed. “The State of Israel has the means to act and will not hesitate to do so – I do not rule out the possibility that Israel will have to take action in the future in order to prevent a nuclear Iran,” Gantz said.
At present, the “Iranian threat is land-based,” with Tehran operating “via its proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza,” he said.
With regard to Iran’s aerial threat, Gantz said that “Iran is employing UAVs and guided missiles. It is maritime: disrupting international trade. Iran also works in cyberspace.”
He charged that Tehran was behind last month’s attack on the Mercer Street ship, in which the captain and a crew member were killed.
“Our assessment is that the UAV employed in the Mercer Street attack was launched from Iranian territory and approved by Iranian leadership,” Gantz said.
Iran’s capacity for conventional violence is increasing, Gantz said, pointing out that Tehran has more than doubled its military investment over the last five years from $22 billion to $49b.
“All of Iran’s acts of aggression this far have been conducted without nuclear capabilities. Imagine what would happen if Iran achieves nuclear capabilities?” he asked.
Gantz highlighted Iran’s activity in neighboring Lebanon, which is in the midst of a severe economic crisis.
“Every couple of houses in Lebanon are used to store [some of the] thousands of rockets and missiles,” he said. “Iran and Hezbollah are exploiting the crisis in Lebanon and are undermining the Lebanese government.”
He explained that Israel had thrice offered Lebanon humanitarian assistance. It has sought to do so through third parties such as the Red Cross or through another country with ties to Lebanon.
With respect to the Palestinian Authority, the defense minister said that it is “the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and that Israel is working to strengthen it with economic gestures such as building and work permits as well as with regional infrastructure projects.
Gantz also spoke about Gaza, emphasizing that “the actions of Hamas in Gaza harm the Palestinian people.”
He explained that “Israel has only two interests in Gaza: security and the return of the Israeli civilians and soldiers held hostage by Hamas. The development of Gaza is conditioned upon these two requirements.”