As diplomats say a nuclear deal with Iran can come within days, Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday presented ways to mitigate its weaknesses and for Israel and the world to continue to confront the Iranian threat.
“A nuclear deal, if signed with Iran, does not mark the end of the road,” he told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem. “It opens the door to important action that must be taken.”
Among those actions are ensuring the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to monitor open files on Iran’s nuclear program and moving to stop the development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, he added.
Gantz emphasized the need to deal with sunset clauses in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that world powers have been seeking to revive in talks in Vienna. Those clauses are the expiration of sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, the bulk of which end in 2025.
“We need to have offensive capabilities and a set of sanctions ready in our back pockets in case Iran violates ia future agreement,” he said. “The international community under US leadership must be proactive, taking defensive and offensive actions to counter direct and indirect Iranian aggression anywhere, anytime.”
When the JCPOA was in effect, Iran increased its security budget by 50%, Gantz said.
“We must deal with Iranian aggression and support for proxies and ensure that their so-called security budget isn’t increased and money isn’t poured into terrorism,” he said.
Gantz displayed a photo of an Iranian Mojaher drone being presented to Venezuela’s leadership.
“Iran truly is a global and regional challenge and not just a threat to the State of Israel,” he said. “We must address both Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its regional aggression. We have the capability to produce advanced defense systems, we have a duty to share intelligence, and we have the means, as a community, to pressure Iran.”
In Vienna, Russia’s envoy to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said, “Apparently the negotiations on restoration of JCPOA are about to cross the finish line.”
A US-Iranian deal was taking shape in Vienna after months of talks between Tehran and major powers to revive the nuclear deal pact, abandoned in 2018 by then-US president Donald Trump, who also reimposed extensive sanctions on Iran, Reuters reported last week.
A draft text of the agreement alluded only vaguely to other issues, diplomats said, adding that what was meant by that was unfreezing billions of dollars of Iranian funds in South Korean banks and the release of Western prisoners held in Iran.
Iran has demanded the lifting of all sanctions invoked since the US left the JCPOA in 2018, including those imposed for terrorism and human-rights violations.
In addition, Iran has sought a guarantee from the US that future presidents will not leave the deal, which the Biden administration cannot legally give.
Israel has said Iran seeks to stop open IAEA probes and the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps designation as a terrorist organization.
On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the Islamic Republic was ready for an immediate prisoner exchange with the US.
“Iran has always and repeatedly expressed its readiness to exchange prisoners. Months ago we were ready to do it, but the Americans ruined the deal,” a senior Iranian official in Tehran told Reuters, without elaborating. “Now I believe some of them will be released, maybe five or six of them. But those talks about prisoners are not linked to the nuclear agreement, rather associated with it. This is a humanitarian measure by Iran.”
Western sources, however, said the assessment was premature. Iranian officials made similar statements in the summer and then blamed the US when Tehran did not release the prisoners.
US negotiator Robert Malley has suggested that securing the nuclear pact is unlikely unless Tehran frees four US citizens, including Iranian-American father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, who Washington says Tehran is holding hostage.
“Six years ago the Iranian government arrested Baquer Namazi and they still refuse to let him leave the country,” Malley tweeted on Tuesday. “The Iranian government can and must release the Namazis, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and other unjustly held US and foreign nationals.”
Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, denies taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage. However, in recent years, the elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on espionage and security-related charges.
Britain has been seeking the release of British-Iranians Anousheh Ashouri, jailed on espionage charges, and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.
Tehran has sought the release of more than a dozen Iranians in the US, including seven Iranian-American dual nationals, two Iranians with permanent US residency and four Iranian citizens with no legal status in the US. Most were jailed for violating US sanctions against Iran.
In the latest comments on the final phase of 10 months of nuclear negotiations, the talks’ coordinator, Enrique Mora, tweeted that “key issues need to be fixed,” but the end was near.
Several Iranian officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said some minor technical issues were being discussed in Vienna and that a deal was expected before the end of the week, adding, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Separately, hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told gas exporting countries on Tuesday to avoid any “cruel” sanctions imposed by the US on Tehran.
“The members of this forum should not recognize those sanctions [because] in today’s world we see that the sanctions are not going to be effective,” Raisi told a gas exporters conference in Doha.
The 2015 deal between Iran and world powers limited Tehran’s enrichment of uranium to make it harder for it to develop material for nuclear weapons, if it chose to, in return for a lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.
Since 2019, following the US withdrawal from the deal, Tehran has gone well beyond its limits, rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output.