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Gantz: IDF updating military plans for potential strike on Iran nuclear sites

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday said the Israel Defense Forces is continuously updating its plans for a prospective military strike on Iranian nuclear sites.

Gantz, in an interview with Fox News, said the military plans would not be finalized until right before such a strike was set to be carried out.

“Until then, we will continue to build them [the plans], to improve them… to the highest professional level possible,” he said.

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“If the world stops them [Iran] before, it’s much the better. But if not, we must stand independently and we must defend ourselves by ourselves,” added the defense minister.

Israel has twice conducted military strikes against the nuclear programs of its enemies — Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 — under what’s become known as the Begin Doctrine, which maintains that Jerusalem will not allow an enemy country to obtain an atomic weapon.

An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. February 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Gantz has previously warned Israel would carry out a military strike against Iran, if necessary.

His comments came as the US seeks to reenter the Iran nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic has been openly violating the agreement clinched in 2015, stepping up uranium enrichment far beyond permitted levels. It recently barred international inspectors from its nuclear sites.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday said the 2015 nuclear deal “cannot be renegotiated — period.”

“Let’s stop posturing,” he tweeted, “which we both did from 2003-2012 to no avail — and get down to implementing [the deal] which we both actually signed on to.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses in a conference in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran has demanded an immediate removal of US sanctions as a precondition to its return to compliance with the deal, while Washington has said Iran must first end its violations of the accord.

Iran on Sunday rebuffed an offer from the European Union to hold informal direct talks with the EU and US on Tehran’s nuclear program. US President Joe Biden’s administration had accepted in principle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will do whatever it takes to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, regardless of whether Washington reenters the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

“I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and so far, we’ve been successful,” Netanyahu said Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu interviewed on Fox and Friends, March 4, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

In an interview earlier Thursday with Fox News, Netanyahu said he believes Biden “understands… that my commitment to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is absolute.”

“But one thing I believe he understands and respects, is that as the prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, we are not going to let a bunch of ayatollahs wipe us out from the face of the earth or from the map of history,” said Netanyahu.

Last week, Netanyahu held the first major intra-ministerial meeting to discuss Israel’s policy vis-à-vis Iran since Biden took office. Among the senior officials who took part in the meeting were Defense Minister Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan.

Also participating were former national security council chairmen Yaakov Amidror and Yaakov Nagel, who Netanyahu is bringing on as external advisers on the issue, the Walla news site reported. Both of them are considered to have a hawkish stance on Iran more in line with Netanyahu’s.

Amidror was national security adviser while the agreement was being crafted and sparred with his American counterpart at the time, Susan Rice. Nagel, a nuclear expert, also served as an adviser during that period but stayed on longer, leading talks with the Trump administration to institute its “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.

Outgoing national security adviser Yaakov Amidror with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a farewell ceremony in Amidror’s honor, on November 3, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Also expected to serve as an external adviser on the matter is longtime Netanyahu aide and Erdan’s predecessor Ron Dermer, who is set to return to Israel in the coming weeks.

During last Monday’s meeting, Kohavi and Cohen emphasized the importance of working to build goodwill with the new US administration by not sparring publicly with Washington over the Iran deal, Walla reported.

“We have not moved from our position against returning to the nuclear deal, but we want to work together with the administration and have a constructive discussion with it, not a confrontation,” a senior official said.

Additionally, Netanyahu plans to delegate talks on Iran to senior staff to prevent any personal tension between him and Biden, according to Reuters.

“The intent is to work everything out at that level, and to keep that communication channel open,” a senior official told Reuters. “Obviously this has benefits where there is a risk of a ‘cold shoulder’ at chief-executive level.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) sits with former interim Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel (R) at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Jerusalem is hoping to keep disputes with the new administration “under the radar” for the time being, Army Radio reported.

Also last week, the Kan public broadcaster reported that senior Israeli and Saudi officials have recently held several phone calls to discuss the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.

During the conversations, the Saudis also expressed concern over the new US administration and lamented its focus on human rights violations in the kingdom, the report said. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations but have maintained clandestine ties. Netanyahu visited Saudi Arabia in November for the first known meeting between Israeli and Saudi leaders.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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