Israel's Security Cabinet Meets for First Time in Two Months to Talk Iran, Syria Tensions

Intelligence officials briefing ministers say negotiations between Iran and world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal could be concluded within weeks

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Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a cabinet meeting, last year.
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a cabinet meeting, last year.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem / Pool
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The security cabinet convened on Sunday for the first time since Febraury 7, with the main issue discussed by ministers being the spike in tensions between Israel and Iran, including attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and on Iranian ships attributed to Israel.

Sources with knowledge of the meeting's details said talks between Iran and world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which Israel opposes, weren't on the agenda but still discussed by the ministers.

Military Intelligence and Mossad officials who briefed the ministers told them that the talks between Tehran and Washington could lead to an agreement within a matter of several weeks.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading a line opposing any renewal of the agreement on Iran's nuclear program, Defense Minister Benny Gantz pushes for involvement in the ongoing negotiations to ensure any new deal would benefit Israeli interests.

The meeting lasted for less than two hours and included briefings by defense officials. It ended without any specific decisions, which are expected at a later meeting next week.

The meeting followed a statement last week by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who said that as long as the position of justice minister remains vacant, the security cabinet can only exercise its authority and pass resolutions that deal with urgent and essential matters, and on the condition that there is equal representation of ministers from Netanyahu's bloc and from Gantz's bloc.

Last week, an Israeli-owned ship was attacked near the United Arab Emirates, which Israeli sources blamed on Iran. It would be the third such Iranian attack in a month and a half – carried out in response to a series of attacks on Iranian ships that have been attributed to Israel. Two days prior to the latest attack on an Israeli-owned ship, Iran reported on an explosion at its Natanz nuclear facility and called it an Israeli act of sabotage.

According to reports, the Natanz explosion is expected to disrupt the operation for many months of centrifuges there that are used to enrich uranium. In response, Iran announced that it has now enriched uranium to a level of 60 percent, the highest level that it has so far achieved. It constitutes a violation of the 2015 international nuclear accord, an accord that the United States withdrew from during Donald Trump’s presidency.

On Saturday, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who heads the Iranian delegation to talks in Vienna on bringing the United States back into the accord, reported progress, saying that “a new understanding” is taking shape between Iran and the five other remaining countries in the accord and that there appears to be a consensus on final goals.

“We think that the talks have reached a stage where parties are able to begin to work on a joint draft,” Araghchi told Iranian state television. “The path is better known, but it will not be [an] easy path,” Araghchi added. “It does not mean that differences of views have come to [an] end.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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