Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he would prefer a disagreement with the United States over a nuclear-armed Iran.
If Israel has to choose between "friction with the United States and eliminating the Iranian threat – eliminating the existential threat wins," Netanyahu said at a ceremony for Israel's new Mossad chief, David Barnea. Israel, he said, must "do everything, I mean everything, in order to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon under any circumstance."
The biggest threat facing Israel, the prime minister said, "is the existential threat posed by Iran's attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Whether it is threatening us directly with extermination as a small and concentrated state with atomic weapons, or threatening us with tens of thousands of missiles backed with the threat of nuclear deterrence, it is a threat that threatens the continuation of the Zionist enterprise, and we must fight against this threat to no end."
Netanyahu added that he told U.S. President Joe Biden that "With or without a deal, we will keep doing anything in our power in order to thwart Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons."
Incoming Mossad chief Barnea said at the event that Iran is “at the top of the list” of Israel’s security challenges. “We should say it out loud, that Iran is working to realize its nuclear vision even right now,” Barnea added, claiming that Tehran would continue developing nuclear weapons “with an agreement or without.”
In response to Netanyahu's statement Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday that while "Iran constitutes a threat on the regional stability and world peace," any "disagreements [between Israel and the U.S.] will be solved using a direct private dialogue and not by provocations, which might hurt Israel's security," he added.
Gantz is set to depart for Washington on Wednesday and meet there with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. In a statement, Gantz's office said they would discuss Iran nuclear negotiations and regional stability.
- Israel's Fatal Weakness Against Iran's Axis of Resistance
- Iran’s Botched Cyberattacks on Israel
- Biden, Khamenei Hope to Sign Nuclear Deal Before Iran’s June Presidential Election
This would the first such high-profile visit by an Israeli official since President Biden took office.
According to a quarterly report released on Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran is continuing to enrich uranium at high levels. In addition, it has failed to explain traces of processed uranium found at several undeclared sites.
It will now be up to Britain, France and Germany – who are still signed onto the nuclear deal – to decide whether to revive their push for a resolution criticizing Iran, which could undermine wider negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal at talks currently underway in Vienna
The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said last week that Iran is enriching uranium at purity levels that "only countries making bombs are reaching." Rafael Grossi, director general of the IAEA, told the Financial Times that the enrichment program is "very concerning."
On Monday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Iran and six world powers have made significant progress in talks to revive their 2015 nuclear deal, but important issues still need to be resolved. Iran is demanding that all sanctions imposed under former U.S. President Donald Trump – nuclear and non-nuclear penalties alike – must be rolled back.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said Washington will return to the pact if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
Reuters contributed to this report.