Iran could have nuclear weapons in five years – Israel issues warning

Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

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Indirect negotiations to revive the 2015 accord, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions, are due to resume in Vienna next Monday after a five-month pause. Israel long opposed the nuclear deal, but Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, in power since June, had previously said it could be open to a new deal with tougher restrictions.

In remarks on Tuesday to a security forum, however, he sounded less accommodating.

Mr Bennett described Iran, which denies it is pursuing nuclear arms, as being at “the most advanced stage” of a nuclear weapons programme.

Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman also said: “With or without an agreement, Iran will be a nuclear state and have a nuclear weapon within five years, tops.”

Israel, itself widely believed to have nuclear weapons, has long argued that the 2015 deal was too weak to prevent Iran from pursuing a bomb.

The Iranians have encircled the State of Israel with missiles while they sit safely in Tehran.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

Former US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, describing it as too soft, and Iran responded by violating some of the deal’s restrictions.

President Joe Biden’s administration aims to revive it.

Prime Minister Bennett signalled readiness on Tuesday to step up Israel’s confrontation with Iran and reiterated that his country would not be bound by any new Iranian nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran, which denies seeking nuclear arms, has since the US walkout breached the deal with expanded uranium enrichment.

While Mr Bennett’s government has previously said it would be open to a new nuclear deal with tougher restrictions on Iran, the Israeli leader reasserted Israel’s autonomy to take action against its arch-foe.

He told a televised conference hosted by Reichman University: “We face complicated times.

“It is possible that there will be disputes with the best of our friends.

“In any event, even if there is a return to a deal, Israel is of course not a party to the deal and Israel is not obligated by the deal.”

Mr Bennett voiced frustration with what he described as Israel’s smaller-scale clashes with Iranian guerrilla allies.

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He said: “The Iranians have encircled the State of Israel with missiles while they sit safely in Tehran.

“To chase the terrorist du jour sent by the (Iranian covert) Qods Force does not pay off anymore. We must go for the dispatcher.”

Stopping short of explicitly threatening war, Mr Bennett said cyber-technologies and what he deemed Israel’s advantages as a democracy and international support could be brought to bear.

He said: “Iran is much more vulnerable than is commonly thought.”

Israel has also complained that the nuclear agreement does nothing to rein in Iran’s missile programme or hostile activity by Iranian-backed militia.

Mr Bennett said: “The Iranians have encircled the State of Israel with missiles while they sit safely in Tehran.

“To chase the terrorist du jour sent by the (Iranian covert) Qods Force does not pay off anymore. We must go for the dispatcher.”

Speaking separately, the chief of Israel’s air force offered cooperation with Gulf Arab partners against Iranian-made attack drones, a rare public airing of the possibility of joint operations.

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