Israel to ‘work closely’ with US on new Iran deal, defence minister says

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin (Reuters)

Rosie Scammell

The National  /  April 11, 2021

Benny Gantz was speaking after meeting with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz pledged on Sunday to work closely with Washington on any new nuclear deal with Iran, following talks with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin as the US seeks to revive the landmark accord.

“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Mr Gantz said.

“We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the state of Israel,” he said, standing alongside Mr Austin at Israel’s Defence Ministry.

Mr Gantz’s comments come days after the US and Iran launched indirect talks aimed at salvaging the 2015 accord, which was intended to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in May 2018 and imposed sanctions on Iran, which responded by scrapping its commitments under the deal.

The start of negotiations this month marks a shift in US policy under President Joe Biden towards the deal, which is backed by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the EU.

Mr Austin, making the first visit to Israel by a senior US official under the Biden administration, expressed Washington’s “iron-clad” commitment to his hosts.

“Our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East,” he said, following the talks with Mr Gantz.

“I pledge to continue close consultations in order to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security.”

During his overnight visit, Mr Austin is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visit an air force base and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. He will then travel to Germany, NATO headquarters in Belgium and the UK.

Mr Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israel would not be bound to a nuclear deal that would enable Iran to develop atomic weapons.

“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons – weapons that threaten our extinction – would not compel us in any way,” Mr Netanyahu said in an address marking the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Israel talks come after Iran reported an electricity problem at its Natanz nuclear site on Sunday, a day after President Hassan Rouhani attended a ceremony there as advanced centrifuges were launched.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said it was investigating the cause of the incident.

A fire broke out at the site last July, which Tehran said was an attempt to sabotage its nuclear programme.

The facility was hit in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer virus, which is widely believed to have been developed by Israel and the US.

Israel rarely comments on its alleged involvement in attacks on Tehran’s nuclear programme, including accusations by Iran that it was behind the assassination of several nuclear scientists in recent years.

Rosie scammell – correspondent, Jerusalem