By David Brennan On 3/5/21 at 7:29 AM EST
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has warned that his country will “stand independently” against Iran if needed, as President Joe Biden pushes ahead with his plan to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) despite opposition from American conservatives and Middle Eastern allies.
Gantz—who is currently defense minister as part of a power sharing deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—told Fox News Radio on Thursday that Israel is constantly drawing up plans to attack Iran and deny Tehran nuclear weapons, with or without American support.
Gantz’s warning comes after weeks of rising tensions in the Middle East, with attacks on American and Iraqi troops by Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups, American and Israeli airstrikes in Syria, an attack against Israeli shipping in the Gulf of Oman, and intensified operations against Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
The Biden administration appears to be trying to keep low intensity regional conflict separate from JCPOA talks, but Gantz told Fox News Radio that Israel was not. “We should not put aside all the regional aggression,” Gantz said, noting incidents in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Iranian influence over Islamist militia forces in the besieged Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
“We are on very high alert all the time,” Gantz said. “The issue with Iran must be solved.” Asked whether the country had strike plans ready for use, the defense minister said his forces were constantly revising the situation.
“We are working on it,” Gantz said. We have them in our hands, of course, but we will continue and constantly improving them to the highest professional level possible.”
Gantz had been due to take over as Israeli prime minister in November 2021 under the power-sharing deal. But Gantz’s Blue and White coalition is on course to register a poor result in the country’s coming election—the fourth in two years—which would end his leadership hopes.
Despite the political chaos, Israeli leaders are largely united on Iran. Netanyahu and Gantz are both staunch critics of the JCPOA, arguing that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by any deal and that the Obama-era accord was too lenient.
Netanyahu was a key advocate of former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018, and he and other Israeli leaders have been pressuring Biden to walk away from the agreement.
Netanyahu said last month that Israel will stop Iran’s nuclear program “with or without” Biden’s revived deal, while Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said in January his forces were drawing up attack plans on the country.
Israel is unlikely to come on board with any American re-entry into the JCPOA, which the country sees as inherently flawed and a threat to its strategic position. Observers have suggested that Israel might take unilateral action against Iran even without American permission, for example military strikes or cyber attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Israel has previously attacked nuclear sites in Syria, Iraq and Iran, while Israeli operatives are also believed to have assassinated multiple Iranian nuclear scientists over the past decade including top researcher Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November.
“American policy should be American policy and Israeli policy should stay Israeli policy,” Gantz said. “The only thing I would suggest my American colleagues is not to practice what I usually call ‘strategic blinking,'” he added. “The threat of the Iranians is real.”
“Israel will never allow Iran to become nuclear capable or anywhere close to it,” Gantz told Fox News Radio. “If the world stops them before, it’s very much good. But if not, we must stand independently. And we must defend ourselves by ourselves.”
The Biden administration and Tehran are stuck in a stalemate over who will take the first step to reviving the JCPOA. Iran wants Biden to lift all Trump-era sanctions imposed after the U.S. exit from the deal in 2018 before it scales back its nuclear activity in line with the JCPOA. But the White House wants Iranian nuclear compliance before any sanctions relief.
The U.S. has proposed fresh talks with JCPOA signatories, but Iran has rebuffed the offer demanding sanctions relief before any negotiations.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Thursday that Iran “should not be waiting for anything, because we have stated very clearly that what we are prepared to do is to engage in constructive dialogue. That is the offer that has been on the table.”
“If Iran resumes its full compliance with the JCPOA, the United States will be prepared to do the same,” Price said.
This file photo shows an Israeli F-35 fighter jet over the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert, near the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva, on June 27, 2019. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images