Israel mulls military action if Iran pursues nuclear weapons

Published 26.10.2017 22:35

Israel is willing to resort to military action to ensure Iran never acquires nuclear weapons, the intelligence minister said Thursday in Japan where he is seeking backing for U.S. President Donald Trump's tougher line on Tehran.

"If international efforts led these days by U.S. President Trump don't help stop Iran attaining nuclear capabilities, Israel will act militarily by itself," Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said in an interview in Tokyo.

Israel, Katz said, wants the nuclear agreement to be revised to remove an expiration date, and to impose tighter conditions to stop Tehran from developing new centrifuges used to make weapons-grade nuclear material. He also urged sanctions to stop Iran from establishing Syria as a military base to launch attacks on Israel and action to put a halt to Tehran's development of ballistic missiles.

Israel has taken unilateral action in the past without the consent of its major ally, the United States, including airstrikes on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and in Iraq in 1981. An Israeli threat of military strikes could, nonetheless, galvanize support in the United States for toughening up the nuclear agreement but it could also backfire by encouraging hardliners in Iran and widening a rift between Washington and European allies.

President Donald Trump said on Oct. 13 he would not certify Iran is complying with an international agreement on its nuclear program, and threatened that he might ultimately terminate the accord. Trump's action opened a 60-day window for Congress to act to reimpose sanctions on Iran's nuclear program that were lifted under the agreement, but there has been no move to do so in the House or Senate.

So far, none of the other signatories to the deal - Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, Iran and the European Union - has cited serious concerns, leaving the United States isolated.

The U.S. and Israel are concerned over Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier urged the U.S. and its allies in the region to establish a buffer zone on both the border between Syria and Israel and the border between Syria and Jordan, targeting Tehran's proxy, the Lebanon-based Shiite militant group, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday backed new sanctions on Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah, part of an effort to take a tough line against Tehran without immediately moving to undermine an international nuclear agreement. Three Hezbollah-related measures passed by voice vote, without opposition.

The first of the Hezbollah-related measures passed on Wednesday would impose new sanctions on any entities found to support the group, such as by providing weapons to Hezbollah. The second imposes sanctions on Iran and Hezbollah for using civilians as human shields. The third was a resolution urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The United States named Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. Earlier this month, Washington offered multimillion-dollar rewards for two of its officials as the Trump administration developed its strategy for countering Iran's growing regional influence.

Israel has been targeting Iran-backed Shiite militia group Hezbollah and regime forces in Syria with concerns that Hezbollah might target Israel at any given moment with new weapons supplied by Iran and Russia. Over the last months, tensions between Lebanon and Israel have increased since the latter reckons that the Tehran-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah was gaining strength as Iran increased its influence in Syria and Lebanon. Israel unveiled the latest missile defense system called "David's Sling," designed to shoot down medium-range missiles possessed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

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