Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Iran may “shortly” agree on a new nuclear accord with major powers but warned it will be weaker than the original 2015 agreement.
Bennett was speaking on Sunday ahead of a cabinet meeting following indications the outline of a deal was taking shape at talks in Vienna.
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“We may see an agreement shortly,” Bennett said, adding the deal in the making “is shorter and weaker than the previous one”.
The 2015 Iran nuclear agreement offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, but the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump and reimposed heavy economic sanctions.
Talks on reviving the initial pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have been held in the Austrian capital since late November involving the UK, China, France, Germany and Russia directly and the United States indirectly.
Most of Iran’s parliamentarians on Sunday said the government should not agree to a new accord unless provisions are put in place to ensure the US and European nations do not again pull out and reimpose crippling sanctions.
No immediate response to the Israeli leader’s comments came from Iranian officials. Iran long has insisted its nuclear programme is peaceful.
Tehran has blamed Israel for attacks in recent years on the country’s main nuclear facilities in Natanz, and the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, its top nuclear scientist.
Preparing ‘in all dimensions’
Bennett has been a staunch opponent of the JCPOA and repeatedly warned any revenue Tehran sees as a result of new sanctions relief will be used to buy weapons that could harm Israelis.
“This money will eventually go to terrorism,” he reiterated on Sunday.
Bennett said Israel will not be bound by a restored agreement and will retain the freedom to act against Iran.
“We are organising and preparing for the day after, in all dimensions, so that we can maintain the security of the citizens of Israel on our own,” he said.
Signs of a deal coming together emerged at the weekend with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying there “was the chance to reach an agreement that will allow sanctions to be lifted”, although he warned talks could still collapse during what he called “the moment of truth“.
Israel sees Iran as its archenemy, and accuses it of backing armed groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza.
‘Actions must be taken’
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said his country was “ready” for a deal “if the other side makes the needed political decision”.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, meanwhile, is due in Doha, Qatar, this week on a rare foreign visit to discuss growing efforts to revive the nuclear accord.
Since the Vienna talks resumed, senior Israeli officials have said the Jewish state could support negotiations on a more robust pact with Iran, one that effectively makes it impossible for the Islamic Republic to develop a nuclear weapon.
There is broad opposition across the Israeli political establishment to the terms of the JCPOA.
Israeli defence chief Benny Gantz said an agreement with Iran would “not mark the end of the road”, insisting inspections of its nuclear infrastructure must continue in the event of a deal.
“All steps must be taken to ensure that Iran never becomes a nuclear threshold state,” Gantz said.
“Actions must be taken to ensure that Iran does not continue to enrich [uranium] in additional facilities and oversight must be increased. Iranian aggression is rising – not just in the nuclear programme but also in its regional attacks.”