The Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has told the United Nations nuclear watchdog that his country would prefer a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme, but could take independent action, reiterating a longstanding veiled threat to launch a preemptive war.
The warning to visiting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi followed calls by Western powers on the IAEA Board of Governors to rebuke Tehran for failing to answer questions on uranium traces at undeclared sites.
That dispute has further clouded so-far fruitless attempts by negotiators to resurrect a 2015 Iran nuclear deal that former United States President Donald Trump quit in 2018.
Since Washington’s walkout, Iran – which says its nuclear designs are peaceful – has stepped up uranium enrichment, a process that could produce fuel for bombs.
Bennett “stressed (to Grossi) the importance of the IAEA Board of Governors delivering a clear and unequivocal message to Iran in its upcoming decision”, a statement from Bennett’s office said.
“While it prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, Israel reserves the right to self-defence and action against Iran to stop its nuclear programme if the international community fails to do so within the relevant time-frame,” it added without elaborating.
There was no immediate comment from Grossi’s office.
On Thursday, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, told Norway’s NRK that Israel “can only attack Iran in its dreams”.
“And if they do have such a dream, they will never wake up from it,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Bagheri Kani, who is on an official visit to Norway, as saying.
Iran blames Israel for a long-running assassination campaign targeting military figures and scientists involved in Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Israel has declined to comment on such accusations.
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday that his country would have an “immediate response” to any move against it by the US and European countries at the IAEA, Iranian state media reported.
“Any political action by the United States and the three European countries in the agency (IAEA) will undoubtedly be met with a proportionate, effective and immediate response from Iran,” Amirabdollahian said.
The foreign minister added that the IAEA head’s visit to Israel was in conflict with the agency’s impartiality, the media reported.
Israel’s advanced military, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons, this week attempted to signal its strategic reach by going public with an air force strike exercise over the Mediterranean Sea and the rare deployment of a naval submarine to the Red Sea.
But some security analysts question whether Israel has the conventional clout to deliver lasting damage to Tehran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities – or to contend with the multi-front fighting with Iranian forces and their rebel allies that could follow.