09:00 GMT25 February 2021
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    The Biden transition team has hinted at the need to return the United States to the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration pulled out of in 2018. Tehran has cautiously welcomed the idea, but only if the US drops its anti-Iran sanctions, and does not attempt to tie negotiations to the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile programme.

    The Israeli military has been tasked with formulating “options” to counter Tehran’s alleged threat to Tel Aviv, including the possibility of military action against Iran, Defence Minister Benny Gantz has told Israel Hayom.

    “Iran has made progress in recent years in terms of research and development, both on enriched material and offensive capabilities, and has a regime that really wants nuclear weapons,” Gantz said.

    “It is clear that Israel needs to have a military option on the table. It requires resources and investment, and I am working to make that happen,” the defence minister, who also serves as leader of Israel’s Blue and White party, added.

    Gantz did not offer any specifics about what his “work” entails, or how close the plan is to completion.

    Israel Hayom says the Israel Defence Force’s Strategy and Third Circle Directorate, also known as the ‘Iran directorate’, has been asked to develop three options by which Israel could undermine Iran’s alleged nuclear efforts. The 'military option’ is said to require billions of shekels in additional defence spending.

    As evidence of Iran’s alleged aggressive intentions, Israel points to Tehran’s recent nuclear activity, including upping uranium enrichment from 4 or 5 percent to 20 percent, and the country’s plans to produce uranium metal for reactor fuel, with both actions in breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.

    Enriched uranium of 20 percent is well below the 80 to 90 percent required for the material to be considered weapons grade, and Tehran has said repeatedly that it has no plans to build a nuclear bomb. The Islamic Republic has also chided Israel and the US for trying to lecture Tehran on nuclear proliferation despite their own, confirmed stocks of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

    On Wednesday, senior Likud politician Tzachi Hanegbi, described by the Times of Israel as an “ally” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warned that Tel Aviv may carry out preemptive strikes against Iran if the Biden administration rejoins the nuclear deal.

    “If the United States government rejoins the nuclear deal – and that seems to be the stated policy as of now – the practical result will be that Israel will again be alone against Iran, which by the end of the deal will have received a green light from the world, including the United States, to continue with its nuclear weapons programme,” Hanegbi said, his remarks cited by the outlet.

    “This of course we will not allow. We’ve already twice done what needed to be done, in 1981 against the Iraqi nuclear programme and in 2007 against the Syrian nuclear programme,” the lawmaker warned, referring to the Israeli surprise airstrike against the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad, and the attack on a Syrian missile storage depot which Tel Aviv claims was a secret nuclear facility.

    US Return to Nuclear Deal Under Biden?

    Iranian officials have expressed cautious optimism over the prospects of the Biden administration rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal, so long as Washington removes its sanctions first, and doesn’t attempt to renegotiate the agreement, including Tehran’s ballistic missiles.

    On Tuesday, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a fresh attack against Iran on Twitter, suggesting there was a “better chance” of “finding a unicorn” than for the US to normalise ties with the “Iranian regime” of “radical ideologues… chanting ‘Death to America’ since 1979.” He went on to accuse Iran’s government of threatening America and Israel “nearly every day”, and praised Donald Trump’s sanctions policy.

    Washington pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, reinstating crushing sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Iran gave the deal’s European signatories a year to find financial mechanisms through which US sanctions could be avoided or diluted, after which it began to withdraw from some of its commitments.

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