Benny Gantz has warned that Tel Aviv continues to reserve the right to resort to military action against Iran over the country’s alleged nuclear ambitions.
“The IDF and Israel’s defence establishment are holding onto the option of taking action against Iran’s nuclear project if that is what has to be done,” Gantz said, speaking to Alghad, an Egyptian television channel, in an interview that aired Sunday.
“I hope that it doesn’t come to that,” the defence minister and Blue and White Party leader added, while suggesting that Tehran’s “support of terrorism, of Hezbollah, and of the Houthis demands action.”
“Israel has a clear objective: that Iran not be nuclear. It's not just an Israeli interest. It's first and foremost a global and regional interest,” Gantz suggested. “A nuclear Iran would lead to a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. The regime is fundamentalist and radical and ultimately wants to obtain nuclear capability not just to have it, but primarily for the leverage it would give them in nuclear deterrence,” he added.
The defence minister did not comment on Israel’s own stockpile of nuclear weapons, currently the only one in the region and believed to number dozens of warhead delivery systems including an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching almost anywhere in the world.
Iran denies that it has any desire to build a nuclear bomb, and has stressed repeatedly that its conventional missile stockpiles are more than enough to deter potential aggression. In the 1990s, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa (a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognised authority) against nuclear weapons, stating that the creation, deployment, or use of nuclear weapons was unacceptable to the nation’s Islamic faith.
In the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, Khamenei’s predecessor Rouhollah Khomeini issued a similar fatwa banning the development and use of all weapons of mass destruction. The religious ruling was made despite repeated Iraqi chemical attacks against Iran at the time which killed over 20,000 Iranian soldiers and medics, and thousands of civilians. Iran never used its chemical weapons stocks in retaliation to Iraqi attacks, and eliminated the class of weapons from its inventories in the 1990s before signing on to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Iran and Israel have faced decades of tensions since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which saw the toppling of a US-backed dictator and his replacement by a Shia Islamic political system. Iran does not recognise Israel’s right to exist, and its leaders have repeatedly suggested that the “Zionist regime” will one day face a Soviet-style collapse. The country has also assisted anti-Israeli political forces and militias in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere, with lawmakers recently proposing the creation of a formal anti-Israeli military alliance.
Israeli intelligence services have repeatedly carried out covert actions against Iran’s nuclear programme, killing multiple nuclear scientists, and sabotaging the country’s nuclear facilities. In November 2020, Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated about 200 km outside Tehran, with Iran almost immediately blaming Israel for the murder and threatening to retaliate. Tel Aviv has refrained from commenting on the matter.
Tel Aviv suspects Iranian involvement in a makeshift bomb attack outside the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, India on Friday, with a team of Mossad investigators reportedly sent to the country to take part in the investigation. No one was killed or injured in the attack.