Bennett to present Biden with plan to halt a nuclear Iran

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett intends to present US President Joe Biden with a plan to halt a nuclear Iran when the two hold their first meeting together in the White House later this week.

“We will present an orderly plan that we have formulated in the past two months to curb the Iranians, both in the nuclear sphere and vis-à-vis regional aggression,” Bennett told the government at its weekly meeting on Sunday.

The Biden administration is at odds with Israel over the best way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Biden has sought a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that the Trump administration exited in 2018. Israel always opposed the deal, which it claimed only emboldened the Islamic Republic.

Talks on a possible revival of the deal, however, have ground to a halt. In the interim, Iran has abandoned the limits set by the deal on uranium enrichment, causing the Biden administration itself to speculate about the dangers of a protracted negotiation process for the deal’s revival.

According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Iran has produced uranium metal that is enriched up to 20% fissile purity and increased the production capacity of uranium enriched to 60%.

Both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon, as uranium metal can be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb and has no civilian use.

Then- Vice President Joe Biden gestures during a speech in Tel Aviv university on March 11, 2010. (credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
“Iran is advancing rapidly with uranium enrichment” and “has already significantly shortened the time that it would take for them to accumulate the material required for a single nuclear bomb,” Bennett told the government.

“We inherited a not-so-simple situation. Iran is behaving in a bullying and aggressive manner throughout the region,” explained Bennett, who was sworn into office in May.

“I will tell President Biden that it is time to stop the Iranians – to stop this thing – not to give them a lifeline in the form of re-entering into an expired nuclear deal. It is no longer relevant, even by the standards of those who once thought that it was.”

Bennett spoke of Israel’s growing stature in the region and of its ability to build a coalition to block Islamic and Iranian extremism.

“We are now in a very rapid process, together with my friend, the Foreign Minister [Yair Lapid], and the other ministers in the government, of restoring relations with the entire region so that together we can build a coalition to block Islamic and Iranian extremism. There are many other issues that we can cooperate on,” Bennett said.

At the Foreign Ministry later in the day, Lapid also spoke of the widening circle of moderate nations that have built ties with Israel or improved them, including the four nations that were part of the Abraham Accords. This included the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. He also spoke of improved ties in the immediate region and the eastern Mediterranean.

Lapid spoke as he hosted his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, Nikos Dendias and Nikos Christodoulides, for the first trilateral meeting between the three countries since he and Bennett took office.

Among the joint trilateral projects the trio is advancing is an undersea pipeline that would carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean’s rapidly developing gas fields to Europe. Turkey is opposed to the project.

“This trilateral alliance is a strategic asset for us all,” Lapid said.

The UAE had joined a trilateral meeting held in April and plans are underway for another quadrilateral meeting.

“Planning is underway for a second meeting in this format with the UAE, and very possibly other countries of the wider region,” Christodoulides said.

Both he and Dendias attacked Turkey during the press conference, particularly in light of its gestures toward the Taliban since the fundamentalist militant group forcibly seized power in Afghanistan last week. Turkey seized hold of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974, and the two countries do not have diplomatic ties.

“I also had the opportunity to inform colleagues on Turkey’s illegal actions and provocations in Cyprus, which regrettably form part of a wider destabilizing pattern of behavior by Turkey in the region, underpinned by an expansionist agenda. This behavior concerns all of us,” Christodoulides said.

“Turkey has to acknowledge that it stands to benefit from not being a spoiler in the region, abandon its expansionist agenda, and respect international law,” he added.

Dendias said that “religious fanaticism” and “terrorism” in Iran were part of “an arc of fundamentalism, spanning from North Africa, to the eastern Mediterranean and going as far as Central Asia and Afghanistan.”

He made sure to point out that “the Taliban consider that Turkey is an ally,” as is Hamas.

There are countries in this region, he warned, which are reviving old empires and understandings that have literally been “buried in the sand.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz later met with the Cypriot Foreign Minister. The two discussed regional threats.

At the government meeting, Bennett spoke of the growing ties between Israel and its immediate neighbors Egypt and Jordan. Israel has peace deals with both: With the former since 1979 and the latter since 1994.

There are countries in this region, he warned, that are reviving old empires and understandings that had literally been “buried in the sand.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met later in the day with the Cypriot foreign minister, and the two also discussed regional threats.

At the government meeting Bennett spoke of the growing ties between Israel and its immediate neighbors Egypt and Jordan, with whom it has had peace deals since 1979 and 1994 respectively.

Upon Bennett’s return from Washington, he is slated to travel to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It will mark the first public trip by an Israeli prime minister to Cairo since 2010, and is seen as a potential sign of improved ties between the two countries.

“The goal is to strengthen and expand relations between the countries in the region,” Bennett said.

Similarly, he added, ties with Jordan are also improving “after years of being in a crisis mode, by the way, for no apparent reason.” He blamed former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the “unnecessary crisis.”

Reuters contributed to this report.