Israel accuses Iran of ‘nuclear blackmail’ and asks the West to devise a ‘credible’ military threat

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Yair Lapid told the Telegraph Israel and its Western allies must devise a credible military threat to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons arsenal
Yair Lapid told the Telegraph Israel and its Western allies must devise a credible military threat to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons arsenal

Israel has called on the West to develop a “credible” military threat to deal with Iran if there is no breakthrough in negotiations over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Israel has accused Iran of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” during talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear activities, with negotiators reporting that little discernible progress has been made.

Recent intelligence reports have suggested that Iran is just weeks away from producing weapons grade uranium, a development that would greatly enhance its quest for nuclear weapons, prompting negotiators to warn that diplomatic efforts are running out of time on rescuing the deal.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid warns that Israel and its Western allies must devise a credible military threat to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons arsenal.

“If the Iranians think the world does not seriously intend to stop them, they will race towards the bomb,” said Mr Lapid. “We must make it clear that the world will not allow this to happen. There needs to be a credible military threat on the table.”

Mr Lapid was speaking amidst rising tensions with Iran over the nuclear issue, with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan calling for world powers to adopt a “common strategy” for dealing with Iran following talks this week in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Iran has responded by saying it will hold Washington directly responsible in the event of any attack taking place on its nuclear facilities.

Mr Lapid, who recently met with Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in London, insisted that Israel’s preferred outcome was a negotiated settlement on Iran’s nuclear programme.

'A plan for Iran’s continued intransigence'

“Like the United Kingdom, Israel hopes for a permanent and comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear threat,” said Mr Lapid.

During his talks in London, during which Israel agreed to strengthen bilateral ties with Britain on issues such as defence cooperation and trade, Mr Lapid set out a comprehensive plan for dealing with Tehran, including tighter sanctions, tighter supervision of Iran’s nuclear activities, arguing that the West needed “a plan for Iran’s continued intransigence and advancing of its nuclear program. There also needs to be a credible military threat on the table.”

The 2015 deal negotiated by former US President Barack Obama collapsed after Donald Trump withdrew American support and reimposed economic sanctions in 2018. Iran responded by resuming work on its enrichment programme.

With tensions escalating over Iran’s decision to resume its enrichment activities, Israel is calling for the Vienna talks to be terminated, arguing that the West should instead apply maximum pressure on Tehran to end its nuclear activities.

“Iran must be diplomatically and politically isolated,” said Mr Lapid, who previously worked as a journalist and a television host before entering politics. Having previously served as Israel’s finance minister, he was appointed foreign minister and alternative prime minister when Mr Naftali formed his new administration earlier this year.

Regarded as a moderate in Israeli politics, Mr Lapid said he has enjoyed a close personal friendship with Mr Johnson for many years. “Our friendship is symbolic of the close friendship between our two nations,” he said.

Since becoming foreign minister he has worked hard to develop ties between London and Jerusalem, which resulted in the signing of the UK-Israel Strategic Partnership with Ms Truss during his recent visit to London, a move that will enhance intelligence-sharing and military cooperation between the two countries. “We marked a major moment in the relationship between the United Kingdom and Israel when we formally agreed to formally elevate our relationship to a strategic partnership,” he explained.

“Iran’s nuclear program was at the top of our agenda of global threats. Foreign Secretary Truss’s statement that all options are on the table, and that these negotiations in Vienna represent Iran’s last chance to return to a nuclear agreement, are incredibly important. They demonstrate the resolve Israel and the United Kingdom share to make sure Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Apart from cooperating on defence issues of mutual interest, Mr Lapid envisages a much broader bilateral relationship with Britain, one that supports Mr Johnson’s post-Brexit vision for Global Britain.

Mr Lapid and Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss sign a memorandum of understanding at Britain's Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office in London on November 29
Mr Lapid and Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss sign a memorandum of understanding at Britain's Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office in London on November 29

“This vision will be reflected in our economic relationship as we open negotiations on a new trade agreement in the first quarter of 2022,” he said. “It will be reflected in an expansion of our research and development ties, our cultural ties. And, most importantly, the people of our countries are going to start seeing tangible results: more well-paid jobs, new businesses, and more advanced technologies.”

Mr Lapid, who has appeared in Israeli movies and lists boxing among his hobbies, believes the improved ties with the UK will enable British businesses to take advantage of the rapidly changing commercial landscape in the Middle East following the signing of the ground-breaking Abraham Accords last year.

“We’ve truly seen a new reality emerge in the Middle East over the past year,” he said. “The multifaceted ties brought about by the normalisation agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco have led to greater partnership, prosperity, and stability throughout the region.

“And it’s not just with our new partners. Israel is also deepening our ties with our historic partners, Egypt and Jordan, as shown by my visit to Cairo earlier this month.This group of moderate states is working together for the benefit of their peoples and the region as a whole.”

But while the Abraham Accords have heralded a new era of cooperation in the region between countries that were previously enemies, Mr Lapid warns that Iran still poses a major threat to progress being made in the Middle East.

“While we in Israel focus on building bridges between peoples, Iran is busy trying to build a bridge of terrorism from Iran, through Iraq and Syria to Israel’s border,” he explained.

'A new alliance of moderates'

“Iran and its proxies are constantly working to undermine regional stability in this time of significant global challenges. And it’s important to remember that a nuclear Iran will not only lead to a nuclear arms race in this moment when tremendous strides are being made to expand the circle of peace in the region, and it will not only mean nuclear weapons in the hands of a fundamentalist, brutal regime: it will also embolden Iran’s terrorist proxies to further expand their terrorist activity across the region and the entire world, including into Europe.

“Iran must see that in contrast to their and their proxies’ violence and extremism, there is a new alliance of moderates in the region which promotes life, and which is working together for the benefit of all the regions’ peoples.”

Tension in the region increased yesterday after a CNN investigation claimed that Saudi Arabia is now manufacturing its own ballistic missiles with the help of China. Iran is less likely to want to abandon its nuclear programme if rivals Saudi Arabia were also developing weapons.

In his interview Mr Lapid was also keen to express his gratitude to the Johnson government for its recent decision to designate political wing of the radical Palestinian Hamas movement as a terrorist organisation.

“I would like to thank the British government for this decision. The proscription of the entirety of Hamas means that Hamas operatives in the United Kingdom will not be able to use artificial cover of being “political activists” from the “political wing” of Hamas.

“It will make it harder for Hamas to recruit and to raise money to support its terrorist activity. This is particularly important at a time when we see terrorist groups here in the Middle East both in their words and in their actions, taking advantage of our democracy and of our respect for human rights and freedom of speech to advance their murderous goals.”

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