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Liberman: Confrontation with Iran ‘only a matter of time, and not a lot of time’

  • October 21, 2021

In the latest Israeli threat of military action against Iran, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday that a conflict was inevitable and was the only way to stop the Islamic Republic from reaching nuclear capability.

Speaking with the Walla news site, Liberman said that “a confrontation with Iran is only a matter of time, and not a lot of time.”

Amid efforts to resume talks between Tehran and world powers about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal, Liberman said that “no diplomatic process or agreement will stop Iran’s nuclear program.”

According to the Yisrael Beytenu party chief, Iran is a bigger problem for Israel than for the rest of the international community, “because they have stated that their policy is the destruction of Israel, and they mean it.”

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared before the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to justify the government’s requested budget increase for the military, warning that the additional funds are necessary in order to prepare for a potential strike on Iran’s nuclear program.

This summer, the government announced that it had agreed on a NIS 58 billion ($17.5 billion) defense budget for 2022, an increase from the previous defense budget, which was set in 2019 and has remained in force as the governments since then failed to pass a new one.

“Israel is challenged militarily on many fronts, and therefore there is great importance to approving a defense budget, following years without a fixed budget, which has — to a certain extent — damaged our ability to act, our ability to have efficient communication, and to build up our forces in a more effective way,” Gantz said.

In his speech, the defense minister said the most significant threat facing Israel, and the one for which the Israel Defense Forces most needs to allocate resources, is Iran and its nuclear program.

“We see that Iran is advancing toward the level of enrichment that would allow it, when it wished, to become a threshold state — and we are making every effort to prevent that,” Gantz said.

Gantz’s appearance came a day after television reports that the government planned to allocate NIS 5 billion ($1.5 billion) for such an attack on Iran, with NIS 2 billion ($620 million) coming from the 2022 defense budget and the rest coming from the current budget.

According to an unsourced report on Channel 12 news on Monday night, the NIS 5 billion would go toward purchasing various types of manned aircraft, intelligence-gathering drones and unique armaments needed for such an attack, which would have to target heavily fortified underground sites.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi publicly declared in January that the IDF was preparing fresh “operational plans” for a potent military strike, and in August that Iran’s nuclear progress has prompted the IDF “to speed up its operational plans,” with a fresh budget to do so.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

United States President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is still seeking a joint US-Iranian return to compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, while acknowledging that it will not wait indefinitely for Tehran to return to the negotiation table.

If it fails to do so, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid this month that “every option” will be on the table — an apparent escalation in rhetoric after Biden told Bennett in August that Washington was willing to consider “other options” if the nuclear deal cannot be revived.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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