Archive for December 2021

Biden orders to prepare ‘additional measures’ in case Iran nuclear diplomacy fails

December 10, 2021


White House press secretary says US president asked his team to ‘turn to other options’ if no progress made during talks to revive 2015 accord

By AGENCIES9 December 2021, 11:41 pm  

President Joe Biden talks on the phone  from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, December 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden talks on the phone from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, December 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Joe Biden has ordered his staff to prepare “additional measures” if troubled talks over Iran’s nuclear program, which resumed Thursday in Vienna, fail to reach a resolution.

“The president has asked his team to be prepared in the event that diplomacy fails and we must turn to other options,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“We will have no choice but to take additional measures,” she added.

The latest round of talks began last week and were paused on December 3 with Western participants accusing Iran of going back on progress made earlier this year.

International diplomats restarted the talks Thursday for what the chair of the negotiations called the “difficult endeavor” of reviving the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

The heads of delegations from the parties to the 2015 deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia — were present at the talks in Vienna.The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) revival talks, in Vienna on November 29, 2021. (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

Talks in Vienna on Thursday ended an hour after resuming following a few days’ pause, with tensions high after Tehran made demands last week that European countries strongly criticized.

The United States has participated indirectly in the ongoing talks because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump. US President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

Last week’s talks were the first in over five months, a gap caused by a new hard-line government assuming power in Tehran. European diplomats last week urged Tehran to come back with “realistic proposals” after the Iranian delegation made numerous demands that other parties to the accord deemed unacceptable.

The accord sealed in Vienna in 2015, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was meant to rein in Iran’s nuclear program in return for loosened economic sanctions.

Following the US decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions against Iran, Tehran has ramped up its nuclear program again by enriching uranium beyond the thresholds allowed in the agreement. Iran has also restricted monitors from the UN atomic watchdog from accessing its nuclear facilities, raising concerns about what the country is doing out of view.

Meanwhile, Israeli and American military leaders are set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario, a senior US official said.

Mossad is preparing to strike at the heart of Iran’s nuclear programme

December 9, 2021

Oh how I hope and pray this is true…

A very interesting article.

Mossad is preparing to strike at the heart of Iran’s nuclear programme

https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/mossad-is-prepraring-to-strike-at-the-heart-of-iran-s-nuclear-programme

Iran is about to be hit by a fresh wave of Mossad operations, sources in Jerusalem have told me. This is the result of a change in Israeli policy: from now on, when Tehran’s proxy militias make trouble in the region, the Jewish state will retaliate on Iranian soil. ‘No more attacking the tentacles of the octopus,’ one source said. ‘Now we will go for the head.’

For the foreseeable future, I can confirm, this will not take the form of air raids, missile strikes or drone attacks. Instead, Israel’s feared secret service has been told to carry out pinpoint operations inside the Islamic Republic, inflicting surgical but devastating punishment.

Mossad’s impressive capabilities in Iran were demonstrated by the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last November, the full details of which I exposed for the first time in February . A one-ton robot machine gun was smuggled into the country piece-by-piece and used to remotely kill the nuclear scientist as he drove to his holiday home. The spy agency’s capabilities were also demonstrated by the audacious theft of Iran’s entire archive of nuclear secrets from a warehouse outside Tehran in 2018.

As if more evidence was needed, this week I revealed the secret details of three operations – two at a nuclear plant in Natanz and one at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) factory in Karaj – that were planned by 1,000 Mossad personnel [!!!] and executed over 18 months of sabotage.

The first hit, in July 2020, was perhaps the most audacious. The previous year, spies posing as construction suppliers had sold the Iranian authorities materials that were used to build the Iran Centre for Advanced Centrifuges (ICAC) at Natanz, a highly secure nuclear facility in central Iran. Twelve months later, the explosives that Mossad had hidden in the supplies were detonated, destroying the warehouse and the centrifuges it contained.

But there remained the underground hall at Natanz, one of the most secure sites in the Islamic Republic. Named A1000, it housed up to 5,000 centrifuges and was protected from air assault by 40 feet of concrete and iron. This time, Israeli spies managed to persuade the scientists working in this inner sanctum to work for them. Thinking that they were helping a group of international dissidents, the scientists collected explosives that were smuggled into the facility by drone and in a catering lorry, and planted them in the subterranean A1000 hall. The ensuing explosion, which came in April, demolished 90 per cent of the centrifuges there, putting the complex out of action for nine months.

Finally, there was a missile attack on the TESA factory in Karaj in June. The payload was dispatched by a quadcopter drone, weighing the same as a motorcycle, which had been smuggled into the country piece by piece by Israeli spies and their Iranian agents.

Why does all this matter? This week, negotiations between the Iranian regime and Western powers have resumed in Vienna. There is widespread concern that Tehran is playing for time while continuing its progress towards a bomb.

In recent weeks, Israel has shared intelligence with its western allies suggesting that Iran is preparing the technical groundwork to enrich uranium to 90 per cent purity, the level required to produce a nuclear weapon, while paying lip service to a deal. This would be a gamechanger in the balance of power in the region and the world – and an intolerable existential threat to Israel.

When it comes to finding a diplomatic solution to this crisis, Jerusalem would be forgiven for lacking confidence in the international community. In his desperation to undo the Trump legacy and reheat Obamaism, President Biden – the leader of the free world – has dispatched a negotiating team that seems to abide by the principle of ‘give in first, beg for lollypops later.’

Britain, by contrast, has held a stronger line. The last couple of months have been marked by much warmth between London and Jerusalem; both Naftali Bennett and foreign minister Yair Lapid have enjoyed friendly visits to London, and Britain has passed new legislation to ban Hamas’ political wing as well as its military one. When signing a wide-ranging bilateral trade, defence and technology deal with Mr Lapid last week, foreign secretary Liz Truss vowed: ‘We will work night and day to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power.’

But as solid as British support may be, it may not be enough to prevent the United States from signing an execrable ‘less for less’ deal, which would allow Iran to receive sanctions relief while retaining the progress it has made towards a bomb. And partners such as Russia and China cannot be relied upon to keep their spanners out of the works.

The stakes could not be higher. Sometimes it seems like public opinion is somnambulant on the matter. We are facing the spectre of a fanatical, Islamist regime – the world’s foremost sponsor of terror, both in the Middle East and across the world – going nuclear. Would it launch a strike at Israel, which it has promised to wipe off the map? What would be the consequences of that? Would Israel and the Gulf States launch a pre-emptive strike? What would America do? Where would all this leave Britain, and our interests overseas? Even the Iranian use of nuclear weapons tactically in Syria or elsewhere is not unimaginable. And that would be an entirely different crisis. Hand-in-hand, the world is sleep-walking into a moment when Jerusalem decides that the risk has become unbearable, air strikes are launched, and full-scale war breaks out.

But in the meantime, the Mossad is coming. That was the coded message that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gave to Iran last week. ‘They make us bleed without paying a price for it,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘We have to get to the dispatchers.’

Retaliating directly on Iranian soil enables Mossad to flex its muscles and send a message, creating more fear and confusion in Tehran. This will prepare the way for further sabotage operations on its nuclear facilities. It is vital that this succeeds. The sobering truth is that if international negotiations fail, and Israel’s spies fail, then war is all but certain. For those who aspire to live in peace, rarely has Israel – and the world – needed the Mossad more.

UAE, Saudis seek détente with Tehran, fed up with US-Israel slow motion on nuclear-armed Iran

December 9, 2021

United Arab Emirates and Saudi leaders took significant steps this week towards rapprochement with Tehran, backing away overtly for the first time from the Iran policies pursued by US and Israel. Nonetheless, little notice was attracted by the Emirati National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed’s visit to Tehran on Monday, Dec. 6 and his meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Shamkhani and President Ibrahim Raisi. Likewise, the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MbS)’s tour of Gulf capitals kicked off at Muscat, Oman, was practically unreported.

However, according to DEBKAfile’s Iran and Gulf sources, those trips were the first formal steps of a major policy shift in the region that reflects disenchantment with the US and Israel. The two leading Gulf rulers, MbS and the UAE’s Sheikh Muhammed bin Zayed (MbZ), feel they cannot rely on either the US or Israel for protection against Iran’s machinations or for aborting its race for a nuclear weapon. They appear therefore to have decided to abandon their anti-Iran policy and opted instead for rapprochement.
Two events stirred this radical change of orientation, according to the experienced Arab affairs analyst Abdel Bari Atwan: One was America’s failed pullout from Afghanistan and the other was the demonstration of Israel’s military shortcomings in the Guardian of the Walls operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, earlier this year. Hamas was able to keep the rockets coming over Israel, notwithstanding the massive deployment of the highly prized Iron Dome anti-rocket system. To Gulf leaders, this shortcoming translated into Israel’s inability to withstand an attack by Iran’s ballistic missiles. They also took note of what they perceived as Israel’s failure to bring the Biden administration on board for realistic measures to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.

Tehran, for its part, is parading its newfound advantage: NSA Shamkhani and his Emirati visitor were photographed against the background of a large wall map showing a vast, dominant Iran alongside barely discernible Arab Gulf states. (see photo) Iran is clearly not even waiting to acquire a nuclear weapon, or the outcome of its nuclear talks with the world powers in Vienna, before proclaiming itself the region’s dominant power.

Following this groundbreaking meeting: Shamkhani said: “Warm and friendly relations between the countries remain a priority…  that shouldn’t be affected by other nations” – a dig at the UAE’s ties with the US and Israel, whereas President Raisi commented: “There should be no barrier in relations of the two Muslim nations of Iran and the Emirates.” Sheikh Tahnoon responded by inviting the Iranian president for a state visit to Abu Dhabi.

The Saudi ruler followed a different path to Iran. In Muscat, he asked the Omani ruler Sultan Haitham Bin Tareq to act as mediator between Riyadh and Tehran in the hope of a deal that would also end the never-ending civil war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is deeply embroiled. The Omanis have long experience as a power broker. They were active in the backchannel talks between the Obama administration and Iran that resulted in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Israel, US to discuss military drills to prep for worst-case Iran scenario, US says

December 9, 2021


As Gantz heads to Washington and negotiations falter in Vienna, American official tells Reuters military chiefs will talk exercises for possible attack on Iran nuclear facilities

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIESToday, 5:35 am  

Israeli F-15s accompany a US B-1B Lancer over Israel as part of a presence patrol above the US Central Command’s area of responsibility, October 30, 2021. (US Air Force/Senior Airman Jerreht Harris)

Israeli F-15s accompany a US B-1B Lancer over Israel as part of a presence patrol above the US Central Command’s area of responsibility, October 30, 2021. (US Air Force/Senior Airman Jerreht Harris)

Israeli and American military leaders are set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario, a senior US official said on Wednesday.

The comment came as the faltering nuclear talks were set to resume on Thursday in Vienna, and as Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to Washington for meetings with top US military leaders.

US and European representatives at the nuclear talks voiced pessimism and frustration over Iran’s demands last week.

The possible military drills would prepare for a scenario with Iran in which negotiations fail and US and Israeli leaders request a military strike, the US official told the Reuters news agency.

Ahead of takeoff for the US, Gantz said, “Iran is a threat to world peace and seeks to become an existential threat to Israel.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“At the meetings, we will discuss possible courses of action to ensure that it stops its attempt to reach the nuclear arena and expand its activities in the region,” he said.

Gantz said he will meet with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The US official did not give details about the potential preparations.

“We’re in this pickle because Iran’s nuclear program is advancing to a point beyond which it has any conventional rationale,” the official told Reuters.

In October, US military leaders briefed White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on military options for halting Iran’s nuclear program, the report said.IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Wednesday report said the Israel Defense Forces will hold a large-scale exercise over the Mediterranean in the spring with dozens of aircraft simulating a strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

In January, army chief Aviv Kohavi announced that he was instructing the military to draw up fresh plans for a strike against Iran’s nuclear program. The IDF received billions of shekels of additional funding to prepare for such an attack as part of the recently passed national budget.

Last month, Kohavi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the army “is accelerating operational planning and preparedness to deal with Iran and the military nuclear threat.”

Though Israeli officials have stressed that Israel could carry out a strike without coordinating with the United States, some analysts have cast doubts on the IDF’s ability to do so, as several Iranian facilities are buried deep enough underground that it would require particularly powerful munitions, which currently only the US possesses.

Reports in recent weeks have indicated that the army is unprepared for dealing with Iran and months or more away from an actionable plan.Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Talks set to resume in Vienna

The European Union, which is coordinating the indirect talks between Washington and Tehran, confirmed they would resume Thursday in Vienna after a break of a few days.

A US State Department spokesman said Wednesday that the US will swiftly determine whether Tehran is serious about the negotiations.

“We should know in pretty short order if the Iranians are going… to negotiate in good faith,” said the spokesman, Ned Price, warning that “the runway is getting very, very short for negotiations.”

The talks began in April but were suspended in June due to the election of a new Iranian president, only to resume last week.

After five days of talks, the United States said Iran did not appear to be serious about making progress. American and European representatives both accused the Iranians of having backtracked on previous agreements since the spring.

European diplomats urged Tehran to come back with “realistic proposals” after Iran’s delegation last week made numerous demands that were deemed unacceptable by the other parties to the accord — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Even Russia, which has stronger relations with Iran, questioned Iran’s commitment to the process.

Washington has warned it will not let Tehran block negotiations for much longer while developing its nuclear program at the same time, but has not yet laid out an ultimatum.

The next few days look set to see a last-chance diplomatic push, although it appears ever more unlikely that the talks will lead to any breakthrough.

“It will not always be in our interest to seek a return to the JCPOA,” Price said, using the formal title of the landmark 2015 accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The deal aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear program to ensure it could not develop an atomic weapon, in exchange for sanctions relief for Tehran.

It began unraveling in 2018 when then US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to start exceeding limits on its nuclear program the following year.

Iran has ramped up its nuclear program again in recent months by enriching uranium beyond the thresholds allowed in the agreement. Tehran has also restricted monitors from the UN atomic watchdog from accessing its nuclear facilities, raising concerns about what the country is doing behind closed doors.

US President Joe Biden has indicated that Washington is willing to return to the deal.

Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Israel to urge US to act militarily against Iran amid stalled nuke talks — reports

December 6, 2021

Israeli TV says Gantz, Mossad chief will also press for tougher sanctions against Tehran during their meetings in Washington this week

By TOI STAFF and APToday, 12:49 am  

A B-52 heavy bomber, flanked by fighter jets, flies to the Middle East in a tacit threat to Iran on November 21, 2020. (US Air Force/Facebook)

A B-52 heavy bomber, flanked by fighter jets, flies to the Middle East in a tacit threat to Iran on November 21, 2020. (US Air Force/Facebook)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Mossad chief David Barnea will push during their meetings this week in Washington with senior Biden administration officials for the United States to carry out a military strike on Iranian targets, Israel’s three main TV news broadcasts reported Sunday night.

According to the reports, which did not cite sources, Gantz and Barnea will urge their American interlocutors to develop a “Plan B” vis-a-vis Iran, seeing the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna as an opportunity to press the US to take a more aggressive stance toward the Islamic Republic.

Along with calling for tougher sanctions, the Israelis will reportedly ask the US to take military action against Iran.

Channel 12 news said the target of a US potential attack would be not a nuclear facility in Iran, but rather a site like an Iranian base in Yemen. The aim of such a strike would be to convince the Iranians to soften their positions at the negotiating table.

The network also said Barnea is expected to say that Israel must continue taking action against Iran’s nuclear program, noting alleged Israeli operations against Iranian targets. Recent reports have said America has warned Israel that these strikes are counterproductive, with Iran building back improved facilities after each setback.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

The reports came after the long-delayed resumption of nuclear talks were suspended after five days — with Iran digging in and its negotiating partners openly voicing frustration and pessimism.

After the talks in Vienna were halted last week, the United States said Iran did not appear to be serious. American and European officials accused Iran of backtracking on previous promises. Even Russia, which has stronger relations with Iran, questioned Iran’s commitment to the process. Israel, an outside observer with a stake in the outcome of the talks, has ramped up its rhetoric.This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

“I call on every country negotiating with Iran in Vienna to take a strong line and make it clear to Iran that they cannot enrich uranium and negotiate at the same time,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting. “Iran must begin to pay a price for its violations.”

Perhaps the only encouraging outcome of last week’s talks was an agreement to continue talking, though an American official told reporters on Friday that he could not say when the negotiations would resume.

The negotiations seek to revive the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. That agreement, spearheaded by US president Barack Obama, granted Iran relief from crippling sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

But three years later, president Donald Trump, with strong encouragement from then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from the deal, causing it to unravel. Since then, Iran has stepped up its nuclear activities — amassing a stockpile of highly enriched uranium that goes well beyond the bounds of the accord.

Iran last week took a hard stance, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated. In the midst of the negotiations, the UN’s nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had begun enriching uranium up to 20% purity at its underground facility at Fordo – a site where enrichment is not permitted under the deal.

Despite Iran’s claims that its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, the continued advances in its atomic program have further raised the stakes.

Last week’s talks in Vienna came after a hiatus of more than five months and were the first in which Iran’s new hard-line government participated. The US, no longer a party to the agreement, was not in the room and negotiated remotely through mediators.Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021 (Joe Klamar/AFP)

A senior US State Department official said over the weekend that negotiators had expected Iran to “show seriousness” at the talks. He said that even Russia and China, important trading outlets for Iran that have traditionally taken a softer line, were concerned about the prospects for a deal.

When Tehran finally returned to the table on Monday, he said, it was “with proposals that walked back any of the compromises that Iran had floated during the six rounds of talks.” He accused Iran of seeking to “pocket all of the compromises that others — the US in particular — had made and then ask for more.”

“Every day that goes by is a day where we come closer to the conclusion that they don’t have in mind a return” to the deal, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters on the US assessment.

European negotiators also expressed frustration. In a joint statement, senior diplomats from Germany, Britain and France said Iran has “fast-forwarded its nuclear program” and “backtracked on diplomatic progress.”

“Unclear how these new gaps can be closed in a realistic time frame on the basis of Iranian drafts,” they said.

Mikhail Ulyanov, a senior Russian diplomat in Vienna, said that Iran had offered a “radical revision” of previous understandings.

“Technically, amendments are always possible,” he said. “However, it is desirable that such amendments … do not turn into a roadblock to progress.”

On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry issued a nine-page document that appeared to slightly step back from its tough positions.

“Other parties only need to show political determination and express readiness to take necessary practical steps,” the document read. “Then, ways will be opened for the conclusion of a deal and settlement of differences.”

But the document gave few specifics on what Iran might have in mind.

That is unlikely to satisfy Israel, which has returned to its role as a possible spoiler.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and it strongly opposed the 2015 deal.

It says it wants an improved deal that places tighter restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and addresses Iran’s long-range missile program and its support for hostile proxies along Israel’s borders.In this photo released Jan. 8, 2021, commanders of Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps walk past missiles during a visit to a new military base in an undisclosed location. (Sepahnews via AP)

Israel also says that the negotiations must be accompanied by a “credible” military threat to ensure that Iran does not delay indefinitely.

Bennett said Israel was using the time between rounds to persuade the Americans to “use a different toolkit” against Iran’s nuclear program, without elaborating.President Isaac Herzog (right) receives the credentials of new US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides in Jerusalem on December 5, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, delivered an uncharacteristically blunt message Sunday as he welcomed the new American ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides.

“If the international community does not take a vigorous stance on this issue, Israel will do so. Israel will protect itself,” Herzog said.

Despite Israel’s support for Trump’s withdrawal in 2018, prominent voices in the country are now saying in retrospect that the move was a blunder.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Sunday that pulling out “was a delusional decision that allowed the Iranians to move forward quickly in the direction of becoming a nuclear threshold state.”

Barak, who reportedly favored a military strike when he served as Netanyahu’s defense minister early last decade, said Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s opposition leader, had failed to put together with the US a “Plan B in the form of a surgical military operation.”

In a Channel 12 TV interview on Sunday evening, Barak noted, however, that the original 2015 agreement was “a lousy deal.”Former prime minister Ehud Barak, during a media interview in Tel Aviv, September 30, 2019. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Over the past decade, Iran has greatly complicated any military operation by scattering its nuclear sites and hiding some deep underground. Israeli officials insist military action is still feasible.

Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow and Iran expert at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the Israeli threats should be taken seriously, especially in light of questions over America’s willingness to use force in the region.

“I think the United States doesn’t understand our red lines,” he said. “They think we’re bluffing, but we’re not.”Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

Over the weekend, Iran said it had tested a surface-to-air missile defense system near its Natanz nuclear facility. Late Saturday, people leaving nearby saw a light in the sky and heard a loud explosion.

“Any threat from the enemies will be met with a decisive and firm response,” state TV quoted Lt. Cmdr. Ali Moazeni as saying.

Israel will act against Iran alone if necessary, Isaac Herzog tells Amb. Nides – The Jerusalem Post

December 5, 2021

Mossad chief leaves for Washington • Tehran must pay for its nuclear violations, Bennett says

 President Isaac Herzog meets with incoming US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 5 in Jerusalem.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

President Isaac Herzog meets with incoming US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 5 in Jerusalem.

srael will act against Iran on its own should the international community fail to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions through diplomatic means, President Isaac Herzog warned the United States on Sunday.“If the international community does not take a vigorous stance on this issue, Israel will do so. Israel will protect itself,” Herzog told US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides during a small ceremony in which he accepted the American diplomat’s credentials.The two men met just two days after the seventh round of indirect talks between the US and Tehran to revive the 2015 Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) appeared to end in failure.Iran and the European Union have spoken of renewed talks next week, but the US has been uncertain these negotiations will take place in the near future.“We are closely following the international community’s recent negotiations with Iran,” Herzog said. IRANIAN PRESIDENT Ebrahim  Raisi visits the Bushehr nuclear  power plant, October 8 (credit: Official Presidential Website/Handout via Reuters)IRANIAN PRESIDENT Ebrahim Raisi visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant, October 8 (credit: Official Presidential Website/Handout via Reuters)Israel has opposed the deal and warned the US to halt the talks. Herzog clarified that Israel would “welcome a comprehensive, diplomatic solution which permanently solves the Iranian nuclear threat.”He stressed, however, “In the case of a failure to achieve such a solution, Israel is keeping all options on the table.”Nides told Herzog the US was committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.“We will continue to collaborate closely to advance peace and stability, and to counter the threat Iran poses to Israel and the region,” Nides said.“As President [Joe] Biden has made it very, very, clear, the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon,” he added.Israel and the US are at odds over the Iran talks, with Israel opposing a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and the Biden administration supporting it.Mossad chief David Barnea is slated to leave late Sunday for Washington, followed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday, where they will discuss Iran with US officials.Last week Barnea echoed a statement similar to Herzog’s when he pledged that the Mossad would not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons.Israel wants to utilize the pause in the talks to influence US policy on the matter.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on world powers to pressure Tehran to halt its enrichment of uranium prior to the resumption of another round of indirect talks in Vienna.“I call on every country negotiating with Iran in Vienna to take a strong line and make it clear to Iran that they cannot enrich uranium and negotiate at the same time,” Bennett told his weekly cabinet.“Our goal is to utilize the window of opportunity that has opened between the rounds in order to tell our friends in the US: This is precisely the time to use a different toolkit against Iran’s galloping forward in the enrichment sphere,” he said.“There is a time for everything. A time to keep silent and a time to speak up. Now is the time to speak up,” Bennett added.The Trump administration exited the Iran deal in 2018, and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted as a result of the deal.Biden has sought to revive the deal, which had also been signed by Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia and China.The European Union brokered six rounds of indirect talks between the US and Iran prior to the election of a new Iranian government in June led by President Ebrahim Raisi.European and US officials have said that during the seventh round of talks last week, the first with the new Iranian government, representatives of the Islamic Republic put new demands on the table and walked back the progress that had been made earlier in the year.Iran halted its compliance with the deal in 2019 and has inched toward the production of weapons-grade uranium.In his remarks to the weekly cabinet, Bennett accused Iran of taking an “aggressive and bullying approach” to “blackmail” the US into removing existing sanctions so it can fund its global terrorist activity through its pursuit of uranium enrichment.“We are holding an intensive dialogue on this matter with the Americans, the British, the French, Russia and others,” Bennett said.He pointed to a report released last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran “had begun to enrich up to 20% purity in advanced centrifuges at Fordow.” He added, “This is a very serious step,” and that “Iran must start paying for its violations.”He warned the US and the world power that a “bad deal with the Iranians will have implications for our national security.”Former prime minister Ehud Barak struck the opposite tone on Sunday in an opinion piece he published in the Hebrew website Ynet, in which he said that Israel should have supported the 2015 deal from the start and used the time to build a military “Plan B” that would have allowed it to attack Iran.A military plan would take years to prepare and would require massive US assistance, he said, as he cast doubt on whether Israel at present has such a plan.Barak urged Israeli leaders to resist empty threats, particularly with Iran just months away from becoming a nuclear threshold state.“This new reality calls for a sober evaluation and practical decisions, not empty rhetoric that may impress some in Israel but will carry no weight in Iran or among the world powers eager on reaching a deal with the Islamic Republic,” Barak wrote in his Ynet opinion piece.In the aftermath of the talks in Vienna that ended on Friday, both the US and Iran traded barbs over the collapse of the talks.The Biden administration wants Iran to commit to abide by the terms of the 2015 deal, which allowed it to enrich uranium only to 3.7%, instead of its current enrichment level that has reached 60%.Iran wants the US to lift its sanction prior to such an agreement, a move the US has refused.Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday charged that the failure to lift sanctions had doomed last week’s indirect talks in Vienna.“It is crystal clear that the US reluctance to fully drop the sanctions is the main challenge for the progress of negotiations,” a senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official told reporters on Sunday.“We believe that anytime the US administration abandons the maximum-pressure campaign, and Europeans demonstrate necessary political determination, the way will be opened for the swift attainment of an agreement,” the official said.“They are not willing in the first place to give such concessions which are clearly asserted by the #JCPOA,” the official said, adding that they are also “not willing to “re-negotiate” the matters that were propounded in last drafts.The Iranian Foreign Ministry official took note of Republican congressional threats that the US would once again renege on the deal, should their party gain the White House in 2024.Actions of the “Zionist regime” have also harmed the talks, the official said, refusing to refer to Israel by name.“We cautioned,” the official said, “that some external actors that are not pleased with the progress of the negotiations should not be allowed to include the progress of the talks by propagating lies and distorted reports.“It is quite normal that the Zionist regime is not pleased with the status quo,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry official said. Its media has “fabricated unfounded rumors and tried to negatively influence the atmosphere of the talks,” the Iranian official said.The official explained that in Vienna, the Iranian delegation had presented two draft proposals; one that dealt with the issue of sanctions and the second with its nuclear program. These drafts were based on the JCPOA and past rounds of negotiations, the official said.A senior US official told reporters on Saturday, “We’ve made clear that we’re prepared to lift all of the sanctions that are in consistence with the deal, but if Iran wants us to go beyond that, then of course, we’re talking about a different deal, and Iran would have to go beyond what it did at the time of the JCPOA. So that’s after that question.”The official said the US was “preparing for a world in which there is no return to the JCPOA,” but added, “It is not our preference.”Iran’s uranium enrichment, the US official said, has “troubling implications for whether the JCPOA can be revived. Our view is it still can be today; that’s President Biden’s view. That’s why we were in Vienna trying to work to get – to make sure that we could return to mutual compliance, but that can’t last forever.”Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, suggested that in order to pressure Iran, the Biden administration should “work with the UK, France and Germany to reimpose UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran at the Security Council.”The administration, he said, should also “press censure resolutions at the International Atomic Energy Agency, fully enforce economic sanctions and threaten military force if Iran moves closer to the threshold of nuclear weapons.”Goldberg added, however, that he feared that instead, the US would allow Iran to hold onto the nuclear gains it made in 2021, while providing it with sanctions relief.Former US ambassador Dennis Ross, who served as a special adviser to the Obama administration and a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also weighed in on the matter.Ross questioned how effective “additional pressure” might be unless the US has support from other signatories to the deal.“The key would be whether China goes along and no longer buys Iranian oil. That would truly build pressure.”In addition, he said, “The question will remain whether the administration will develop military options and rehearse them in a way that the Iranians see and therefore have reason to fear.”

PM: Iran can’t both negotiate and enrich uranium, must pay price for violating deal

December 5, 2021


Bennett says hiatus in talks should be used to convince US to deploy ‘a different basket of tools’

By TOI STAFFToday, 1:18 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2021. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2021. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that Iran must be penalized for violating the nuclear deal, and that Tehran must be told it cannot hold negotiations for a potential new agreement while it continues to enrich uranium.

“Iran must start paying the price for its violations,” Bennett said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, as he called on those engaged in talks with Tehran to “stick to a firm line and make it clear to Iran that it is impossible to simultaneously enrich uranium and negotiate.”

Bennett also said that the Iranians were negotiating “skillfully.”

“The goal of the Iranian regime is the removal of sanctions, and so they came to [the nuclear talks in] Vienna with dozens of advisers and experts in the field of sanctions, because that is their goal,” he said. “They want the ability to do what they are doing now — in the fields of terrorism and nukes — but with the backing of tens of billions of dollars.”

Bennett added, “During the talks in Vienna we got an example of the nuclear blackmail I was talking about when it was reported that [Iran] had started enriching uranium by 20 percent in advanced centrifuges in the underground facility in Fordo. This is a very serious step.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

He was referring to his conversation last week with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which, the Prime Minister’s Office said, the premier told Blinken that Iran was utilizing “nuclear blackmail” as a tactic and that the United States should therefore immediately stop negotiations.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference during an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting, in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. (Jonathan Nackstrand/Pool Photo via AP)

The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that Iran had begun the process of enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo plant in what would be a further violation of the multilateral nuclear accord that world powers are rushing to salvage.

Bennett also said that the window between rounds of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers should be used to get the United States to utilize “a different basket of tools” against Tehran.

Nuclear negotiations in Vienna came to a halt on Friday with Western countries saying Iran had come to the talks with unrealistic proposals.

The landmark 2015 nuclear accord — initially agreed upon by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the US and Iran — began unraveling in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions, while Iran began to publicly breach the deal. Israel has vowed that it will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons.

Senior Israeli officials have criticized the approach of the United States to nuclear talks with Iran, but see the current pause in discussions as a window of opportunity to influence the negotiations, the Haaretz daily reported Sunday.

Mossad chief David Barnea was due to travel Sunday to Washington to discuss Iran with senior Biden administration officials.Mossad chief David Barnea at a ceremony marking his taking the helm of the agency, on June 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Haaretz reported that Barnea will attempt to convince the US leadership not to seek an interim deal that would not see Iran return to full compliance with the agreement, and instead try to enlist international support for tough sanctions on Tehran.

The spy chief will stress that if an agreement with Iran is ultimately reached, Israel will not be bound by it and will continue with efforts to thwart the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work, according to the Ynet news site. Barnea also reportedly plans to present the Americans with new information on Iran’s program.

Additionally, Defense Minister Benny Gantz will visit the US later in the week for talks with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin as well as with Blinken, which are also expected to focus on Iran.

Bennett’s comments at the cabinet meeting came a day after a blast in the vicinity of an Iranian nuclear site. The explosion on Saturday was heard in the skies over the Iranian city of Badroud, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Natanz nuclear plant.Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting – IRIB, via AP)

Several media outlets said the explosion was not an attack, but rather was caused by a missile as part of a test of air defenses’ response to a potential attack. Some of the reports said a drone was shot down.

Deputy Defense Minister Alon Schuster on Sunday refrained from directly answering questions about a blast in the vicinity of an Iranian nuclear site a day earlier, only asserting he “can’t say” what hit Natanz.

“We hope the whole world will be mobilized for the mission. For that, we’ve allocated a significant sum to increase our readiness. What hit Natanz? I can’t say,” Schuster said.

Israel has reportedly approved a budget of some NIS 5 billion ($1.5 billion) to be used to prepare the military for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It includes funds for various types of aircraft, intelligence-gathering drones and unique armaments needed for such an attack, which would have to target heavily fortified underground sites.

Explosion heard near Iranian nuclear site Natanz

December 5, 2021

Here’s hoping it was a big one, and due to the efforts of Mossad…

5 December 2021

Conflicting reports emerge about nature of the blast, which occurred as Tehran is negotiating to restore 2015 nuclear deal

https://www.foxnews.com/world/explosion-heard-near-iranian-nuclear-site-natanz

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. 

TEHRAN, Iran — An explosion shook the area near Iran’s main nuclear-enrichment plant late on Saturday, prompting conflicting explanations from Iranian officials as Tehran engages in talks with world powers over its nuclear program.

The blast was heard in the area of Badroud, around 12 miles from the Natanz nuclear site, according to IRNA, Iran’s state news agency. The incident involved a sound and then a flash of light in the sky, reported Fars News Agency, an organization close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Natanz has been the site of attacks and sabotage in the past, but Iran didn’t immediately place blame on any foreign government and sent differing signals about what happened after reports of the explosion circulated in local media.

An Iranian army spokesman played down the explosion on state television, saying a missile system had been test fired and there was no reason to be concerned. A news agency close to Iran’s security forces, Tasnim, cited sources saying that a hostile drone had activated defense systems on Saturday night.

Natanz Governor Ramezanali Ferdowsi said the explosion occurred at 8:15 p.m. local time and caused no casualties or financial damage, according to Iran’s official student news agency ISNA.

Iran has carried out periodic tests of its defense capabilities in central parts of Iran, including around nuclear sites in Isfahan, Arak, Fordo and Natanz.

The U.S. National Security Council declined to comment on the reports.

The reports come a day after the latest round of talks in Vienna between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal stalled. The negotiations are intended to agree on the steps Iran and the U.S. will take to return into compliance with the accord, which lifted most international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for strict but temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has called on Europe and the U.S. to stop the negotiations and in recent weeks, his government has stepped up warnings that it could act militarily against Iran’s nuclear work. Israel, which views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, opposed the 2015 deal. Iran has accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear facilities, which Israel hasn’t accepted responsibility for.

Mr. Bennett spoke by phone on Thursday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and urged the U.S. to immediately end its talks with Iran over its “nuclear blackmail,” according to the prime minister’s office.

Natanz has been targeted before. In April, Iran said saboteurs caused a blackout at the country’s main nuclear-enrichment plant there, which diplomats have said destroyed several thousand centrifuges, machines for enriching uranium. Iran accused Israel of attempting to derail informal talks with the U.S. on reviving the nuclear deal.

Last year, an explosion at Natanz caused damage to a building identified by experts and diplomats as an advanced centrifuge assembly plant. The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency said that it had been informed about the blast by Iranian authorities who said the cause was unknown.

US official: Iran backtracked on all compromises; we’re preparing for no deal

December 5, 2021


Official warns more sanctions likely if Iran kills negotiations, says China and Russia were also taken aback; Mossad chief heads to Washington for talks as nuclear crisis deepens

By AFP and JACOB MAGID4 December 2021, 9:52 pmUpdated at 1:27 am  

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021 (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021 (Joe Klamar/AFP)

A US official said Saturday that Iran had backed away from all its previous compromises on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and that the US would not allow Iran to “slow walk” the international negotiations while at the same time ramping up its atomic activities.

The warning came a day after Washington hit out at Iran, saying talks with world powers on a return to the 2015 nuclear accord had stalled because Tehran “does not seem to be serious.”

“We can’t accept a situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” said a senior US administration official — echoing a recent warning by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Speaking to reporters after returning from the Austrian capital, the official said Washington was not yet planning to walk away from the indirect talks that it resumed with Tehran last week in Vienna, but hoped Iran would return “with a serious attitude.”

In this week’s talks, said the official, Iran backtracked on all the compromises it had made in months of previous talks on reviving the accord, while retaining the compromises made by others and seeking more.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Iran came to Vienna “with proposals that walked back anything – any of the compromises Iran had floated here in the six rounds of talks, pocket all of the compromises that others, and the US in particular, had made, and then asked for more”, the senior official was quoted saying by Reuters.

He said it was not clear when the talks would resume, and that Washington was “preparing for a world in which there is no return to the JCPOA,” a reference to the deal’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Russia and China “also were quite taken aback by the degree to which Iran had walked back its own compromises and then doubled down on the requests that it (made),” he said. “They do share a sense of disappointment, to put it diplomatically.”

He said more sanctions would likely come if Washington concludes that Iran had killed the negotiations.

In Vienna “Iran did not show the posture of a country that is seriously thinking of a rapid return” to the accord aimed at putting curbs on its nuclear program, said the official.The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) revival talks, in Vienna on November 29, 2021. (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

He spoke as the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency prepared to head to Washington in the coming days for talks with top administration officials.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that David Barnea will seek to convince the US leadership not to seek an interim deal with Iran that would not see Tehran return to full compliance with the deal.

According to Channel 12, Barnea plans to present the Americans with new information on Iran’s program.

The seventh round of nuclear talks ended Friday after five days in Vienna, with delegations returning to their national capitals and expected to go back to Austria next week.

Iran’s lead negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said the talks were paused “since the opposite side needed to consult with their capitals to provide a documented and reasonable response to these [Iranian] proposals.” He said the negotiations would resume in the middle of next week.

Blinken said Friday that the negotiations were halted because “Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance.”

And European diplomats expressed “disappointment and concern” after Iran submitted two draft proposals that appeared to undo months of dialogue.

Iran had paused the talks in June following the election of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a live interview in Tehran, Iran, broadcast on state-run TV, on Monday, October 18, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The official argued Saturday that the US had shown patience in allowing a five-month break in the process, but that during that time the Iranians were “continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways.”

When Tehran finally returned to the table on Monday, he said, it was “with proposals that walked back any of the compromises that Iran had floated during the six rounds of talks.”

He accused Iran of seeking to “pocket all of the compromises that others — the US in particular — had made and then ask for more.”

The official said he believed countries that are close to Iran were also vexed by Tehran’s positions at the recent talks.

“I think we’re seeing very clearly that countries around the world are now more and more aware of the fact that Iran is taking a position which is inconsistent with their stated goals of a return to the JCPOA and their accelerated nuclear program is Exhibit A in that,” he said.The flag of Iran waves in front of the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

The official said it was not yet known when the European Union coordinator would reconvene the parties, but that the date “matters far less to us than whether Iran will come back with a serious attitude, prepared to negotiate seriously. ”

At this stage, he said the US will pursue its efforts at diplomacy — but reasserted it has “other tools” at its disposal should negotiations fail.

He added: “The time that the JCPOA has for still remaining a viable deal is inversely proportional to the speed with which Iran advances its nuclear program. If they choose to accelerate the nuclear program as they seem to have done of late, then there’d be less time left for the JCPOA to be resurrected.”

The landmark 2015 nuclear accord — initially agreed between Britain, China, France, Germany Iran, Russia and the US — began unraveling in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to start exceeding limits on its nuclear program the following year.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to re-enter the deal, and the US has been participating in this week’s talks indirectly.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Asked by The Times of Israel whether a rift with Israel was growing amid Jerusalem’s fierce opposition to the ongoing nuclear talks, the senior State Department official was dismissive.

“We may have some differences. That’s natural…We understand that we’re situated differently and sometimes have different ways of approaching it, but our goal is the same… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” the official said.

“I think this comes at an interesting time where we’re seeing… soul searching, or interesting reflections in Israel by former senior officials about the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and what it has meant,” the official continued, referencing a recent interview the former head of the Iran research division of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate gave to The Times of Israel in which he called Israel’s Iran policy of recent years “a failure.”

“What it has meant is it has opened the door for an unconstrained, uncontrolled Iranian nuclear program, which obviously was not the case while the US and Iran were both in compliance with the deal,” the official added.

Asked whether the US feels like it needs to calm the Israelis so they don’t take matters in their own hands against Iran, the senior State Department official said, “We don’t view our job as trying to calm Israel down…Israel as a sovereign country will make its own decisions.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Mossad chief heads to US as Iran nuclear talks stall

December 5, 2021


David Barnea to reportedly press top Biden administration officials not to seek an interim deal, is also expected to present Americans with new intel on Iranian nuke program

By TOI STAFFToday, 6:03 amUpdated at 7:55 am  

Mossad chief David Barnea at a ceremony marking his taking the helm of the agency, on June 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Mossad chief David Barnea at a ceremony marking his taking the helm of the agency, on June 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Mossad chief David Barnea was due to travel Sunday to Washington to discuss Iran with senior Biden administration officials.

The trip comes days after the halt of renewed negotiations to restore the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, with the United States saying the Iranians did not appear serious about reaching an agreement.

The Haaretz daily reported that Barnea will seek to convince the US leadership not to seek an interim deal that would not see Iran return to full compliance with the agreement, and instead seek to enlist international support for tough sanctions on Tehran.

The newspaper said the meetings have been described as “extremely significant.”

The spy chief will stress that if an agreement with Iran is ultimately reached, Israel will not be bound by it and will continue with efforts to thwart the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work, according to the Ynet news site.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Barnea, who will be acting as an emissary for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, also reportedly plans to present the Americans with new information on Iran’s program.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will visit the US later in the week for talks also expected to focus on Iran.

Barnea’s trip follows his vow Thursday that Iran will never acquire nuclear arms. He also said a bad deal between Tehran and world powers would be “intolerable” for Israel.The flag of Iran waves in front of the the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, AustriaI, May 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, FILE)

Senior Israeli officials have criticized the approach of the United States to nuclear talks with Iran, but see the current pause in discussions as a window of opportunity to influence the negotiations, the Haaretz daily reported Sunday.

An unnamed source told the newspaper that the US was surprised by how extreme Iran’s demands were in the restarted talks last week, with Tehran insisting on a list of conditions for returning to a nuclear agreement as well as the lifting of all sanctions and a pledge that they will not be reimposed in the near future.

Sources further said that removing the threat of sanctions would leave the international community without one of the most significant tools it has for keeping Iran to any potential deal.

However, a separate political source told Haaretz that they increasingly believed that the talks would not reach an immediate agreement, but that instead there would be an easing of current commitments.

“In the coming days we will see if the world powers go in the direction of a crisis with Iran or in the direction of flexibility,” he said.

On Saturday, a US official said Iran had backed away from all its previous compromises on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact and that Iran would not be allowed to “slow walk” the international negotiations while simultaneously ramping up its atomic activities, as well as dismissing a rift with Israel on the matter of the discussions.

“We can’t accept a situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” said the senior US administration official — echoing a recent warning by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Speaking to reporters after returning from Vienna, the official said Washington was not yet planning to walk away from the indirect talks that it resumed with Tehran last week in the Austrian capital, but hoped Iran would return “with a serious attitude.”

In this week’s talks, said the official, Iran backtracked on all the compromises it had made in months of previous talks on reviving the accord, while retaining the compromises made by others and seeking more.

Iran came to Vienna “with proposals that walked back anything – any of the compromises Iran had floated here in the six rounds of talks, pocket all of the compromises that others, and the US in particular, had made, and then asked for more,” the senior official was quoted as saying by Reuters.

He said it was not clear when the talks would resume, and that Washington was “preparing for a world in which there is no return to the JCPOA,” a reference to the deal’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He said more sanctions would likely come if Washington concludes that Iran had killed the negotiations.

The seventh round of nuclear talks ended Friday after five days in Vienna, with delegations returning to their national capitals and expected to go back to Austria this week.Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021 (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Iran’s lead negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, said the talks were paused “since the opposite side needed to consult with their capitals to provide a documented and reasonable response to these [Iranian] proposals.”

Blinken said Friday that the negotiations were halted because “Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance.”

European diplomats expressed “disappointment and concern” after Iran submitted two draft proposals that appeared to undo months of dialogue.

Iran had paused the talks in June following the election of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

The official argued Saturday that the US had shown patience in allowing a five-month break in the process, but that during that time the Iranians were “continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways.”

When Tehran finally returned to the table on Monday, he said, it was “with proposals that walked back any of the compromises that Iran had floated during the six rounds of talks.”

He accused Iran of seeking to “pocket all of the compromises that others — the US in particular — had made and then ask for more.”The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Iran nuclear talks, is pictured in Vienna, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

The official said he believed countries that are close to Iran were also vexed by Tehran’s positions at the recent talks.

At this stage, he said the US will pursue its efforts at diplomacy — but reasserted it has “other tools” at its disposal should negotiations fail.

The landmark 2015 nuclear accord — initially agreed between Britain, China, France, Germany Iran, Russia and the US — began unraveling in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to start exceeding limits on its nuclear program the following year.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to re-enter the deal, and the US has been participating in this week’s talks indirectly.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Agencies contributed to this report.