Eyeing Iran, Bennett says military undergoing largest rearmament in years

Prime minister tells Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Tehran remains country’s most significant foe, Israel fighting Iranian forces constantly

By JUDAH ARI GROSS10 January 2022, 4:29 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset on Monday that the country’s military and other security services were undergoing their largest rearming in years.

Bennett’s comments came as the IDF was working intensively to prepare for a potential military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, amid growing concerns that ongoing talks between the world powers and Tehran in Vienna about curbing the latter’s nuclear program may result in an agreement that Israel deems unacceptable, or in no agreement whatsoever.

“We are investing in security rearmament of the IDF and the entire defense establishment. I would say this was rearmament that we haven’t seen for years. This rearmament is important to our survival, and I am very glad about it and am determined to see it through quickly,” Bennett said, speaking to the parliament’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Bennett’s government increased the 2022 defense budget to nearly NIS 60 billion ($19.2 billion), a large chunk of which was to be earmarked for planning on military engagement with Iran, including billions to upgrade or procure vehicles, ordnance and more.

In a criticism of his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett claimed the military had been in a “tailspin” for years, which “severely damaged Israeli national security, in every dimension.” Bennett was defense minister under Netanyahu in 2019 and 2020.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

Bennett reiterated that Israel will not be party to a nuclear deal with Iran and will do whatever it deems necessary to ensure the country’s security.

“In terms of the Vienna talks, the nuclear talks — we are indeed concerned. It is important for me to say and to clarify here in a way that can’t be misunderstood: Israel is not part of the agreements, Israel is not bound by what is written in the agreements if they are signed, and Israel will continue to ensure its full freedom of operation in any place and at any time, with no limitations,” Bennett said.

The rest of the premier’s remarks were delivered behind closed doors.

This was Bennett’s first appearance as prime minister before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a parliamentary body meant to oversee the military, foreign policy and related issues.

In his remarks at the start of the meeting, Bennett told the committee that Iran was “at the top of our list of challenges.”

“Iran is the head of the octopus that sends enemies and proxies and its tentacles at us, on all of our borders. We are dealing — day and light — with Iran and its proxies. We are making a change, moving to a mindset of constant attack and not just constant defense,” he said.

Israel has been engaged in a long-simmering shadow war with Iran for years, mostly through regular airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria and en route to Syria, as well as occasional attacks — both physical ones and cyber attacks — on Iranian nuclear facilities, according to foreign reports.

Israel has opposed a return to the 2015 deal, instead pushing for negotiators to revamp the accord with stricter restraints on Iran and to address malign activity in the region beyond the nuclear portfolio. Officials have threatened that Israel could take military action to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, even without the support of other nations.

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