TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he’s prepared to risk tension with the U.S. if that is what it takes to neutralize Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The embattled premier, whose political future is in question just 11 days out from a bruising war, said Israel’s biggest threat remains the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. He said Israel is prepared to prevent that from happening even if the United States and other nations succeed in reinstating the 2015 Iran nuclear accord.
“If we have to choose, I hope it doesn’t happen, between friction with our great friend the United States and eliminating the existential threat — eliminating the existential threat” wins, Netanyahu said.
He spoke at a ceremony for David Barnea, the new chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Iran has accused Israel of being behind a number of attacks killing Iranian nuclear scientists or sabotaging Iranian nuclear facilities.
More talks on the subject were expected this week when Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz travels to Washington. He’s slated to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan about Iran and stability in the region.
Netanyahu’s comments come amid ongoing talks in Vienna between nations seeking to update and reinstate the 2015 agreement, in line with President Joe Biden’s campaign promise. His predecessor, Republican President Donald Trump, pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018 and imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The deal places curbs on Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.
Netanyahu staunchly opposes the agreement, arguing that it does not have enough safeguards to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Israel also says the deal must address Iran’s support for militant groups, its military actions across the region and its development of long-range missiles capable of striking Israel.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only and says the nuclear deal should be reinstated without any changes.
Netanyahu spoke about Iran on Tuesday as his rivals in the Knesset huddled to try to form a coalition government that would end Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.
The developments come amid a fragile truce between Israel and Hamas’ militant rulers in the Gaza Strip after a brutal 11-day war that killed more than 250 people, most of them Palestinian.
Hamas, which opposes Israel’s right to exist and is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and other Western countries, receives millions of dollars of military aid from Iran each year.