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‘Israel will act if Iran enriches uranium above 60%’

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi did not specify how Jerusalem would respond.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi attends the Herzliya Conference, May 23, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi attends the Herzliya Conference, May 23, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Israel will have no choice but to act if Iran enriches uranium above 60% purity, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi warned on Monday in an address at a counterterrorism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya.

“If Iran moves to enrich uranium above 60% and we identify it—and there is no possibility that we won’t, that the world would not recognize it—the result is that Israel would act out of necessity,” said Hanegbi. “There would be no choice.”

Such a development would indicate that “Iran is clearly pursuing a [nuclear] bomb, as a policy, and we cannot risk our fate,” added Hanegbi, without specifying how Jerusalem would respond.

Earlier this year, IAEA inspectors detected “particles” of uranium enriched to 83.7% at Iran’s underground nuclear site in Fordow. 

At the time, reports quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Jerusalem did not consider the development as a trigger for military action “because Tehran didn’t amass any of the material at that level.”

Iran has been enriching uranium to up to 60% purity since April 2021.

Hanegbi’s comments come a week after an IAEA report showed that Tehran has continued to amass uranium enriched to near weapons-grade levels.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog report pegged the Islamic Republic’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% at 121.6 kilograms (268 pounds), compared to 114 kilograms (250 pounds) in May and 87.5 kilograms (192 pounds) in February.

Uranium enriched to 60% purity is a short technical step away from 90%, considered weapons-grade.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed an emerging U.S.-Iran deal for the release of five American prisoners in exchange for Washington unfreezing billions of dollars in Iranian assets.

While details of the emerging agreement remain unknown, U.S. and Iranian officials expect it to be completed by the end of September.

In June, The New York Times reported the broad outlines of the indirect negotiations, some of which reportedly took place in the Gulf state of Oman.

The overall agreement would see Tehran promise to limit uranium enrichment to its current production level of 60%. Iran would also promise to put a stop to attacks against American contractors in Syria and Iraq by its terrorist proxies.

Additionally, Iran would promise to increase its cooperation with international nuclear inspectors and halt ballistic missile sales to Russia.

In exchange, the United States would agree not to ratchet up economic sanctions, to stop confiscating Iranian oil, and not to seek punitive resolutions against Iran at the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Palestinian talks

Hanegbi also revealed at the conference that he has been talking with Palestinian Authority officials since taking up his post.

“I have been conducting a dialogue with them in the name of the prime minister for eight months,” he said.

The Palestinian contacts, explained Hanegbi, are in the framework of the recent Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh summits that brought Israel and the Palestinians together for security talks under the sponsorship of the United States, Jordan and Egypt—the Forum of Five.

“We are trying to reach agreements on security matters, so they will take responsibility for the matters that touch on their lives, Area A [which contains the Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria], and so that the IDF won’t have to enter instead of them [the P.A. security services] into refugee camps in Jenin and Nablus,” he continued.

The minister also touched upon the U.S.-led efforts to mediate a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, saying that “it is important that the Palestinians are part of the process.”

“I believe that there is a change in the Palestinians’ approach,” Hanegbi said. “They are very active. They are speaking with the Americans, they are speaking with the Saudis, they are speaking with us about what the ‘significant Palestinian component’ of a deal could be.”

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