May 17. 2021. 5:28

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Israel and US united in stopping Iran getting nuclear weapons, Netanyahu says

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: Iran blames Israel for an explosion at its Natanz nuclear site on Sunday. Photograph: Menahem Kahana

Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, its prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Monday, hours after Tehran vowed to avenge an Israeli attack on its Natantz nuclear reactor.

Speaking in Jerusalem alongside visiting US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, Mr Netanyahu said Israel and the US agreed on never allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

“In the Middle East, there is no threat more dangerous, serious and pressing than that posed by the fanatical regime in Iran,” he said, citing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, arming of terror groups and calls for Israel’s annihilation.

“We both know the horrors of war. We both understand the importance of preventing war. And we both agree that Iran must never possess nuclear weapons. My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear – I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.”

‘Military edge’

Mr Austin refrained from explicitly mentioning Iran, but promised that the Biden administration would continue to ensure Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the Middle East.

Earlier on Monday, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, blamed Israel for the explosion at the Natanz nuclear site on Sunday, saying – according to Iranian state TV – that “the Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions . . . They have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge on the Zionists.”

Iran’s Nour news agency, affiliated to the supreme national security council, cited an intelligence ministry source as saying the “main perpetrator” of the attack had been identified and an operation was under way to arrest them.

Israel has stopped short of taking responsibility for the attack on the Natanz facility, but public radio cited intelligence sources as saying it was a Mossad cyber operation.

They said it had caused more extensive damage than Iran had reported.

Reactor blast

US intelligence officials told the New York Times that it could take at least nine months to resume enrichment at the reactor after a large blast destroyed the independent internal power system.

The blast is the latest in what appears to be an escalation in the ongoing exchanges between the two countries, dubbed “the confrontation between wars”. There are reports almost every week of Israeli strikes against Iranian or pro-Iranian militia in Syria and in recent weeks both countries have reported sabotage to their ships at sea.

Hinting that Mr Netanyahu may have been behind recent leaks regarding military action against Iran, without mentioning his name, defence minister Benny Gantz on Monday ordered an investigation into the security leaks to the press. He indicated the leaks came from the political echelon and the Mossad intelligence agency, ending Israel’s long-standing policy of ambiguity regarding its activities against Iran, and that such stories, usually attributed to “western sources”, may have pushed Tehran to seek revenge.

“I think that it is irresponsible behaviour – and if it comes from personal or political interests, it is even worse,” he said.