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Israel has list of Iran-backed targets ready to strike, defence minister warns

Benny Gantz says Iran's nuclear programme 'must be stalled' and warns Israel is prepared to 'stand independently' against Tehran
Benny Gantz
Israeli Defence Minister and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz says Israel is dedicated to stalling Iranian nuclear escalation (AFP/File photo)

Israel is updating its contingency plans to strike Iran were it to gain nuclear capabilities, the country's defence minister has warned.

Benny Gantz, during an interview with Fox News on Thursday, said Israel was prepared to act independently from the United States and other allies to stop Iran from escalating its nuclear programme. 

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"The Iranian nuclear escalation must be stalled. If the world stops them before, it's very much good. But if not, we must stand independently and we must defend ourselves by ourselves," Gantz said. 

Gantz, who is also Israel's alternate prime minister, said that while Israel updated its strategy, its current plans remained "in our hands, of course". 

During the on-camera interview, the defence minister shared with a Fox reporter a print-out of a classified map detailing missile silos located along Israel's northern border and allegedly controlled by the Iran-aligned Hezbollah group in Lebanon. 

"This is a target map. Each one of them has been checked legally, operationally, intelligence-wise and we are ready to fight," Gantz said.

Meanwhile, Israel's nuclear programme is widely believed to include an undeclared nuclear arsenal of at least 80 warheads. Recently, satellite imagery has shown that Israel, for the first time in decades, was engaged in new construction at its Dimona nuclear site.

Nuclear deal negotiations

Gantz's comments on Thursday also come as Israel continues to strike Iranian-backed groups in Syria that it says facilitate weapons transfers to Lebanon.

Last week, US President Joe Biden ordered a US strike in Syria after militia groups carried out several attacks against American interests in Iraq.

Despite Israel's protests, Biden has vowed to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran, from which his predecessor withdrew in 2018, but negotiations have so far hit an impasse as both parties call on the other to make the first move. 

The nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of US-led international sanctions against its economy. But since the US withdrawal from the deal, Iran has been loosening its commitments to the pact by enriching uranium beyond the limits set by the agreement.

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Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors Iran's nuclear programme, said Iran had nearly tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since November. 

The enrichment programme has been of great concern to other JCPOA signatories, which have for years attempted to salvage the accords, as well as to Israel, which has been consistently against nuclear negotiations with Iran. 

While the US works out how it can move forward with new negotiations, tensions between Iran and Israel have flared. 

Last week, an Israeli-owned cargo ship experienced a mysterious explosion in the strategically important Gulf of Oman. Israel immediately accused Iran of an attack, which it denied

Earlier this week, Gantz told Reuters that his country intended to develop a "special security arrangement" with Gulf allies who share similar concerns over Iran.

"I don't think it’s going to be a defence pact, but we are going to develop defence relations with every country that we have relations with," he said.

"We have this process of setting up [a] special security arrangement, and within this arrangement, we can continue and develop our relations." 

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