Israel will continue to 'defend itself' against Iran's aggression, Netanyahu says
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Iran had not given up efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and Israel would continue to "defend itself" against Tehran's aggression.
"In the Middle East, there is no threat more dangerous, serious and pressing than that posed by the fanatical regime in Iran," Netanyahu said, hours after the Islamic Republic blamed Israel for an attack on one of its nuclear facilities.
"Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran's aggression and terrorism."
Iran denies pursuing nuclear weapons and says it only wants to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Netanyahu's comments came while addressing reporters alongside visiting US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who travelled to the country for the first time since becoming Pentagon chief in January.
Austin, while making no mention of Iran, spoke of the Biden administration's support for ensuring Israel's qualitative military edge (QME) in the region, and affirmed "support for our ongoing diplomatic efforts to normalise relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority nations".
The Sunday attack on the Natanz nuclear facility, which remains nonoperational, has rocked Iran a week after it began indirect nuclear talks in Vienna.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday that Israel was behind the attack, also calling it an "act against humanity".
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted on state TV vowing that Iran would retaliate.
"The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions," Zarif said. "They have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists."
Israel's Kan public radio also said that Israel was likely behind the attack, citing intelligence sources.
While Israel has not confirmed or denied responsibility for the attack, Israeli officials on Sunday appeared to make references to Iran.
US reiterates 'ironclad' relationship with Israel
Netanyahu's comments also come a week after nuclear negotiations began in Vienna, which Washington expressed frustration with over Tehran's unwillingness to engage in direct talks.
On Sunday, Austin began his visit to Israel, where in a joint press statement with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz he reiterated Washington's "enduring and ironclad" relationship with Israel.
"As a major strategic partner for the United States, our bilateral relationship with Israel, in particular, is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East," Austin said.
Gantz said Israel "will work closely" with the US to ensure any new nuclear agreement with Iran would prevent dangers and "unrest in our region and protect the state of Israel".
Speaking during a press conference on Monday, Austin said he was aware of the reports on the Natanz attack, but did not comment further and added that "efforts to engage Iran in diplomacy on the [Iran nuclear deal]" would continue.