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Israeli opposition leader Lieberman says 'all means' should be used to destroy Iran's nuclear programme

Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman says Israel will never be able to claim victory over Hamas or Hezbollah until it 'defeats' Iran
Avigdor Lieberman speaks during 'Influencers Conference' organised by Israeli TV channel N12 News Israel in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv, on 20 October 2022 (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Avigdor Lieberman speaks during 'Influencers Conference' organised by Israeli TV channel N12 News Israel in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv, on 20 October 2022 (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman has said that defeating Iran is a precondition before Israel can claim a victory over Hezbollah and Hamas, raising the spectre of a strike against Iran's nuclear programme. 

In a social media post on X on Wednesday, Lieberman used indirect language to suggest that Israel’s major strategic foe in its battle with Hamas and Hezbollah was Tehran, and that in order to declare victory over the two groups, it first had to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme.

“In order to stop the Iranian nuclear program, which is already in the weapons stages, we must use all the means at our disposal,” he wrote.

“It should be clear that at this stage it is not possible to prevent nuclear weapons from Iran by conventional means”.

Lieberman didn’t say explicitly what Israel could use to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme, but Israeli officials have previously warned they would use a military option against the Islamic Republic, should it feel threatened by Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

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Israel has never officially acknowledged having nuclear weapons, but it is widely believed to have at least a limited amount of nuclear missiles, according to leaked documents.

Lieberman is an opposition lawmaker, but his remarks underscore the risk that Israel's war on Gaza could spiral into a full-scale regional conflict.

On Friday, Middle East Eye revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin mulled providing Houthi rebel fighters with anti-ship cruise missiles, but was talked out of the move by Saudi Arabia

Israel’s bellicose rhetoric escalated in 2021 when US President Joe Biden’s administration was in talks with Tehran about returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which former President Donald Trump’s administration unilaterally withdrew from.

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Lieberman earned a reputation for being a hawkish defence minister in one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former governments. In 2016, he drafted a letter to Netanyahu calling for Israel to launch a preemptive assault on the Gaza Strip.

Lieberman, who chairs Israel’s opposition party, Yisrael Beytenu, has stepped up his rhetoric against Iran in recent weeks. In an interview in June with Israel’s Army Radio, he said Iran was "planning a Holocaust for us (Israel) in the next two years”.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for strictly peaceful purposes. After the US pulled out of the nuclear agreement - officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - Tehran accelerated its enrichment programme. While much attention in the Middle East has focused on Israel’s war on Gaza, experts say that Iran now has the potential to produce fuel material for three nuclear bombs in about six weeks.

With tensions in the region rising, and Israel publicly saying it has approved plans for an offensive against Hezbollah, Iranian officials have begun talking more openly about its nuclear programme.

In an interview with the Financial Times on 2 July, Kamal Kharazi, foreign affairs advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran was not building nuclear weapons, but if faced with an existential threat “we [would] have to change our doctrine”.

Israel and the US have previously discussed military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, should diplomacy fail. Some former US officials have called on the US to provide Israel’s military with a bunker-busting Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bomb, to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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