- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Israeli government minister on Monday said taking military action against Iran’s nuclear program is still an option — despite last week’s framework deal between world powers and the Islamic Republic.

The comments made by Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, reflected the sense of alarm in Israel over last week’s deal, which offers Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for scaling back its suspect nuclear program. Israeli leaders believe the framework leaves too much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact and would allow the country to develop the means to produce a nuclear weapon.

Steinitz, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s, said the government would spend the coming months lobbying the world powers negotiating with Iran to strengthen the language in the deal as they hammer out a final agreement. While stressing that Israel prefers a diplomatic solution, he said the “military option” still exists.

“It was on the table. It’s still on the table. It’s going to remain on the table,” Steinitz told reporters. “Israel should be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. And it’s our right and duty to decide how to defend ourselves, especially if our national security and even very existence is under threat.”

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be a threat to its existence, pointing to years of Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction, its support for anti-Israeli militant groups and its development of long-range ballistic missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads. Israel, itself widely believed to be a nuclear power, also says a nuclear-armed Iran would set off an arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The framework agreement was announced on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland, by U.S.-led world powers and Iran after years of negotiations.

The deal aims to cut significantly into Iran's bomb-making technology while giving Tehran relief from international sanctions. The commitments, if implemented, would substantially pare down Iranian nuclear assets for a decade and restrict others for an additional five years. Iran would also be subject to intrusive international inspections.

Netanyahu believes the deal leaves intact too much of Iran’s suspect nuclear program intact, including research facilities and centrifuges capable of enriching uranium, a key ingredient in a bomb. He also says the deal fails to address Iran’s support for militant groups across the Middle East.

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