Israel will do everything in its power to counter the Iranian nuclear program, even at the expense of the country's vital relationship with the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
"If we have to choose between friction with the U.S. and eliminating the existential threat - the existential threat is greater," Netanyahu said at a ceremony for the new director of the Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea.
His comments earned a swift rebuke from Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
"The biggest threat we face is the existential threat posed by Iran's attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said at the ceremony.
"It is a threat that endangers the continuation of the Zionist enterprise, and we must fight that threat endlessly," he said.
"I said these things to my friend of 40 years [U.S. President] Joe Biden, and I told him: 'With or without agreement, we will continue to do everything in our power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.' For Iran is not like the other countries that today have nuclear capabilities," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister has long warned that Iran's nuclear aspirations poses the greatest threat to Israel and has vehemently opposed the Biden administration's current efforts to revive the 2015 agreement to curb Tehran's atomic activity.
Gantz, who is tapped to continue in his role as defense minister in the coalition currently being put together to replace the Netanyahu government, stressed the importance of the relationship with the U.S.
"The United States," Gantz said, "has been and will continue to be Israel's most important ally in maintaining its security and military superiority in the region. The Biden administration is a true friend of Israel.
"Israel has not and will not have a better partner than the U.S. Even if there are disagreements, they must be resolved through direct dialogue behind closed doors and not in confrontational comments that could damage Israel's security," he said.
The defense minister conceded that Iran poses a global threat, but said that Israel maintained its military dominance in the Middle East.
"Iran is a threat to regional stability and world peace. It is a country that generates terrorism and promotes a nuclear program that is dangerous to the State of Israel, even so, Israel is the most powerful country in the region within a 1,500km radius of Jerusalem."
Barnea on Tuesday replaced Yossi Cohen as head of Mossad, as the latter retires after 38 years with the intelligence agency. Cohen was seen a close ally of Netanyahu, who played a key role in the recent agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.