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Israel's foreign minister feuds with Iranian counterpart on Twitter as nuclear talks drag on

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Tehran was responsible for the 'miserable' lives of its citizens, as he vowed Israel would defend itself against the 'extremist Iranian regime'
Israeli foreign minister and alternate prime minister Yair Lapid looks on during his meeting with Egypt's foreign minister at Tahrir Palace in Cairo, on 9 December 2021 (AFP)

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted on Tuesday that Iran's government was making its citizens' lives "miserable", in response to criticism by Tehran's top diplomat, adding that the country's "failed leadership [was] destroying Iran from within".

The spat erupted after Lapid was asked in an interview last week if Israel had the ability to strike uranium enrichment facilities or weapons sites in Iran.

He replied: "Israel has capabilities, some of which the world, and even some experts in the field, cannot even imagine. And Israel will protect itself against the Iranian threat."

Iran's foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, fired back on social media on Monday against what he labelled "the disturbing remarks of the foreign minister of the fake Israeli regime against the great nation of Iran".

"We will forcefully and rationally defend the rights, interests and progress of the Iranian people," he wrote in Persian.

"Zionism has no place in the future of the world," Amir-Abdollahian added.

Lapid, in his tweet on Tuesday, said: "The extremist Iranian regime threatens Israel with annihilation but will continue to lose this battle," adding later, "The State of Israel is strong and will not allow its citizens to be harmed."

Tensions in the region have escalated as world powers negotiate with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. Hackers attacked two Israeli newspapers on Monday on the anniversary of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani's death, and Israel targeted a large cache of Iranian military assets in Syria last week.

Israel has repeatedly said it reserves the right to take independent military action to defend itself and has tried to put pressure on its international partners to reject a return to the accord.

The Biden administration has been seeking a return to the deal that former US President Donald Trump left in 2018. After departing from the deal, the Trump administration re-imposed a series of punishing sanctions on Iran.

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Iran has said that in order for the talks to succeed, the US must agree never to abandon the deal and must also lift all sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Israel was not a party to the 2015 agreement.

On Tuesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that time was running out to salvage the accord as the eighth round of talks began in Vienna.

In a call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Johnson discussed the resumption of talks to salvage the deal.

"The prime minister said the UK wants to see the negotiations in Vienna lead to full restoration of the JCPOA, but that we need Iran to engage in good faith," a Downing Street spokesman said.

"The diplomatic door is open, but time is running out to reach an agreement."