Israel’s Netanyahu calls Iran deal ‘historic mistake’


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. After feverishly trying to derail the international community's nuclear deal with Iran in recent weeks, Netanyahu now has little choice but to accept an agreement that he has derided as deeply flawed. (Abir Sultan/AP)
November 24, 2013

Israeli leaders denounced the interim Iranian nuclear pact signed by the United States and five world powers as a “historic mistake” that does little to reverse Iran’s nuclear ambitions and instead makes the world a more dangerous place.

Israeli officials stressed that they would spend the next six months — the time frame for the interim agreement — seeking to push their friends and especially the White House to reach a deal with Iran that not only curbs Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also dismantles its program.

Officials here say that means a final comprehensive deal that would require Iran to dismantle its centrifuges, remove its enriched uranium and decommission its heavy water reactor in Arak, among other things, in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Sunday that Israel was not a party to the talks that ended with a deal in Geneva early Sunday morning and therefore was not bound by the agreement that provides for the temporary, limited lifting of economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran halting or scaling back parts of its nuclear program.

“What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, but a historic mistake,” said Netanyahu in remarks before his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning.

President Obama says the U.S. has agreed to provide Iran with "modest relief" from sanctions as part of a deal on the country's nuclear program. (Associated Press)

“Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu repeated a reference to his own red line by stating, “Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”

President Obama plans to speak with Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the agreement, according to a senior administration official.

Iran says that its nuclear program is peaceful, that it has a right to enrich uranium, as other nations do, and that its nuclear projects are designed only for energy production and medical research, though many in the international community say otherwise. While Iran has put in place elements of a military program, U.S. officials say Iran has not made the decision to move ahead with a nuclear weapon.

If Iran does reach a critical point where it could decide to quickly sprint forward with the construction of a nuclear device, Israeli leaders in the past have warned they could be forced to strike Iran, alone if necessary.

“The last-second amendments put into the agreement are far from satisfactory,” Israel intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz said. “The current deal, like the 2007 failed deal with North Korea, is more likely to bring Iran closer to having a bomb.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the deal “brings us to a nuclear arms race.”

“The world has to understand that this is the biggest diplomatic victory Iran has had in recent years,” Lieberman said. “There's no doubt the agreement recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium.”

The White House described the interim deal as “the first meaningful limits that Iran has accepted on its nuclear program in close to a decade” and said that these first concessions by Iran — to halt all uranium enrichment above 5 percent, not to install or use additional centrifuges, not to commission its plutonium reactor — are coupled with increased transparency and intrusive monitoring of its facilities by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“With respect to the comprehensive solution, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” read a fact sheet from the White House detailing the deal. “Put simply, this first step expires in six months, and does not represent an acceptable end state to the United States” or its partners.

Since the first details of an interim deal were revealed three weeks ago, Netanyahu has been on a nonstop public diplomacy campaign designed to convince world leaders, and the U.S. Congress and the American public, that the United States and its five partners were about to sign “a bad deal.”

In the past two weeks, Netanyahu has made that case in person to Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President François Hollande.

Netanyahu’s public denunciations of the interim deal have strained relations with Washington, especially Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Isaac Herzog, the newly elected leader of Israel’s main opposition Labor party, said, “Netanyahu must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S. and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders.”

Israel defends its vociferous campaign against the deal by insisting that Israel is the object of Iranian taunts and that a nuclear Iran is not only a geopolitical challenge for Israel but represents an existential threat.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, last week referred to Israel as “the rabid dog of the region” and promised “the Zionist regime is doomed to destruction.”

“This is the real Iran. We are not confused," Netanyahu told the Russian Jewish community leaders during his visit to Moscow last week.

Asked whether the interim deal might lead to military strike by Israel, Lieberman said Israel “would need to make different decisions.”

“This brings us to a new reality in the whole Middle East, including the Saudis. This isn’t just our worry,” Lieberman told Israel Radio. “We’ve found ourselves in a completely new situation.”

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economic minister and a key member of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said, “if a nuclear suitcase blows up in New York or Madrid five years from now, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning.”

“If there will be a deal which would allow Iran to have the ability to ‘break out’ and build a bomb within six weeks, we cannot sit idly by in this situation, and we will examine all the options,” Bennett told Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday night.

Bennett said that Israel would now engage in a tough fight to make a final deal with Iran one that would dismantle its military capacities. “There is still a long campaign ahead of us,” he said. “We will continue to act in every possible way.”

Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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