JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders across the political spectrum condemned in stark apocalyptic language the Iranian nuclear pact announced by the United States and world powers Tuesday, calling it a historic mistake that frees Iran to sponsor global terrorism while assembling the expertise to build a nuclear bomb.
“Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted.”
With the removal of economic sanctions, Netanyahu warned, “Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror.”
Netanyahu’s hard-line coalition partner, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, added: “Today a terrorist nuclear superpower is born, and it will go down as one of the darkest days in world history.”
Netanyahu’s fellow Likud member, Science Minister Danny Danon, said the Iran pact “is like providing a pyromaniac with matches.”
The condemnations are not new. Netanyahu has led a tireless campaign against the prospects of a deal, including an address before the U.S. Congress in March to hammer home Israel’s worries over Iran — whose leaders often have called for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
The rifts with Washington over the Iran talks have led to rare open tensions between the allies.
Hours after the deal was reached in Vienna, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told NBC that he thought Netanyahu was wrong and that the prime minister had been “making comments that are way over the top.”
Kerry said “Israel is safer” as a result of the nuclear accord.
“This is under attack by people who really don’t know the terms of the agreement,” Kerry told the network.
Later, a White House statement said President Obama called Netanyahu to stress that the nuclear accord does not undercut U.S. “concerns regarding Iran’s support for terrorism and threats toward Israel.”
Critics of Israel point out that the country has an undeclared, but widely suspected, nuclear program that is not under international monitoring. Israel is not a signer of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the U.N. accord overseeing the spread of nuclear technology. Iran is a member.
Israeli social media accounts were filled with images of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who pushed a policy of appeasement toward Adolf Hitler and the Nazis on the eve of World War II.
Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders blasted the deal even as negotiators in Vienna were still making the announcement and providing details.
“Israel will defend itself,” Bennett warned, vowing that military action is still an option for the Jewish state.Like-minded Israelis feel they are in the crosshairs of a belligerent enemy — last week, protesters in Tehran were chanting “Death to Israel!”
Israel’s security cabinet unanimously rejected the Iran deal and said that Israel reserves the right to take action to protect the state.
Three years ago, Israelis were debating at the highest levels whether it might be necessary for Israel or the United States, or both countries, to launch aerial strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Even as Israel reasserts its right to act independently if threatened, a unilateral Israeli strike is not more probable today, Israeli defense analysts say, because the United States is committed to making the Iran pact work and Israel is not likely to act alone.
“It goes without saying that an agreement prevents Israel from thinking about a military option, unlike the options that might have existed five or 10 years ago,” said Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University.
On the eve of the nuclear accord, Netanyahu warned on his Twitter account that Iran “is more dangerous than ISIS,” a reference to the radical Islamic State group that has captured vast swaths of Syria and Iraq. He argued that “the true goal of this aggression . . . is to take over the world.”
“The only thing Netanyahu has left is to continue talking,” said Yoel Guzansky, former head of the Iran desk at Israel’s National Security Council.
Israeli politicians and pro-
Israel activists in the United States are likely to press Congress to derail the deal. However, that is a difficult prospect that could eventually require trying to override a presidential veto in a congressional vote that would need deep Democratic support.
“The State of Israel will employ all diplomatic means to prevent confirmation of the agreement,” said Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely.
American and European diplomats have said that Netanyahu has failed to accept the idea that it is better to stall, observe and roll back Iranian nuclear capabilities than double down on economic sanctions and isolation.
Iran has repeatedly said that its aims are peaceful and that developing nuclear power and medical isotopes is its right as a sovereign nation and a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Israeli opposition leaders were united in condemning the Iran deal, but they also called its signing a major diplomatic failure for Netanyahu.
Speaking on Israel Radio, Efraim Halevy, former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, said that perhaps it would have been better to avoid a head-on clash with Obama by seeking to apply pressure through more discreet channels and to have more of a role in shaping the negotiations.
Yair Lapid, a top opposition figure and leader of an Israeli political party, said there is “no daylight” between Israelis in condemning the Iran deal. But he said Netanyahu bungled the diplomacy.
On the evening news in Israel, a rough consensus among political commentators concluded that Netanyahu has been rendered irrelevant, dismissed by the U.S. administration.
The United States remains Israel’s closest — and sometimes only — ally in the world, supplying diplomatic cover and billions of dollars in military aid over the years, including some of the most sophisticated U.S. arms technology.
In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, main opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni criticized Netanyahu for allowing the accord to be reached.
“If you go to a deal, as bad as it may be, the way to minimize its damage is by arriving at an agreement with the U.S. on a very significant security package,” Herzog said.