Defense Ministry half-apologizes for likening Iran nuke deal to Munich agreement
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Ministry backpedals amid realization that earlier comments would be seen as 'grossly rude' to Obama

Defense Ministry half-apologizes for likening Iran nuke deal to Munich agreement

Liberman's ministry says it is sorry if earlier statement was understood as comparing Obama-backed accord with Tehran to Europe's 1938 pact with Nazis

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Newly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman alongside IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a ceremony welcoming him to the Defense Ministry, May 31, 2016. (Ariel Harmoni/Ministry of Defense)
Newly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman alongside IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a ceremony welcoming him to the Defense Ministry, May 31, 2016. (Ariel Harmoni/Ministry of Defense)

Avigdor Liberman’s Defense Ministry grudgingly apologized Monday for appearing to compare the US-backed Iran nuclear deal with the 1938 Munich agreement.

The statement it had issued last Friday, in which it savaged the year-old nuclear deal, “was not intended to draw a direct comparison, not historically or personally (with the major powers agreement with the Nazis). We are sorry if it was understood differently,” the ministry said in its new text.

It was clarifying its earlier statement, the ministry said, because “the media had incorrectly interpreted it.”

Friday’s incendiary statement, reportedly issued without the okay of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but with the approval of hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party leader Liberman in response to President Barack Obama’s claim that Israeli security officials now support the deal with Iran, juxtaposed the two agreements and said they had clear similarities.

“The Munich Agreement didn’t prevent the Second World War and the Holocaust precisely because its basis, according to which Nazi Germany could be a partner for some sort of agreement, was flawed, and because the leaders of the world then ignored the explicit statements of [Adolf] Hitler and the rest of Nazi Germany’s leaders,” the ministry said on Friday. “These things are also true about Iran, which also clearly states openly that its aim is to destroy the State of Israel,” it went on, pointing to a recent State Department report that determined that Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism worldwide.

The new statement followed efforts by Netanyahu to reduce the damage caused by the comparison. On Friday, he issued a milder statement that stressed the vital nature of Israel-US ties, and his office called US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to try to play down the criticism.

The Defense Ministry followed a similar approach in its new statement on Monday.

US President Barack Obama speaks to the media in Arlington, Virginia, on August 4, 2016. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
US President Barack Obama speaks to the media in Arlington, Virginia, on August 4, 2016. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

“The State of Israel and the Israeli defense establishment will continue to work in close and full cooperation with the United States, in deep appreciation and mutual respect,” the statement read.

It noted, nonetheless, that “Israel remains deeply worried that even after the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Iranian leadership continues to declare that its central goal is the destruction of the State of Israel, and continues to threaten Israel’s existence in words and deeds.”

The statement went on to list Iran’s “accelerating development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” as well as regime propaganda events such as a Holocaust-denying cartoon contest and a military parade featuring missiles on which “erasing Israel” is written.

Despite these actions, which “deny the legitimacy” of the Iranian regime, the nuclear agreement led to an influx of funds that, the Defense Ministry said, will be used by the regime to further advance its missile and nuclear programs.

The Monday statement concluded with a semi-apology: “Friday’s announcement was not intended to draw a direct comparison, not historically or personally (with Munich). We are sorry if it was understood differently.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (center, facing left) visits the Utah factory where Israel Air Force's F-35 fighter jet squadron are under construction on August 3, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson/Facebook)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (center, facing left) visits the Utah factory where Israel Air Force’s F-35 fighter jet squadron are under construction on August 3, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson/Facebook)

The row over the year-old deal flared as IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot is visiting the US, and as a senior Israeli official is also there to finalize a critical 10-year US military aid package for Israel.

Obama had said Thursday that Israeli defense officials are now behind the deal signed by world powers and Iran, and that they recognize the efficacy of the accord. The “Israeli military and security community … acknowledges this has been a game changer,” Obama said. “The country that was most opposed to the deal.”

Channel 2 news reported on Monday that the new statement was issued because it was realized at all leadership levels in Israel that Friday’s intemperate statement would be seen in Washington as “chutzpah, grossly rude and a slap in the face” for the Obama administration.

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