Israel’s threats to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities played a major role in bringing the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel indicated in comments published Monday.
“It’s true that sanctions — not just US sanctions but UN sanctions, multilateral sanctions — have done tremendous economic damage,” Hagel said in an interview with Bloomberg journalist and pundit Jeffrey Goldberg. “Even many of Iran’s leaders have acknowledged that. And I think that Iran is responding to the constant pressure from Israel, knowing that Israel believes them to be an existential threat. I think all of this, combined, probably brought the Iranians to where we are today.”
Hagel also indicated he did not agree with assertions that the Israeli prime minister was trying to scuttle nuclear talks between the P5+1 nations — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — and the Islamic Republic.
“I think Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu is legitimately concerned, as any prime minister of Israel has been, about the future security needs of their country,” said Hagel.
He also said that Netanyahu “has got a history of being very clear on where he is on this.”
“I don’t think he’s intentionally trying to derail negotiations,” Hagel added.
In an interview with Israeli TV Sunday, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, another leading Obama administration official, addressed Netanyahu’s comments at the UN that Israel would stand alone against Iran if need be. Sherman remarked that the best resolution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program was “a peaceful negotiated solution” — and that Netanyahu was well aware of the fact.
“Israel knows as well as any country, if not better than any country, the cost of war, the cost of military action,” she said.
Netanyahu, at a Likud faction meeting Monday, chose to play up the inflammatory rhetoric emanating from Iran in the past few days, ahead of the anniversary of the 1979 storming of the American embassy in Tehran.
“In Tehran, the masses are roaring ‘Death to America.’ They are marking for the 34th time a special day to commemorate the takeover of the US embassy by revolutionary forces. It’s not even necessary to mention that in addition to death to America, they are also shouting, ‘Death to Israel.'”
“Whoever wants to see the true face of the Iranian regime should see what is happening there today,” he continued. “Whoever wants to see the true face of the Iranian regime should listen to what the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said yesterday, that America is the most hated country in the universe.”
“All the while, they are sending President Hassan Rouhani to the negotiations with a smile on his face.”
The West and its allies in the Middle East fear that Iran could eventually produce a nuclear weapon. Iran insists it only seeks reactors for energy and medical use.
Rouhani has embarked on an outreach campaign to the West since he was elected in June, leading to talks with the permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany, or the P5+1.
However, Rouhani said Tuesday that his government “is not optimistic about the Westerners and the current negotiations,” AFP reported.
His comments came ahead of the resumption of talks on Thursday.
Ilan Ben Zion and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.