Knesset member Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party, said Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unprecedented clash with US President Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal has turned Israel into a cause associated exclusively with the Republican party and damaged ties with the US to the point where the country’s security is under threat.
In an interview with Israel Radio, the former finance minister called on Netanyahu to work with the Obama administration instead of against it, and steer Israel back to its traditional position as a nonpartisan issue in US politics.
“For 67 years Israel took care to not be aligned with any party,” Lapid said. “Today, Israel is [seen as being] of the Republican party.
“We have no way of maintaining the allegiance [with the US] if we don’t repair this damage. The damage has Netanyahu’s name on so he is the one who must repair it.”
Lapid’s comments came after US President Barack Obama said in an interview with CNN that Israel’s interference in internal US politics over the recent Iranian nuclear deal is “unprecedented.”
Lapid did not say how Netanyahu should have conducted himself differently vis-à-vis the Iran deal, or whether he would have tackled the issue differently. In fact, he went on to advise Israeli officials to present a united front to the world in opposing the agreement.
“When it comes to the external debate, I think that all of the political and diplomatic branches should unite to tell the world that this is a bad deal, in many ways even a negligent agreement — certainly as far as the monitoring [of nuclear sites] is concerned — and that we will fight it,” he said.
Internally, though, he called for a debate “in Hebrew only” on how the government’s foreign policy had “failed so completely,” a reference to claims that Israel has become dangerously isolated in the international arena and a partisan cause in Washington.
Israel has been a vociferous opponent of the deal, with Netanyahu arguing that it was a “historic mistake” that leaves Iran a nuclear threshold state. The prime minister has also been upfront about efforts to sway American lawmakers to vote down the deal, which Obama is said to see as a legacy foreign policy project.
“The fact that we are in such an open crisis between Israel and the US causes tremendous damage to Israel’s security,” Lapid said. “The fact that the entire world, and in particular Western countries, found out in recent weeks that Israel and US are no longer coordinated, aren’t working together, that the conflict between us and the US is in the open, causes damage to our military deterrence. ”
Lapid rejected Obama’s assertion in excerpts from the CNN interview, which is to be published in full on Sunday, in which the US president said Netanyahu is wrong in asserting the deal won’t thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“On the substance, the prime minister is wrong on this,” said Obama. “I can show that the basic assumptions he’s made on this are incorrect.” In fact, he added, the deal is “very good for Israel.”
Lapid, however, noted that Israel’s political leadership, including opposition MKs, have all voiced their concerns over the deal for not going far enough to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“I don’t think the entire Israeli leadership is wrong about this agreement,” Lapid said.
The deal signed last month between Iran and six world powers — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — imposes curbs in its nuclear development infrastructure and increased inspections of nuclear sites by international monitors in exchange for significant sanctions relief.
Congress is expected to vote on the deal next month, and the battle has pitted the Obama administration against Israel and pro-Israel lobbies, exacerbating concerns of a deepening rift between Washington and Jerusalem.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.