Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that the political framework for a nuclear deal with Iran reached Thursday in Switzerland would keep Tehran’s vast nuclear program in place, and that its inter-continental ballistic missile system (ICBM) — an issue not addressed in the deal — was more of a threat to the US than to Israel.
Speaking to CNN as part of a US media blitz, the Israeli prime minister said the deal will not roll back Iran’s nuclear program. The deal “keeps Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure in place, not a single centrifuge destroyed, not a single nuclear facility shut down, including the underground facilities that they built illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, enriching uranium, that’s a very bad deal.”
“They’re getting a free path to the bomb,” he said.
Netanyahu also warned that Iran’s ICBM program, an issue that was not negotiated on as part of nuclear talks, was a real threat to the US.
“The ending of their ICBMs, that’s not in the deal, and those missiles are only used for you, they’re not used for us. They have missiles that can reach us and they’re geared for nuclear weapons,” he said.
In a similar interview with NBC, Netanyahu said: “They’re developing ICBMs to reach the United States. Don’t give them these weapons. Don’t give them nuclear ICBMS with which they can threaten you.”
The PM said he was in favor of a diplomatic solution to the Iran crisis because “for any military option, the country that will pay the biggest price is always Israel, so we want a diplomatic solution but a good one, one that rolls back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and one that ties the final lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program with a change of Iran’s behavior.”
“I’m not trying to kill any deal. I’m trying to kill a bad deal,” he told NBC. Countering the assertion by President Barack Obama that the deal was potentially historic in a positive sense, he added, “It could be a historically bad deal.”
“The alternatives are not either this bad deal or [going to] war,” Netanyahu told CNN, challenging Obama’s assertion Thursday that Netanyahu does not want a “peaceful” resolution to the Iran stand-off . “I think there’s a third alternative and that is standing firm, ratcheting up the pressure until we get a better deal. And a better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terrorism worldwide and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel. That’s better deal, it’s achievable.”
Such a deal was still attainable, he said. “What is required is the application of very strong sanctions that have proven effective, financial sanctions and the oil sanctions. There’s still time to get a better deal.”
He warned that the restrictions in the deal were time-limited, and that when it lapses, “after a few years, Iran will have unlimited capacity to build unlimited nuclear infrastructure.” And with sanctions lifted, it would also have untold millions more to pursue its nuclear weapons goal. That’s “very bad,” he said, calling the Iranian threat “a palpable danger to the peace of the world.”
“Iran’s nuclear program is being legitimized and they are given the ability not only to maintain their infrastructure but also within a few years, to increase it,” he said. “They can just walk into many bombs.”
Asked about dissenting Israeli assessments of the deal, Netanyahu noted that he had just been reelected, and that the Israelis who reelected him by a substantial margin knew his positions on Iran. “The overwhelming majority of Israelis support the position I just put forward, because they know their life is on the line.”
Netanyahu has come out strongly against the political framework since it was announced Thursday, charging that it threatens Israel’s very survival and paves the way for Iran to become and nuclear state.
“If a country vows to annihilate us and is working every day with conventional means and unconventional means, if that country has a deal that paves its way to nuclear weapons, many nuclear weapons, it endangers our survival,” he reiterated Sunday.
“It will also spark an arms race with the Sunni states because they understand exactly what I just said,” he warned.
Netanyahu also warned that Iran would find ways to evade the much-hyped new inspection procedures.
Responding to some of Netanyahu’s complaints, Senator Dianne Feinstein said tetchily, “I think he’s said what he has to say” and “I wish that he would control himself… To be candid, I think this can backfire on him.”
Feinstein (D-CA) contended that Netanyahu “has put out no real alternative” to the US-led deal.
In a phone call with Netanyahu after the deal was reached Thursday, Obama said the accord “in no way diminishes our concerns with respect to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel and emphasized that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel.” The White House and State Department made similar statements.
“I trust the president is doing what he thinks is good for the United States. But I think we can have a legitimate difference of opinion on this… I think it’s not a question of personal trust. Of course we have a mutual, respectful relationship,” Netanyahu told CNN. “But as the prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, when I see a country, a terrorist regime committed to our destruction, and not only to our destruction, having the path, the clear path to the bomb, it’s my obligation to speak out.”
He and Obama “had a respectful hour-long conversation” after the deal was done, he noted, “as befits two allies.”
On Friday, Netanyahu demanded that any final deal contain Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist — a demand rejected by the US State Department.
Iran and six world powers announced a series of understandings Thursday, with a final agreement to be reached by June 30. A final deal is meant to cut significantly into Iran’s bomb-capable technology while giving Tehran quick access to assets and markets blocked by international sanctions.
Netanyahu has harshly criticized the negotiations, demanding instead that the Iranian program be dismantled. He claims Iran cannot be trusted, and that leaving certain facilities intact would allow the Iranians to eventually build a bomb.
Netanyahu said Friday after an emergency cabinet session that “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period.”
However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a final agreement being reached, and said that such a deal must “include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”
Netanyahu said his government “is united strongly opposing the proposed deal,” which he said would threaten Israel’s survival.
“Such a deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb,” he said. “Such a deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb. And it might very well spark a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East and it would greatly increase the risks of terrible war.”
The commitments announced Thursday, if implemented, would substantially pare back some Iranian nuclear assets for a decade and restrict others for an additional five years. According to a US document listing those commitments, Tehran is ready to reduce its number of centrifuges, the machines that can spin uranium gas to levels used in nuclear warheads.
Of the nearly 20,000 centrifuges Iran now has installed or running at its main enrichment site, the country would be allowed to operate just over 5,000. Much of its enriched stockpiles would be neutralized. A planned reactor would be reconstructed so it can’t produce weapons-grade plutonium. Monitoring and inspections by the UN nuclear agency would be enhanced.