President Shimon Peres on Sunday denounced the “appalling tone” coming from some quarters of the Israeli political establishment in criticism of American efforts to reach out to Iran.
His comments came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was en route to New York for a speech at the United Nations and meetings with the White House intended to temper efforts at detente between the West and Tehran.
“You can agree or not,” Peres told Army Radio Sunday morning, with US President Barack Obama’s attempts to explore diplomatic opportunities in light of new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s recent moderate statements, but he stressed that there was no justification for the harsh attacks on the efforts.
“Other people have brains, not just us,” added Peres.
Hours earlier, Netanyahu told reporters he was going to the US to “tell the truth in the face of the sweet-talk and the onslaught of smiles. One must talk facts and one must tell the truth. Telling the truth today is vital for the security and peace of the world and, of course, it is vital for the security of the State of Israel.”
MK Avigdor Liberman (Likud-Beytenu), chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, took to Facebook Sunday to decry the Iranian outreach to the West, calling it an “appeasement campaign,” and an “exercise in false information, just like North Korea has done.”
“While the world’s attention is focused on the new Iranian president’s attempts to portray himself as moderate and conciliatory,” Liberman wrote, “it is worth mentioning that the Iranians have always behaved like this: tactics of promises, stalling, and false information that they provided time and again to the international community, when all the while they continued to advance toward the goal they set for themselves: obtaining nuclear weapons designed to threaten world peace.”
Israel is concerned over the thaw in Western-Iranian ties that has been developing at breathtaking pace in the last few days and culminated Friday with a phone call between the American and Iranian presidents.
Before leaving New York last Friday, Rouhani chatted with Obama by telephone, marking the first direct contact between American and Iranian leaders in 30 years.
The phone call capped a week of seismic alterations in the relationship, revolving around Rouhani’s participation in the annual UN meeting of world leaders. The night before the two leaders spoke, US and European diplomats had hailed a “very significant shift” in Iran’s attitude and tone in the first talks on the nuclear standoff since April.
The last direct conversation between the leaders of the two countries was in 1979 before the Iranian Revolution toppled the pro-US shah and brought Islamic militants to power. Obama said the long break “underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.”
Netanyahu issued no direct comment on the Obama-Rouhani conversation and instructed his ministers to remain mum. He intends to discuss Israel’s position on the Iranian president’s charm offensive — which included more benevolent rhetoric on ties with the US and the West, a stated willingness to compromise on transparency of the Iranian nuclear program and an acknowledgement that the Holocaust occurred — during his meetings with senior US officials.
Israeli media reports over the weekend quoted sources in the Israeli government as saying that Iran was only a few months away from possessing enough enriched uranium for a bomb, with one report going so far as to state that Tehran had already produced at least one such weapon.
Raphael Ahren and The Associated Press contributed to this report.