'We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state'

Bashing ‘bad’ nuke deal, Lapid says emerging pact violates Biden’s own red lines

PM warns accord won’t prevent Iran becoming nuclear state, vows Israel won’t be bound by it, will act as it sees necessary; says deal will give Iran $100B a year to spread terror

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks about Iran at a security briefing for the foreign press at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Aug. 24, 2022. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks about Iran at a security briefing for the foreign press at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Aug. 24, 2022. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday urged the United States and the European Union to back away from an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, claiming it did not meet President Joe Biden’s own red lines as it won’t prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.

Lapid briefed foreign correspondents on Israel’s position as officials on both sides reported progress in negotiations to revive the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“In our eyes, it does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” Lapid said, while also attempting to downplay any rift between Jerusalem and Washington or Europe.

Lapid panned the EU’s negotiating position, claiming that it had reneged on its declaration of “take it or leave it” when it presented a supposed final draft of the deal, allowing the Iranians to submit counterdemands and changes.

“The countries of the West draw a red line, the Iranians ignore it, and the red line moves,” he chided.

“If the Iranians didn’t ‘take it,’ why didn’t the world ‘leave it’?” he asked.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell confirmed on Tuesday in an interview that Tehran had asked for “adjustments” to the draft deal.

The current proposal “cannot be accepted as it is written right now,” Lapid said, claiming it would provide Iran funds to support its nuclear program and terrorist groups in the Middle East.

“Israel is not against any agreement. We are against this agreement, because it is a bad one,” he said.

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (Stringer/AFP)

The premier criticized elements of the deal, claiming that the removal of sanctions restricting Iran’s access to financial institutions would provide it with “a hundred billion dollars a year that will be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe.” It would be used to fund “people who are trying to kill authors and thinkers in New York,” he charged, a thinly veiled reference to the recent stabbing of author Salman Rushdie.

“This money will fund the Revolutionary Guards. It will fund the Basij who oppress the Iranian people. It will fund more attacks on American bases in the Middle East. It will be used to strengthen Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad,” he charged, naming Iran-backed terror groups Israel has fought several conflicts with.

Lapid was careful not to openly criticize the US, noting that “we have an open dialogue with the American administration on all matters of disagreement.”

“I appreciate their willingness to listen and work together: the United States is and will remain our closest ally, and President Biden is one of the best friends Israel has ever known,” he said.

The comments came as Israel’s national security adviser Eyal Hulata was in Washington for talks centered on Iran with US counterpart Jake Sullivan and possibly with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, one of the architects of the 2015 accord.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz was also set to fly to Washington Thursday for meetings with the head of the US military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, and with Sullivan.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (R)and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi (C) at an IDF base in Beersheba on August 24, 2022 (IDF spokesperson)

Gantz said Wednesday that the visit was “aimed at conveying a clear message regarding the negotiations between the powers and Iran on the nuclear agreement: An agreement that does not set back Iran’s capabilities by several years and keep it limited for many years to come — is an agreement that will harm global and regional security.”

“Iran’s rush toward a nuclear (weapon) must be significantly pushed back,” Gantz went on. “We will discuss the issue with the Americans, and at the same time, Israel will continue to build its strength and capabilities — so that in any situation, it will know how to defend itself.”

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

The Biden administration and the EU have been looking over Iran’s proposals for a return to the accord over the past week, with many of the reported obstacles said to have been removed.

In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord and said he would negotiate a stronger deal, but that didn’t happen. Iran began breaking the deal’s terms a year later.

EU-coordinated negotiations on reviving the deal began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March and picking up again in August. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it believes diplomacy is the best way to resolve the crisis.

The latest draft does not include Tehran’s demand that the US lift the terrorism designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Iran has stepped back from a demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency close its investigation into unexplained traces of uranium at three undeclared sites, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity to discuss ongoing efforts to resurrect the deal.

But Iran it has said that its actual compliance with an agreement remains contingent on getting a clean bill of health from the IAEA.

Lapid argued that that would create “huge political pressure on [the IAEA] to close open cases without completing a professional investigation.”

He quoted Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the watchdog, who said earlier this week that Iran had yet to provide “credible explanations” on the source of the material.

Iranian deputy foreign minister Reza Najafi, left, and Iranian AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi, seen leaving the Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks took place in Vienna, Austria, August 5, 2022. (AP/Florian Schroetter)

Lapid reiterated Israel’s position that “if a deal is signed, it does not obligate Israel. We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”

Israel has already begun preparations for a strike against Iran if such action is deemed necessary.

According to Elaph, a Saudi-run news outlet, Israeli F-35 stealth fighters penetrated Iranian airspace on multiple occasions in the last two months as part of “massive” drills.

Israel has long opposed the deal, arguing that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, and has published intelligence it says reveals the Iranian weapons program.

Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though it has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

“We are not prepared to live with a nuclear threat above our heads from an extremist, violent Islamist regime,” Lapid said. “This will not happen. Because we will not let it happen.”

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