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'Tens of billions will be poured into apparatus of terror'

Bennett: Iran deal will spell more violent region, boost regime’s attacks on Israel

Speaking to US Jewish leaders as progress is made in Vienna talks, PM pledges that Israel is up to the growing challenge, says it won’t accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the Conference of Presidents meeting in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the Conference of Presidents meeting in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Sunday that the emerging Iran deal will “likely create a more violent, more volatile Middle East,” said Iran would use freed-up assets to target Israel, and vowed that Israel “won’t accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

Bennett stressed that it is Israelis and those who live in the Middle East who will bear the brunt of the consequences of the deal under discussion in Vienna, but added that there is “no point in playing the blame game.”

The prime minister’s remarks came as Western officials indicate that a deal is possible within days.

The biggest problem with the deal, Bennett argued, are its so-called sunset clauses.

“In two-and-a-half years, which is right around the corner,” Bennett said, “Iran will be able to develop, install and operate advanced centrifuges. Imagine football stadiums of advanced centrifuges spinning – allowed by this agreement.”

Speaking in Jerusalem to the Conference of Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations, he also lamented the fact that the deal would give Iran access to billions of dollars when the regime is on the ropes.

“Right now they are very weak,” he said. “The rial has depreciated. They are at their weakest spot in history,” and yet, under the imminent deal, tens of billions of dollars will be poured “back into this apparatus of terror.” And, he warned, “much of this money will be funneled towards attacking Israel.”

Clerics burn representations of the US flag under the Azadi (freedom) monument tower during the annual rally commemorating the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Bennett set out three points that needed addressing in light of the looming deal:

“1. The agreement leaves Iran with a fast track to military-grade enrichment. And in the time until it sunsets, they won’t even have to destroy all those centrifuges they developed over the past few years.

“2. The Iranian regime is insisting on closing the open files of the IAEA – these are ‘hot investigations’ pertaining to possible military dimensions. Or in simple English: Iran has hidden and is still hiding nuclear-weapon related materials. It has been caught red-handed, and Iran is demanding that the inspectors that caught them will pretend to forget what they saw.

“3. The agreement will pour money, billions of dollars, into the Iranian terror machine – more UAVs, more attacks on ships, more rockets on Israel and our allies through its proxies.”

He also revealed that, in the ongoing negotiations, “to cap the chutzpah – Iran is demanding to delist the IRGC (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)” as a designated terrorist organization. “Do you understand? They are now asking to let the biggest terror organization on earth off the hook.”

Despite the “set of new challenges for Israel’s security” created by the agreement, Bennett concluded on a positive note, assuring the audience at the Inbal Hotel that Israel is up to the challenges.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will prevail,” he said. “Yes, this agreement will enrich this brutal and corrupt regime – but this is only temporary. If I were an investor, Iran is the last place I would invest in. Nobody in his right mind should invest in a country whose number one export is terrorism.”

Israel, by contrast, he declared, “is stronger than ever, growing by 8% in 2021, a year of COVID. Our economy is booming and will continue to grow, becoming more competitive and less regulated. Our hi-tech is breaking all records. We are adding more Jewish men and Arab women to the workforce. We ensured political stability, passed a budget, and our path is as good as ever.”

He assured the audience that Israel is “building unprecedented military capabilities… So yes, there are challenges, but we are up to them.”

Insisting that Israel would not tolerate Iran as a threshold nuclear state, he stressed: “We have a clear and un-negotiable red line: Israel will always maintain its freedom of action to defend itself.”

According to an Israel Channel 13 report Sunday, while recognizing that it will not be able to target Iran’s enrichment facilities if and when a deal is signed, Israel is seeking to ensure that it retains freedom of action against Iran’s weaponization and missile development, which are not covered by the deal.

In a swipe at his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett said that Israel has prioritized rebuilding relations with its neighbors, and is committed to working with legislators from both parties in the United States.

“Israel is becoming bipartisan once again,” he said.

Relations with US President Joe Biden and the administration will remain close and robust despite disagreements over the Iran deal, Bennett pledged, noting the Republican and Democratic lawmakers who are in Israel this week.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, August 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Bennett made similar remarks earlier in the day at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. He said Israel was making preparations for the day after the agreement emerging from the Vienna nuclear talks, which he said appears to be “shorter and weaker” than the previous deal and would allow Tehran to build “stadiums of advanced centrifuges” when it lapses.

While publicly lobbying against a return to the multilateral accord, Israel is preparing itself for world powers and Iran to reach an agreement within days to revive the deal aimed at curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, Israeli television reported Friday.

Israel opposed the original agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with then-prime minister Netanyahu arguing that it actually paved the path to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

The Netanyahu government then backed former US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the deal in 2018 and initiate a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which led Tehran to publicly ramp up nuclear work in violation of the JCPOA.

Biden is now seeking to revive the accord, on the condition that Iran will return to compliance.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday and told her any future nuclear deal with Iran must include consistent enforcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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