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Bennett: Israel ‘fell asleep’ after 2015 nuclear deal, won’t be bound by new pact

Speaking at Reichman University conference, PM implicitly criticizes Netanyahu for allowing Iran to develop its threat against Israel

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at IPS conference at Reichman University, November 23, 2021 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at IPS conference at Reichman University, November 23, 2021 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel “fell asleep” after the signing of the JCPOA nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday morning at Reichman University in Herzliya, in a swipe at his predecessor.

“The mistake we made after the first nuclear deal in 2015 will not repeat itself,” said Bennett. “With all the noise beforehand, from the moment the deal was signed, it affected us like a sleeping pill. Israel simply fell asleep on duty. We occupied ourselves with other things.”

“We will learn from this mistake,” he pledged. “We will maintain our freedom of action.”

The 2015 agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries was signed when current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was premier.

“Even if there is a return to an agreement, Israel is of course not a party to it, and is not bound by it,” Bennett declared.

He stressed that Israel must focus on defeating the Islamic Republic itself instead of chasing after proxy terrorist cells in Lebanon.

Bennett recounted the policy review process he initiated when he came into office. He laid out four main conclusions: that allowing Iran to develop a strategy of asymmetry was a “strategic Israeli mistake”; that Israel must utilize its advantages, including its economy, cyber prowess, democracy, and international legitimacy; that Israel must increase its edge over its adversaries, enabled by a strong economy; and that Israel had to maintain the initiative.

Bennett said that when he came into office in June, he was shocked by the “gap between the rhetoric and the action regarding Israel’s preparations and capabilities against Iran’s nuclear program.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

“Iran is at a very advanced stage of its nuclear program,” he warned, “as its enrichment machine is broader and more sophisticated than ever.”

This week, with Iran set for talks with world powers in Vienna starting November 29, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tehran had again increased its stores of highly enriched uranium.

That stockpile, as of November 6, was many times in excess of the limit laid down in the agreement with world powers, said the IAEA report. Such highly enriched uranium can be easily refined to make atomic weapons.

The prime minister also struck a positive note in his address at the opening of the university’s Institute for Policy and Strategy conference.

“Israel is strong, successful, and open to the world,” he said.

In contrast, Bennett painted a picture of a brittle Iran.

“The regime is at its most extreme point since 1979,” he said. “It is a regime that cannot supply water to its citizens. Water. A regime whose economy is weak and its government is corrupt, and rules with force and fear.”

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