'It makes no sense to sign a deal that gives them money'

Bennett to Davos forum: Do not invest in ‘octopus of terror’ Iran

As nuclear talks continue in Vienna, prime minister seeks to focus world attention on Iranian terror networks; highlights Israeli economic measures for Palestinians

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the virtual 2022 Davos World Economic Forum (screenshot)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the virtual 2022 Davos World Economic Forum (screenshot)

Speaking virtually at the 2022 Davos World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged the international community on Tuesday not to prop up the Iranian regime financially.

“Investing in Iran is not a sound investment whether there is a deal or not a deal,” he warned at the end of a discussion on Iran’s nuclear program and ongoing talks in Vienna.

Talks between Tehran and world powers resumed in late November after they were suspended for around five months as Iran elected a new, ultra-conservative government. The eighth round of high-level talks was expected to resume Tuesday.

Speaking to World Economic Forum president Børge Brende, the prime minister said that the only acceptable nuclear deal is one in which Iran gives up its nuclear weapons program.

“Why would anyone legitimize their right to enrich uranium at massive capacity?” he asked.

“I don’t see any rationale why it makes sense for the free world to sign a deal with them that would give them money, and at the same time allow them to continue [enriching].”

Citing the Islamic Republic’s activity in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, Bennett called Iran “an octopus of terror and instability.”

Bennett argued that Iranian involvement in a country’s internal affairs causes it to fail.

“They have a modus operandi, a very clever one, where they… lay back supine in Tehran, sort of remote from the terror that they’re conducting, and they send others, their messengers, to conduct terror,” he said.

In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC, smoke rises over an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot in the Mussafah neighborhood of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 17, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

“How very comfortable is it for the mullahs in Tehran to cause despair, and I think I see a very similar situation with the Houthis [in Yemen],” Bennett said. “Who stands behind them? It’s Iran. Who funds them? It’s Iran. Who provides them weaponry? It’s Iran. Who directs them what to do? It’s Iran.”

Yemen’s Iran’s-backed Houthi rebels claimed credit for a fatal attack on Monday on an oil facility in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Bennett called on “decent countries, the free world” to fight against Iranian-backed terror.

He warned that giving Tehran access to billions of dollars by removing sanctions would lead to “terror on steroids.”

Bennett also sought to present the Iranian regime as tottering and corrupt. “Their economy is tanking. The rial is depreciating. They are so incompetent that they are not able to get water to faucets in huge swaths of land, for example in the Isfahan area.”

FILE – Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran’s nuclear agency (AEOI), left, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, leave the International Atomic Energy’s (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner, File)

Answering a question about Israel improving humanitarian conditions for the Palestinians, Bennett pointed out a series of measures he has taken to increase economic opportunities in Gaza and the West Bank.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” he said.

“My first policy is to improve the quality of life for everyone here, whether it’s in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, or Israel itself,” Bennett declared. “My approach is all-in on economy.”

At the same time, Bennett emphasized that he would not do anything to weaken Israel’s ability to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism. “Ultimately, the Palestinian have a big choice to make — whether they want to go down the path of terror, or the path of peace and prosperity.”

Turning to the Abraham Accords, Bennett said that “more and more regional partners are coming to see Israel as an anchor of stability in a very tumultuous region.”

Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Mitar checkpoint in the southern West Bank on May 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

He also pointed out that he had made efforts to improve the Israel-Jordan relationship, which had soured under his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bennett lamented the fact that Israel’s trade with Egypt is “tiny,” and expressed his desire to “inject more content into these relationships.”

Looking to new opportunities for Israel, Bennett singled out the UAE as Israel’s “gateway to the east,” and identified Africa as a region with great potential for Israel.

Khalid Humaidan, CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, asked Bennett a question about bilateral cooperation on COVID-19 during the session. Bahrain is one of the Arab countries with which Israel normalized ties under the Abraham accords in 2020.

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