'Iran’s neighbors -- those who know Iran best -- are united in opposition to the deal'

Countering Obama, Israel says it offered alternative to Iran deal

‘We believe we can win on the substance,’ senior official says, disputing president’s claim that 99% of world backs agreement

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press following the nuclear deal with Iran, at the PM's Office in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2015. (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press following the nuclear deal with Iran, at the PM's Office in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2015. (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel forcefully rejected Thursday US President Barack Obama’s assertion that critics of the nuclear agreement with Iran have failed to present better options, arguing that a good deal is still possible if the international community, led by Washington, maintains the sanctions regime on Tehran.

“We have consistently laid out an alternative, which is a better deal that actually blocks Iran’s path to the bomb and links the lifting of restrictions on Iran to tangible changes in Iranian behavior,” a senior Israeli official said.

The official also disputed Obama’s contention that the entire international community backs the Vienna agreement, which the United States and five world powers signed with Iran on Tuesday. He also indicated that the Israeli government is convinced it can persuade US lawmakers to oppose the deal. “We believe we can win on the substance,” he told The Times of Israel.

Defending the deal at a lengthy press conference Wednesday, the president argued that critics of the agreement have not produced a better proposition on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “For all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu, or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken, none of them have presented to me, or the American people, a better alternative,” Obama said.

The president added that he had yet to hear about a better solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff, arguing that there are only two options: the nuclear standoff can either be resolved diplomatically, through the deal the P5+1 world powers negotiated, or through war. “Those are the options,” Obama said.

But the senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, contested that argument, saying that the international community should have “held out for a better deal” by maintaining and even intensifying the sanctions in Iran and insisting they only be lifted after Iran demonstrates compliance with the P5+1’s demands.

The official also disagreed with Obama’s reasoning that it would have been impossible to keep up the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“We don’t believe that sanctions would collapse; on the contrary,” the official said, “we sincerely believe that the sanctions can be maintained in place, if there is American leadership on this matter.”

Because of the United States’ global economic power, its sanctions directly affect international economic behavior, he reasoned. “If you’re a German or a Swiss company and want to do business in Iran but in so doing have to give up on the American market, it’s a no-brainer. If forced to choose between the American or the Iranian economy, what are most rational people going to do?”

President Barack Obama answers questions about the Iran nuclear deal during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. The president defended his high-stakes nuclear accord with Iran as a sign of American leadership that will make the world safer. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US President Barack Obama answers questions about the Iran nuclear deal at a news conference in the White House, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

During his press conference Wednesday, Obama said it is “absolutely not true” that it was possible, in the absence of a deal, to “keep sanctions in place with the same vigor and effectiveness as we have right now.”

The international sanctions regime required the cooperation of countries all around the world, “many of whom really want to purchase oil from Iran,” Obama said. “The imposition of sanctions — their cooperation with us — has cost them billions of dollars, made it harder for them. They’ve been willing to do that because they’ve believed we were sincere about trying to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully.”

If, however, the international community saw the US walk away from the agreement, the sanctions regime would fall, the president argued. “And so we could still maintain some of our unilateral sanctions, but it would be far less effective — as it was before we were able to put together these multilateral sanctions.”

‘Iran’s neighbors — those who know Iran the best — are united in opposition to the deal’

The senior Israeli official also challenged Obama’s assertion that “99 percent of the world community” believes that the Vienna agreement satisfactorily resolves the Iranian nuclear threat.

“The entire international community is not backing the deal. There is a lot of opposition to it, especially from countries in the region,” the official said. “Iran’s neighbors — those who know Iran best — are united in opposition to the deal.”

Israel is widely expected to lobby the US Congress against the deal, but the official refused to reveal whether Jerusalem intends to dispatch officials to Capitol Hill or whether the prime minister plans to conduct phone conversations with congressmen. “We will be making our case to all those who are in interesting in hearing it,” the senior official said. “We believe we can win on the substance.”

The official also reflected on UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s assertion that Israel would have opposed any deal with Iran. “These comments are coming from someone who was part of the decision-making process in Vienna. He has the task of justifying the deal, when it is becoming increasingly apparent to people studying the details that this deal is increasingly difficult to justify.”

Hammond, who is set to meet with Israeli officials in Jerusalem Thursday, told British lawmakers on Wednesday that “Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran.” Rather, he said, “Israel wants a permanent state of standoff, and I don’t believe that’s in the interests of the region.”

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