Israel’s ambassador to the United States said in a television interview aired Saturday that Jerusalem was not in any way eager to go up against Washington on the contentious Iranian nuclear agreement reached last month, but felt it had no choice.
“There’s no question that this is the most important relationship in the world, and we are not eager in any way to have to be at odds on the most important policy priority of the president of the United States. That’s a big deal,” Ron Dermer told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
“But… the survival of the state of Israel is also a big deal, and we believe that this deal threatens the survival of Israel,” Dermer said.
The Israeli envoy said that Israel has been arguing against the deal to US President Barack Obama for a long time, and was now aiming to make its case with US congressmen and senators “who will ultimately decide the fate of this deal.”
“We are telling them that this is a bad deal that endangers Israel’s security,” Dermer said.
Congress is expected to vote on the agreement by September 17, and the battle for congressional votes has pitted the Obama administration against Israel and the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, sparking concerns of a deepening rift between Washington and Jerusalem.
Last month, AIPAC kicked off a major lobbying push against the accord, flying hundreds of activists from around the country into Washington to press Congress members to oppose it.
Obama has vowed to veto any Congressional rejection of the deal, and the president would then need at least 34 of the Senate’s 40 Democrats to vote in favor to avoid a veto-busting supermajority.
The Obama administration has sharply criticized opponents of the accord, arguing that the deal is the best option for the United States, Israel and the world.
“When the president and the US Secretary of State John Kerry, when they say they believe this deal is better for America and better for Israel, I have no doubt they are being sincere. We just disagree with their judgement. We think that this deal will endanger Israel’s security,” Dermer told CNN.
In Israel, Dermer emphasized, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and head of the opposition, Zionist-Union leader Isaac Herzog, as well as heads of other opposition parties share the view that the Iranian accord is a bad deal that leaves Iran a nuclear threshold state and endangers Israel.
When confronted with the fact that some former heads of Israeli security agencies have voiced degrees of approval of the deal, including former Mossad head Efraim Halevy and former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, Dermer said: “We’re a Jewish state, we have a lot of opinions and we’re a democracy. We are not unanimous on anything.”
In an interview with CNN’s Zakaria last week, Obama charged that Israel’s interference in internal US affairs ahead of the Congressional vote was unprecedented.
Obama was asked if he thought it was “appropriate of a foreign head of government to inject himself into an American affair.”
The president responded that he would let Zakaria “ask Prime Minister Netanyahu that question if he gives you an interview,” before adding: “I don’t recall a similar example.”
Obama also indicated in the same interview that he does not intend to lose the battle between the administration and a Republican-dominated Congress over the Iran deal.