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Herzog: Israel cannot afford to reject US overtures

Opposition leader tells delegation of Congress members that Iran nuclear deal is ‘bad,’ but he won’t clash with Obama

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on July 14, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on July 14, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel cannot reject American overtures when it comes to the Jewish state’s security, opposition leader Isaac Herzog told a US congressional delegation on Sunday, the Israeli news site Walla reported.

Herzog, head of the center-left Zionist Union faction, expressed criticism for the recently agreed deal on curbing Iran’s nuclear program, but stressed the importance of American-Israeli cooperation going forward.

“We can’t turn away an outstretched hand of the United States president,” Herzog told the lawmakers, while President Barack Obama attempts “to add and strengthen the defense capabilities of Israel, as he has proven in an unprecedented way during his tenure.”

The delegation was made up of 22 American politicians, including two — Rep. Steny Hoyer from Maryland and Rep. Steve Israel from New York — who are expected to vote against the nuclear agreement.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) urges a tougher stance on Iran nuclear agreement on July 4, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) urges a tougher stance on Iran nuclear agreement on July 4, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The trip was organized by the pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has been leading a campaign in Washington to combat the nuclear accord.

“The deal is bad,” Herzog said. “Every Israeli patriot is troubled by this deal.”

But Herzog added, “I have no intention to tell you how to vote, and I have no intention to clash with the president and his administration.”

Though Herzog noted that both he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed that the Iran nuclear deal was bad, he stressed “there are differences in our approaches.”

“However,” Herzog said, “there is no difference between us with our definition of the threat, and I certainly believe that there is a grave danger from releasing from its cage a hungry Iranian tiger, which will endanger the balance of power in the region.”

From left to right, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian A group shot at the sealing of the Iran nuclear deal: Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (Carlos Barria, Pool Photo via AP)
From left to right, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian A group shot at the sealing of the Iran nuclear deal: Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (Carlos Barria, Pool Photo via AP)

Herzog also warned that this deal will give the Islamic Republic international legitimacy.

The delegates, all members of the Democratic party, met with Herzog as congressional debate over the controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action comes to a head before next month’s vote by the House of Representatives and Senate to approve it.

Netanyahu has come out clearly against the deal and has personally worked to convince American Jewish citizens and politicians to join his fight against it.

Herzog told the visiting delegation, “The argument between us and the United States is an argument within a ‘family’ and we must establish clear rules how to run it, including lines that it is forbidden to cross.

“An argument like this you don’t have out on the balcony with the eyes of the neighbors and the world on it,” he added.

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