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Herzog: If world doesn't take a vigorous stance, Israel will

Israel will protect itself against Iran if world won’t, Herzog warns new US envoy

Presenting his credentials, Ambassador Tom Nides pledges to work closely with Israel to counter Tehran, says Abraham Accords no replacement for deal with Palestinians

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog (R) speaks with US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides at Beit Hanasi in Jerusalem, December 5, 2021 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog (R) speaks with US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides at Beit Hanasi in Jerusalem, December 5, 2021 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog told the incoming US ambassador Sunday that Israel will take action to “protect itself” should the international community fail to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The comments, during a traditionally sedate ceremony to accept the credentials of Tom Nides, underlined tensions between Israel and the US amid talks in Vienna last week aimed at bringing the United States back into the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers.

Speaking in English alongside Nides, Herzog called the Iran threat “the greatest challenge Israel and the United States face.”

“We are closely following the international community’s recent negotiations with Iran,” said Herzog. “Israel will welcome a comprehensive, diplomatic solution which permanently solves the Iranian nuclear threat.”

“In the case of a failure to achieve such a solution, Israel is keeping all options on the table and it must be said that if the international community does not take a vigorous stance on this issue — Israel will do so. Israel will protect itself,” he warned.

The comments were the latest of a string of barely veiled warnings from Israeli officials, who insist that restoring the nuclear deal will leave Iran on the path to nuclear weapons capabilities and that it will take whatever steps necessary, including military action, to keep it from happening.

President Isaac Herzog (right) receives the credentials of new US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides in Jerusalem on December 5, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Nides said that the two countries will work closely to counter the threat Iran poses to Israel and the region, and that the US is committed to ensuring that Iran “never develops a nuclear weapon.”

A US official said Saturday that Iran, now under a new, more hardline government, had backed away from all its previous compromises on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, after talks in Vienna took place over several days last week following an extended hiatus.

The US would not allow Iran to “slow walk” the international negotiations while at the same time ramping up its atomic activities, the official said.

A day earlier, Washington said talks with world powers on a return to the 2015 nuclear accord had stalled because Tehran “does not seem to be serious.”

US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides (R) presents his credentials to President Isaac Herzog at Beit Hanasi in Jerusalem, December 5, 2021 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The delegations returned to their national capitals and are expected to return to Austria this week.

Nides, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and longtime Democratic party operative, is assuming the post as disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington have threatened to put stress on a publicly warm relationship between US President Joe Biden’s administration and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.

Israel has lobbied intensively for the US and other Western allies to halt the nuclear talks, which Bennett described to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week as a form of “nuclear blackmail,” though the US has continued to press ahead despite warning that its patience with Iran was running thin.

The sides are also at odds over Biden’s plans to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem that focuses on Palestinian affairs. The consulate was closed by former US president Donald Trump when he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, placing the Palestinian affairs unit under the embassy.

Herzog thanked Biden “for his tireless support and his uncompromising commitment to the ironclad relations between Israel and the United States.”

The president said that Nides was coming to a “more hopeful” region in the wake of the 2020 Abraham Accords, and that it is imperative that the US helps the parties realize the potential of the agreements.

Nides promised to “work tirelessly to further strengthen Israel’s longstanding peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, as well as to build on the great work of the Abraham Accords.

“President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been unequivocal in their support for these groundbreaking agreements,” he said.

At the same time, Nides stressed, normalization agreements are no substitute for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Instead,” he said, “we seek to harness existing and future agreements to improve the lives of Palestinians with a view to preserving the vision of a negotiated two-state solution.”

President Isaac Herzog (C) and First Lady Michal (L) light Hanukkah candles alongside US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, December 5, 2021 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Nides also said he will work on having Israel join the US visa waiver program and rejected the pro-Palestinian Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement.

“I will stand up against all efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel internationally,” he said, ending his remarks by thanking his hosts and wishing a happy Hanukkah in Hebrew. He and Herzog both lit candles for the last night of the holiday.

Nides was born in 1961 to a Jewish family in Duluth, Minnesota. His father, Arnold Nides, was the president of Temple Israel and the Duluth Jewish Federation, as well as the founder of finance company Nides Finance.

Herzog surprised Nides by inviting Elizabeth Aloni, his Temple Israel Hebrew school teacher from Duluth, Minnesota, to the ceremony.

” I remember him,” Aloni told The Times of Israel. “And when we saw him now, we said that’s him.”

Elizabeth Aloni (L), who taught US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides when he was in Hebrew School, attends NIdes’ presentation of credentials ceremony alongside her husband at Beit Hanasi, December 5, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Nides landed in Israel six days ago, then spent three days in quarantine in his new home in Jerusalem.

In a video recorded hours after he landed, Nides spoke about his first trip to Israel as a 15-year-old, calling it “a dream come true.”

“The bonds between our two countries, as President [Joe] Biden has said, are unbreakable,” Nides said in the video. “There is no greater privilege than what I have been asked to do, to represent the United States of America to the State of Israel.”

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