Israeli minister hits back at Obama: We’re more worried now by Iran deal than a year ago
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'Time has proved our concerns were justified'

Israeli minister hits back at Obama: We’re more worried now by Iran deal than a year ago

Accord gave legitimacy to Tehran’s nuclear capabilities, boosted its economy, without curtailing support for terrorism, protests Tzachi Hanegbi

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

MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi dismissed US President Barack Obama’s claim that Israeli defense officials are now on board with the Iran nuclear deal, telling The Times of Israel that, in fact, Israeli concerns about the deal were “justified” in the past year.

Hanegbi’s comments Friday came as the Defense Ministry bitterly rebuffed Obama’s claim that Israeli officials consider the deal a positive “game changer.” The ministry, headed by hawkish Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, compared the year-old accord aimed at curbing Iran’s rogue nuclear program to the 1938 Munich Agreement with Nazi Germany.

Obama on Thursday defended the US-led deal with Iran by asserting Israeli support for it. The “Israeli military and security community … acknowledges this has been a game changer,” Obama said. “The country that was most opposed to the deal.”

“I don’t know to which Israelis he [Obama] spoke recently,” said Hanegbi. “But I can promise you that the position of the prime minister, the defense minister and of most senior officials in the defense establishment has not changed,” Hanegbi told The Times of Israel. “The opposite is the case. The time that has elapsed since the deal was signed proved that all our worries that, regrettably, we had before the deal was made, were justified.”

The Iranian nuclear deal, he said, provided Tehran with international legitimacy and boosted its economy, without curtailing its support for terrorist groups.

“The Western world stands in line and chases after the Iranian economy. Western companies that for decades stayed away from Iran are now in competition with each other for the rights to enter the Iranian markets,” Hanegbi protested. “And we see that the Iranian regime is getting more legitimacy despite not having changed its policy at ongoing support for radical sources in the Middle East, including terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah.”

File: US President Barack Obama (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Hanegbi also lamented that Iran is still developing its ballistic missiles program, in breach of various UN Security Council Resolutions.

“We tried to convince the American administration all throughout the negotiations that they have leverage over the Iranian negotiating team, they can be tough and strong and resolved and make sure that all these problems I just mentioned should be negotiated as part of an all-inclusive Iranian nuclear deal. President Obama and in effect the entire P5+1 all could have adopted our policy in this matter, not to talk only about nuclear issue but make use of fact that Iran needed a deal because its economy was on its knees,” said Hanegbi, who until recently headed the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“I don’t think there is an Israeli who thinks that this policy of separation of the nuclear issue from the other issues was right,” he said.

US President Barack Obama answers a question during a news conference Thursday, August 4, 2016, at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
US President Barack Obama answers a question during a news conference Thursday, August 4, 2016, at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

“The world gave legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear capability. It’s going to a take a decade or a little bit more, but then Iran will not be restricted in any way to enrich uranium with an unlimited amount of centrifuges. (The Iranians) will have a research and development program that will bring them very close to a nuclear weapon,” said Hanegbi.

“President Obama was very frank in an interview he gave before the nuclear agreement was signed, that in 10 years Iran will be close to a nuclear weapon,” went on Hanegbi, a Likud colleague and trusted adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Now we have between 8 months and a year of time to be sure they don’t have a weapons. If they violated the agreement, it would take them 8 months to one year until they have the first bomb. In 10 years, they will be without any real restrictions and can upgrade their program… In about a decade — between 10 and 13 years — it will be legal for them to renew their nuclear program without any real restriction. The world accepted it as legitimate that they can have a nuclear enrichment program, that they can build 10 Natanz [enrichment facilities],” the minister added.

Hanegbi acknowledged that Iran would not get the bomb in the course of the Obama presidency, but said the next president would be in a very difficult position. “President Obama clearly stated that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon during his presidency. That’s true. But he signed an agreement that will lead to the fact that the president after the next one will face an Iran with nuclear capabilities that cannot be blocked or detained, because it will take only weeks for them to produce the fissile material needed for a first bomb,” said the minister.

“Israelis who understand the issue are only less concerned now than they were when the agreement was signed. In fact, they see that our concerns had a real basis.”

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