Netanyahu claims Iran, international community ignoring ‘weak’ Israeli government

Opposition leader says current leadership failing to effectively lobby world against Iran the way he did when he was PM

Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Tuesday that Iran and the international community do not take the “weak” Israeli government seriously and are “ignoring” Jerusalem as it lobbies against a revival of the multilateral nuclear deal.

“Iran sees the weakness of the government, and so does the international community that wants to return to the dangerous nuclear agreement, so they are ignoring the government,” Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not adopted a generally different approach on Iran to the one led by Netanyahu, whom he replaced last June. Bennett is opposed to a US return to the deal just as Netanyahu is and demanded — in a call last week with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken — that the US immediately walk out of talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the deal rather than capitulate to Iran’s “nuclear blackmail.”

The main difference in the new government’s policy has been a stated desire to avoid public spats with the US, which were more common as the original deal was being negotiated by the Obama administration. Netanyahu gave a 2015 speech to a joint session of Congress — coordinated behind the back of then-president Barak Obama — during which he lobbied against the agreement. The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was signed several months later.

The new government has expressed interest in voicing disagreements behind closed doors, though it was Bennett’s office that publicized a readout that included his harsh words against the negotiations in Vienna.

Netanyahu claimed Monday that “had it not been for the effort by the previous governments I led, Iran would have acquired an arsenal of atomic bombs long ago.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

“We waged an unprecedented struggle [to change] American public opinion and world public opinion, in Congress, the Senate, the UN and in the capitals of the world. This struggle simply does not exist today,” the opposition chairman said.

He said the government’s opposition to the deal today “is too little, too confused and too weak.”

“Apparently it exists, but no one hears it. Because no one [takes this government seriously]. Because the world powers know that a weak, confused and helpless government is in office in Israel,” Netanyahu added.

The opposition leader said the only acceptable agreement is one that completely dismantles Iran’s nuclear capabilities — such a deal has not been on the table in Vienna.

“In the absence of such an agreement, Israel must be prepared to act independently against the Iranian nuclear program — independently meaning without prior notice, and with surprises,” he said, referring to a commitment by the Bennett-Lapid government that it would not surprise the US on the Iran nuclear issue. Netanyahu has blasted such a commitment for months, though US and Israeli officials have told The Times of Israel that the policy existed when he was prime minister as well.

Earlier on Monday, Iran said it was ready to resume nuclear talks based on draft proposals it submitted last week, accusing Western powers of stalling negotiations in Vienna.

The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Iran nuclear talks, is pictured in Vienna, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

Last week, the Islamic Republic returned to international talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal after a five-month pause. On Wednesday, it submitted two draft resolutions on the lifting of US sanctions and nuclear-related measures.

But over the weekend, the United States, as well as European participants in the Vienna talks, accused Iran of backtracking. A senior US administration official said the proposals “walked back any of the compromises that Iran had floated” during the previous six rounds of negotiations.

The official accused Iran of seeking to “pocket all of the compromises that others — the US in particular — had made and then ask for more.”

Even Russia, which has stronger relations with Iran, questioned Iran’s commitment to the process. Israel, an outside observer with a stake in the outcome of the talks, has ramped up its rhetoric.

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 5, 2021. (GPO/Amos Ben-Gershom)

The landmark 2015 nuclear accord was initially agreed on between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

The deal was aimed at putting curbs on Iran’s nuclear program to ensure it could not develop an atomic weapon, in exchange for sanctions relief for Tehran.

But it began unraveling in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump, with strong encouragement from Netanyahu, pulled out and reimposed sanctions, while Iran began publicly breaching it. Since then, Iran has stepped up its nuclear activities, amassing a stockpile of highly enriched uranium that goes well beyond the bounds of the accord.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Mossad chief David Barnea will push, during meetings this week in Washington with senior Biden administration officials, for the US to carry out a military strike on Iranian targets, Israel’s three main TV news broadcasts reported Sunday.

According to the reports, which did not cite sources, Gantz and Barnea will urge their American interlocutors to develop a “Plan B” vis-à-vis Iran, seeing the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna as an opportunity to press the US to take a more aggressive stance toward the Islamic Republic.

AFP contributed to this report

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