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Netanyahu: Government showing ‘only weakness’ in face of looming Iran deal

In implicit criticism of Bennett’s efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, opposition chief says Israel must focus on battling agreement to restore 2015 nuclear pact

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday assailed the government for its purported “silence” in the face of the Iran nuclear talks that are said to be nearing their conclusion in Vienna.

“In the Bennett-Gantz-Lapid government there is only weakness, weakness, and more weakness,” claimed Netanyahu in a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset. “Bennett, Lapid and Gantz are surrendering like rabbits while the Iranians are fighting like lions,” he declared.

In implied criticism of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s involvement in potentially brokering Ukraine-Russia talks, Netanyahu said the looming Iran deal is “what the government must be dealing with now.”

Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz “are simply not ready to confront even our allies,” he said.

“The silence of Israel during these days — except for some pro forma statements — leads our friends in the US” to also silence their own opposition to the deal, he said.

“If they don’t see, if they don’t hear Israel opposing it, why should they oppose it themselves?” Netanyahu added, claiming that Israel’s “strong opposition to the last deal” in 2015 “helped the US exit the deal” in 2018.

Netanyahu also argued that “the current government’s silence detracts from the legitimacy of our future action” against Iran’s nuclear sites and said the Iranians were “fighting like lions” at the negotiating table.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left), Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (center), and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attend a plenum session in the Knesset, on January 31, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Separately Monday, Gantz called for the world to “act against Iranian aggression,” vowing that Israel would continue to act regardless of any deal reached by world powers with Iran.

“It is during this important time, when a nuclear agreement is being negotiated in Vienna, that we must remember: today, Iranian aaggression is conducted without [it holding nuclear weapons]. If Iran reaches a nuclear threshold, it will become even more dangerous to world peace,” Gantz said.

“Now is the time for the world to mobilize to stop it,” he declared.

“Whether or not an agreement is signed, it will not be the end of the road for us — nor should it be for the countries of the region and the world, which must continue to act against Iranian aggression,” Gantz said, adding that Israel “will take all measures necessary — political, economic and if needed, also military, in order to defend our sovereignty and ensure the security of the citizens Israel.”

But talks have become bogged down, due to tensions between Russia and the West over its invasion of Ukraine late last month. On Saturday, Russia demanded “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that US sanctions would not affect Moscow’s interactions with Tehran. That threw into question the months of negotiations held so far on restoring the 2015 deal, which saw Iran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Russian demand “irrelevant,” as the nuclear deal and sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine war were “totally different.”

The original 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but the US unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, who reimposed heavy economic sanctions.

That prompted Iran to begin rolling back its own commitments and enrich uranium to a purity level only a short technical step away from what is needed to produce nuclear weapons.

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