Netanyahu: Iran is emboldened by deal, will increase terror activity

Hours after Russia agrees to supply Tehran with advanced air defense system, PM says regime is ‘grasping the Middle East with arms of terror and blood’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a press statement regarding a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Jerusalem, April 12, 2015. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a press statement regarding a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Jerusalem, April 12, 2015. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night said Iran was being emboldened by the emerging nuclear deal with world powers to expand its support for terror activity throughout the region, and warned Tehran was “grasping the Middle East with arms of terror and blood.”

The prime minister’s comments came hours after Russia announced that it would supply the Islamic Republic with S-300 missile air defense systems, prompting objections from Israel and the US.

“Iran draws encouragement from the concessions that it is receiving from the major powers,” Netanyahu said. “The message that Iran is receiving from this is that it is not being called upon to halt its aggression, that it can continue and even increase this aggression, and this is exactly what it is doing. It has been doing so in recent months, in recent weeks and in recent days…It is grasping the Middle East with arms of terror and blood.”

The prime minister cautioned that if the deal — which aims to curb Iran’s contested nuclear program in exchanged for sanctions relief — is finalized by the June 30 deadline, Tehran’s expansionist activities will receive “international legitimacy.”

“Iran is receiving legitimacy to continue these actions and when the sanctions are lifted shortly, if indeed the deal is approved, it will receive billions of dollars to finance its war and terrorism machines, with international legitimacy,” he said.

Israel has argued that any deal with Iran be contingent on its halting its support for terror groups Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The US has consistently rejected the approach, saying the two issues must be dealt with separately.

“Before our very eyes an absurd reality is taking shape in which the key to our fate and the future of the Middle East is liable to be delivered into the hands of the fanatical Iranian regime. An agreement full of holes with Iran will not ensure regional stability; a vigorous and resolute policy that prevents it from arming itself with nuclear weapons and compels it to halt its takeover of other nations would,” Netanyahu said.

He maintained there was nothing that could convince him to support the “very bad deal” reached in Lausanne.

“There’s no explanation that can convince me that the deal is a good deal for a simple reason,” Netanyahu said. “It’s a bad deal. A very bad deal. It is a deal that leaves Iran in possession of the capability to arm itself with nuclear weapons, that fills its coffers with a lot of money and that not only enables it to continue its terrorism and aggression in the Middle East and around the world but does not even demand that it stop doing so.”

Netanyahu’s comments came as several unnamed officials in Jerusalem warned that Iran was stepping up its arms support for Hezbollah and Hamas in past weeks.

Hours earlier, Russian President Vladmir Putin declared that the S-300 missiles would be supplied to Iran, completing an $800 million deal signed in 2007. At the time, the US and Israel both strongly opposed the sale of the air defense system, that was seen as a regional game-changer. In 2010, Russia froze delivery of the missiles, citing global sanctions against selling military equipment to Iran that were imposed as part of an effort to squeeze a deal out of the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Pentagon raised objections with Moscow over the plan. The White House said Kerry made the US opposition clear in a phone call to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The call came as Lavrov argued that the preliminary agreement over Iran’s nuclear program made the 2010 ban on sending missiles to Iran no longer necessary.

Experts say the S-300s would complicate any attempt at military intervention against Iranian nuclear facilities. Israel also fears they could be made available to Syria and Hezbollah, changing the balance of power in the region.

Although Iran claims the nuclear research is for peaceful purposes only, world powers fear it is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

The framework agreement marked a crucial advance in a 12-year standoff between Iran and the West, which disputes Tehran’s denial that it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb. However, Israeli officials, led by Netanyahu, have strongly condemned the deal for placing inadequate limitations on Iran’s ability to research and produce nuclear weapons.

Global powers must resolve a series of difficult technical issues by a June 30 deadline for a final deal, including the steps for lifting global sanctions imposed on Iran, and lingering questions over the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.

AP, AFP contributed to this report.

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