Netanyahu, sure Iran outreach a ‘fraud,’ orders silence after Obama-Rouhani call

PM informed but not consulted ahead of historic phone conversation, wants to set parameters with Obama for judging Iranian compliance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama meet at the White House, May 2011. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama meet at the White House, May 2011. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/Flash90)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday ordered his government colleagues and ambassadors not to respond to the latest, dramatic development in Iran’s outreach to the West, in which President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani broke a 30-year US-Iran rift and spoke by telephone on Friday.

Israel was informed ahead of time that the call would take place, but “there was no advance coordination of positions” between Israel and the US on the content of the talk, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Saturday night, adding that Netanyahu remains convinced that Iran’s ostensible outreach is “a fraud” designed to get sanctions lifted without truly abandoning the drive to nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu told his Ambassador to the US Michael Oren to cancel a scheduled interview with Channel 2 news Saturday night, told his Minister for Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz also to cancel a planned TV interview, and instructed members of his government to make no comments on the new atmosphere of conciliation in American-Iranian ties.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who did appear on Channel 2, confirmed he had been told not to comment on the latest moves to advance diplomacy over Iran’s unsanctioned nuclear program, and confined himself to praising Netanyahu for having put the issue on the global agenda in recent years.

Netanyahu’s instructions aimed to prevent members of his government from expressing personal opinions which could raise tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, Channel 10 reported.

Netanyahu’s order came hours after Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of the prime minister’s ruling Likud Party and a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel Radio that unless a substantive nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic is reached soon, Israel will take the necessary steps to defend itself and remove the threat.

Netanyahu is to address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday — a week after Rouhani made a well-received debut speech there, from which the Israeli delegation, on Netanyahu’s orders, absented itself. It was the only UN delegation to do so.

Those in Netanyahu’s circle said Saturday night that the prime minister, who has repeatedly urged the world in recent days not to be “fooled” by Rouhani’s charm offensive, sees his role as reminding the international community that Iran is not to be trusted, and that it is seeking to have economic sanctions lifted without abandoning its drive to nuclear weapons. Netanyahu knows he is “in the minority” internationally, but remains determined to stress the imperative for Iran to be judged by deeds not words.

Israel’s position was set out by Netanyahu before Rouhani went to New York and it remained unchanged, they said: Unless or until Iran fulfills four conditions — halting uranium enrichment, removing already enriched material from the country, shutting down the Fordo facility, and discontinuing the plutonium track – there should be no easing the pressure on the regime.

The prime minister was said Saturday to be still finalizing his UN speech. He was flying out to the US late Saturday, and was to meet with Obama at the White House on Monday. He intends to work with Obama on determining parameters by which to measure Iran’s compliance with international requirements, aides said.

A Channel 2 poll showed a rise in Israelis’ opinion of Netanyahu’s performance as prime minister of late, with 35% giving him a good or very good ranking (up from 20% in May), 44% an okay rating, and 21% rating him as poor.

Israeli media reported at the weekend that Iran is very close to bomb-making capability, with an unconfirmed Maariv report claiming that Tehran already has one bomb.

Channel 2 analyst Ehud Yaari said Friday that Rouhani wants to freeze the nuclear program at a level that would enable Iran to break out to the bomb within weeks if it so chose.

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