Netanyahu: Nuke deal gives Iran months to cover up illicit activity

It’ll take inspectors a lot more than 24 days to gain access to suspect sites, PM says; claims American opposition to pact growing as more is learned about it

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

In this Tuesday, July 14, 2015 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at his Jerusalem office. (AP/Oren Ben Hakoon, File)
In this Tuesday, July 14, 2015 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at his Jerusalem office. (AP/Oren Ben Hakoon, File)

The nuclear deal between the West and Iran gives Tehran up to three months to hide illicit nuclear activity in hitherto undeclared locations, and not 24 days as claimed by the accord’s backers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday.

If Iran honors the agreement, it will be able to build numerous nuclear weapons with the blessing of the international community, he lamented during a briefing for Israeli diplomatic correspondents in his Jerusalem office.

“The inspections regime is full of holes,” Netanyahu said. “This deal is terrible. It’s preferable to have no deal than this deal.”

Under the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action that the world powers signed with Iran earlier this month, Iran has 24 days before it needs to grant international inspectors access to hitherto undeclared sites they suspect host nuclear activity.

But, Netanyahu said, if no agreement has been reached after that time elapses, the deal says that the complaint is to go to another committee trying to bridge the dispute, which will deal with the issue for another 30 days. If Iran still refuses to let inspectors into the site and the United Nations Security Council is involved, it will take another 30 days before any action is taken, the prime minister said.

“It could take a total of three months,” Netanyahu said.

During an in-depth briefing, interrupted by a phone call during which Netanyahu discussed the Iran deal and other regional issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the prime minister vociferously attacked the deal, saying it endangers Israel’s existence.

“In another 10 to 15 years, Iran will become a nuclear threshold country with the potential to build nuclear weapons — with permission and authorization,” he said.

If US Congress rejects the deal, “it will avert the greatest danger of Iran becoming a legitimate nuclear threshold power in 10 years,” Netanyahu added.

The opposition to the deal is growing steadily, he said, especially among Americans.

“With every passing day there are more and more opponents to this deal. The more a person learns about the agreement, the more he opposes it,” Netanyahu said. This is true among the American public as well. The American conversation is important and you see it moving.”

The prime minister pointed to a critical article by Leon Wieseltier, a frequent critic of Netanyahu’s policies, as proof that Jews and Americans were united in opposition to the deal.

“It shows that you don’t have to be right wing Jew to criticize this agreement. You also don’t have to be a Jew at all to reject this agreement.”

Recent polling has shown Americans, as well as American Jews, split on whether to support the deal. Religious Jews are most likely to oppose the agreement, according to most surveys.

He said that Sunni Arab states in the region shared his concerns about the pact.

“Most Sunni Arab states don’t just criticize the deal, they fully reject it. They are outraged by the agreement,” he said. “There are very concrete threats on our existence. We’re not the only ones who understand that. Others understand it too.”

The comments seemed to contradict US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who earlier this month said Saudi Arabia had offered some support for the accord. In the UN Security Council, Jordan, another Sunni Arab state, voted for the deal.

Netanyahu also said that Israel is not privy to all the content of the secret supplements of the agreement signed by Iran and the world powers. “We didn’t receive all the parts of the deal,” he said, refusing to elaborate.

On Wednesday, national security adviser Yossi Cohen told Knesset lawmakers that Israel was being kept in the dark on the annexes.

“Contrary to promises, Israel has not yet received all the written supplements to the agreement signed between Iran and the world powers,” Cohen, a former deputy head of the Mossad, told members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The nuclear deal is currently being weighed by Congress, which will likely vote on whether to support it in September.

Netanyahu has indicated he will lobby against the deal in the US, even at the cost of ruffling feathers with the White House.

During the talk with Putin, the Russian president said the agreement “provided reliable guarantees” that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, according to the Kremlin.

Putin said that the agreement would help secure nuclear non-proliferation and “have a positive impact on security and stability in the Middle East.”

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