Netanyahu warns US Congress members: No accord will stop Iran’s nuclear program

As Biden administration moves to revive 2015 deal, opposition leader tells bipartisan delegation only crippling sanctions and credible military threat will keep Tehran from bomb

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 14, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 14, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of visiting members of the US House of Representatives that no signed agreement would ever stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and insisted that only stiff sanctions and military action would be effective.

Dozens of Congress members from both the Republican and Democratic parties are in Israel this week, meeting with local officials on a trip organized by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation.

Western officials have indicated that negotiations between world powers and Iran to restore the faltering 2015 nuclear deal could produce an agreement within days. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has unraveled since the US unilaterally pulled out of it in 2018, in a move supported by Israel when Netanyahu was still prime minister.

Netanyahu told the US lawmakers Monday that history has shown that other countries in the region seeking nuclear weapons were only stopped when Israel took military action and bombed reactor sites before they became operational, citing the attacks on Iraq’s reactor in 1981 and a Syrian reactor in 2007.

“The way to stop the arming of such regimes with military weapons is not, then, through agreements. It is important to understand that it just does not work,” Netanyahu said.

“The only thing that has worked in the past is one of two things or both: either crippling sanctions or a credible military response or both — preferably both,” he said. “Nothing else has worked and in my judgment, nothing else can work.”

The JCPOA lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program. After the Trump administration exited the pact and reinstated sanctions, Iran dropped some of its own commitments, upping its uranium enrichment and stockpiles to levels banned by the terms of the deal and raising concerns that it is approaching the technological threshold needed to produce a weapon.

In a speech Sunday to the Conference of Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that the emerging Iran deal in Vienna will “likely create a more violent, more volatile Middle East,” warned tat Iran would use assets freed up by the lifting of sanctions to target Israel, and vowed that Israel “won’t accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

Israel has repeatedly threatened military action to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons if necessary.

According to a Channel 12 news report Monday, a renewed deal will effectively remove the possibility of an Israeli airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

However, the network reported that Bennett and Mossad director David Barnea were working on a new strategy to weaken Iran through economic means, as well as continuing to counter Tehran’s efforts to further entrench itself and its proxies on Israel’s borders.

The report also said Israeli officials were readying for the deal’s expiration in the coming years, and were preparing to speak with world powers on ensuring that a follow-up accord will be longer-lasting and more stringent.

The Biden administration rejected Bennett’s criticism, with a US State Department spokesperson on Monday telling the Walla news site that when the US withdrew from the Iran deal in 2018, senior Israeli defense officials thought the move was a mistake.

“We cannot make the same mistake another time and put off another opportunity for diplomatic progress,” the spokesperson said.

Iran is negotiating directly with the remaining parties to the JCPOA — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China — and indirectly with the US.

Netanyahu has always opposed the JCPOA and in 2015 traveled to Washington where he addressed Congress and pleaded against the US signing the JCPOA, even as the-US president Barak Obama prepared to join the accord.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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