Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel will not be bound by a revitalized nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, declaring that the Jewish state is obligated only to defending itself against those who seek to destroy it.
In a speech at the Yad Vashem memorial museum during Israel’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Netanyahu referred to negotiations in Vienna aimed at bringing the US back into the 2015 nuclear pact while getting Iran to abide by its commitments to the unraveling deal.
“A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us,” Netanyahu declared.
“Unlike in the past, today there is no one in the world that will deprive us of the right and the might to defend ourselves from an existential threat,” he said. “The nuclear deal with Iran is once again on the table. Such deals with extreme regimes are worthless.”
“I say to our closest friends too: ‘A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us.’ Only one thing will obligate us: to prevent those who wish to destroy us from carrying out their plans.”
Netanyahu has often used his speeches at Holocaust-related events to invoke Iran as the new existential threat to the Jewish people’s existence.
US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to reverse the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement, negotiated to ensure that Iran did not develop a military nuclear program, but the White House has insisted that Iran first return to compliance.
Tehran demands the US first lift sanctions, imposed by Trump, putting the sides at a stalemate. Netanyahu opposed the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, right from the outset.
In his speech, the prime minister also railed against the International Criminal Court’s “outrageous” decision to investigate Israel for potential war crimes against Palestinians.
“The Jewish people were defenseless in the face of the Nazis but are no longer so, and have every right to defend themselves from their enemies,” he said.
The ICC, he noted, was formed in the image of the courts of the Nuremberg trials that brought Nazis to justice. But “from Nurenberg to The Hague things were turned upside down. A body formed to defend human rights has become a body that in actuality defends those who trample on human rights.”
President Reuven Rivlin, speaking before the prime minister, dedicated his address to the 900 Holocaust survivors who died over the past year in the coronavirus outbreak.
Having survived the Nazi atrocities and the perilous journey to Israel in the years between the end of World War Two and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, “the last battle of their lives they fought alone, behind masks and gloves, distanced from their loved ones, thirsty for contact.”
“Tonight our hearts are with them and with their families who are here with us,” Rivlin said.
“The burden of remembrance that we carry in our hearts is a sacred duty,” Rivlin said. “Whether we want it or not, the memory of the Holocaust shapes us as a nation. The Holocaust presents us and our country, the State of Israel, with the endless mission of remembrance.”
This year’s remembrance ceremony saw a return to the traditional format of a gathering of dignitaries, Holocaust survivors and their families at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Last year, due to the outbreak, the ceremony was prerecorded without an audience and then broadcast later.
Remembrance events will continue on Thursday when a siren will sound for two minutes at 10 a.m., which typically brings Israeli outdoor life to a standstill. Pedestrians stand in place, buses stop on busy streets and cars pull over on major highways, their drivers standing on the roads with their heads bowed.
At 11 a.m. there will be an official ceremony at the Knesset, during which lawmakers will read out the names of Holocaust victims.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is one of the most solemn dates on the Israeli calendar. Survivors typically attend remembrance ceremonies, share stories with teenagers and participate in memorial marches at former concentration camps in Europe.
Agencies contributed to this report.