PM: Israel applying effective pressure on US over Iran deal while keeping good ties

Lapid swipes at Netanyahu for clashing with White House in 2015, says Biden administration is attentive to Israel’s concerns over emerging agreement

Prime Minister Yair Lapid arrives to attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on September 4, 2022. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid arrives to attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on September 4, 2022. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday that his government was effectively applying pressure to ensure that Israel’s reservations regarding the emerging Iran deal were being heard, while still maintaining a strong relationship with the United States.

“The right policy is the one we have been implementing over the past year — to continue the pressure, but without going too far, to present reliable intelligence information, and to be part of the process without destroying the special relationship with the United States,” Lapid said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

The premier took a swipe at Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was prime minister when the initial agreement between Iran and world powers was signed. Lapid and Netanyahu publicly sparred last week after the premier delivered a security briefing to the former prime minister on the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

“For those who tell us that we are not shouting enough, or are not blunt enough, I will remind you what really happened in the past: In 2015, when Israel insisted on an unnecessary confrontation with the administration, it was a complete failure,” Lapid said. “The Americans just stopped listening to us. There was damage to the relationship with them, and they also went and signed a bad agreement.”

He said that he believed his government’s strategy was working, and that Israel’s concerns were being taken into account by the White House.

“I say this cautiously, but in the meantime [our policy on Iran] is working,” Lapid said. “The reservations that we have presented to the American administration have been taken into account. We have also spoken with our other partners. Demands have been made of the Iranians. It is not possible to discuss everything but neither does everything need to be fodder for squabbles and speeches. There is another way and it works better.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (right) briefs opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Iran and the emerging nuclear deal, August 29, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Lapid noted that following his conversation with US President Joe Biden last week, Mossad chief David Barnea will depart for Washington on Monday “for a series of meetings designed to explain to the American government our position regarding the dangers inherent in the agreement.”

According to a Channel 12 report on Saturday, Barnea will hold meetings with senior US officials who do not routinely meet with their Israeli counterparts, including the head of the CIA.

Barnea is also expected to brief the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Israel’s position and intelligence regarding Iran, Channel 12 said.

The unsourced report said Barnea will present data to US officials showing that Russia could launder money through Iran if the nuclear agreement remains as is expected, as well as information on the intensification of Tehran’s nefarious efforts across the Middle East.

File: Mossad chief David Barnea attends a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror in Jerusalem on May 3, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel reportedly believes the US and Iran are within weeks of reviving the nuclear deal, despite Washington saying Tehran’s latest response in negotiations was “not constructive.”

Channel 12 reported Friday that the Israeli assessment is contained in a non-public report compiled by the Foreign Ministry’s political research department.

The Foreign Ministry report said the US and Iran are more realistic about one another’s positions than before and are both working to boost political support for a deal ahead of a final agreement, according to Channel 12.

During their phone call last week, Lapid urged Biden to prepare a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, telling him that “only a credible US military plan will ensure the Iranians don’t try to cheat” if a nuclear deal is revived, Channel 12 reported.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks via phone to US President Joe Biden on August 31, 2022. (Courtesy)

Biden reiterated his commitment to keeping Israel in the loop regarding the nuclear talks and assured Lapid there would be no surprises, as Jerusalem felt there were during the Obama administration.

Israel has long pushed the US to prepare a military option, and Biden said in July that he would be prepared to use force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran’s nuclear program is believed to be too advanced to be taken out with one strike and it is unclear the extent of the damage a military attack would be able to achieve.

The US calling Iran’s response to a draft agreement “not constructive” on Thursday was the latest in a back and forth between the adversaries via mediators from the European Union.

This January 15, 2011 file photo shows the heavy water nuclear facility near Arak, Iran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File)

On August 8, the EU put forward what it called a final text. Iran proposed changes to it — largely accepted by the Europeans — to which the US issued a response through the mediators.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said Friday that Tehran sent another response, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA. Kanaani called the Iranian proposal “constructive” and expressed hopes that a deal would be finalized. Later in the day, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement that the US was still “studying the [Iranian] response and coordinating with our E3 allies.”

In his comments Sunday, Lapid also addressed the rising tensions in the West Bank, saying that Israeli security forces would continue their operations to thwart terrorism, but “our goal is to calm things down, not to escalate the confrontations.”

“We will continue with the policy that says: We will respond forcefully – including socioeconomically – against places from which terrorism originates. In places where quiet is maintained, we will make every effort to enable routine [to continue] and to advance the Palestinian economy,” Lapid said.

The comments came as the Israeli military pressed on with a five-month-long operation aimed at preventing Palestinian terrorists from committing attacks.

The Israel Defense Forces launched the operation, dubbed Breakwater, after a series of deadly attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May. More than 1,200 suspects have been detained since the start of the operation.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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