World no longer listening to Netanyahu on Iran, Herzog charges

Zionist Union leader pans speech to Congress as damaging bilateral ties, says deal that keeps Israel secure is possible

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Isaac Herzog visits an open market during an election campaign rally in the city of Lod on March 3, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)
Isaac Herzog visits an open market during an election campaign rally in the city of Lod on March 3, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

World leaders are no longer listening to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings about Iran, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Wednesday, a day after the Israeli leader made his case against a nuclear deal to US lawmakers.

Herzog, a prime ministerial hopeful at the head the Zionist Camp list, accused Netanyahu of damaging ties with the international community, and pushing Israel “out of the picture” in negotiations to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“Over the past two years, despite all the speeches, the outcome is that Iran has become a nuclear threshold state,” Herzog told Army Radio.

His comments came a day after Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress about his fears of an inadequate emerging deal between world powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear development program, in a speech maligned by the White House.

“The leaders of those powers who are conducting the negotiations are no longer listening to the position that he presents, Herzog continued. “They aren’t listening.”

Herzog said the speech, which was received with over two dozen standing ovations by US lawmakers in Washington, would not change anything.

“Israeli citizens can be very pleased with the applause at the moment but for the long term, Netanyahu is out of the picture, Israel is out of the picture. Israel is not part of the process of negotiation.”

Herzog also slammed the prime minister for turning support for Israel into a partisan issue in US politics.

During the nearly-40 minute address Tuesday, Netanyahu made the case against an emerging deal with Iran, saying it would “pave the path” for Iran to produce nuclear weapons.

US President Barack Obama responded shortly afterward by saying Netanyahu had not offered any alternative to the ongoing negotiations for a nuclear deal, which the prime minister called a “very bad” deal.

Israeli politicians on the left and center also criticized Netanyahu for the speech Tuesday, while those on the right end of the political spectrum praised the prime minister.

The address to Congress had infuriated the White House and Democrats because it was set up by congressional Republicans without consulting with the president, violating usual protocol. Officials also cried foul over the proximity to Israeli elections, scheduled for March 17, and the content, which challenged the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Herzog, who joined his Labor party with the Hatnua party to form the Zionist Union list ahead of elections, said Netanyahu should have made his point in another way.

“Netanyahu’s speech as a political act damaged those parameters,” he said.

He added he believes an agreement can be made that protects Israel’s security.

“The big question is whether it is possible to reach a better agreement,” he said. “It would be possible to reach an international agreement with Iran that had ironclad conditions to prevent it from achieving nuclear weapons. That is the objective. An international agreement that is stable and strong for a long period could be better than a situation where there is no agreement.”

On Tuesday night, Herzog staged a “reaction speech” in a western Negev town and accused the prime minister of fear-mongering in his address to Congress, saying many Israelis wanted “to be released from fear to a new hope.”

Herzog emphasized that he did “not think lightly of the Iranian threat” but he was “here, not in Washington,” for the sake of the disadvantaged residents of outlying towns. He said he was committed to establishing a wide international front to counter Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

He conceded that Netanyahu had delivered a fine speech, but lamented that it had “created a rupture in the relationship with the US.”

Herzog also dismissed statements made by ultra-Orthodox Shas party leader Aryeh Deri during a political rally in which he vowed to not join a coalition with Herzog’s Zionist Union party in the next government, saying pre-election statements were not to be trusted.

“They need to be treated with caution,” he said.

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