Ya’alon: Iran deal ‘a historic mistake,’ but ‘it’s not time’ to discuss military action

Ya’alon: Iran deal ‘a historic mistake,’ but ‘it’s not time’ to discuss military action

Defense minister says final agreement can yet be improved, asks why US is reconciled to an Iran with centrifuges

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/FLASH90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/FLASH90)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Monday said the Iran framework deal was “an existential issue” for Israel and a “historic mistake” and lambasted the West for not addressing Tehran’s involvement in fueling conflicts across the Middle East.

“It’s not that we don’t believe the White House,” the defense minister said in an interview with Channel 2 on the framework agreement. “We don’t believe the Iranians.”

Asked in a Channel 10 interview whether Israel had now been abandoned to face Iran alone, and whether it was thus time for military intervention, Ya’alon said, “We’re not there yet… but it’s a bad deal.”

While Israel had to be prepared, “it’s not time for a discussion on attacking or not attacking,” Ya’alon said. “There’s still time to improve this bad deal,” he said, possibly via Congress.

Asked whether Israel would have claimed that any deal was a bad deal, Ya’alon adamantly denied this. A deal that left Iran with no centrifuges, and ensured the closure of the Fordo enrichment plant, would not be a bad deal, he said, asking, “Why be reconciled to an Iran” with those capacities?

“As they [the P5+1 countries] speak about the number of centrifuges, Iran takes over Yemen… the Golan Heights, Hezbollah… All these things were not mentioned in the negotiations,” Ya’alon complained.

The defense minister told Channel 2 that Jerusalem and Washington strongly disagree over the risk the deal poses to Israel’s survival, but maintained that the security ties between the two allies remain solid and the US is aware of Israeli criticism of the deal.

“There is obviously a threat here to the State of Israel,” he continued, and instead of blocking [Iran], they [the US] paves its road” to the bomb, retroactively whitewashing “all its violations of international treaties.”

He said “security relations [with the US] are really very good,” despite the “deep-seated difference of opinion” between Israel and the White House over the easing of sanctions as part of the framework deal.

Ya’alon emphasized that despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public disagreement with President Barack Obama on the Iranian issue, the US is “listening to us very well and the channels are open.” Asked again whether cooperation on defense matters suffered due to the two leaders’ differing opinions, Ya’alon answered emphatically: “Certainly not, certainly not.”

Ya’alon said the Jewish state had “not yet exhausted” all options with regard to its efforts to prevent the deal in its current form. The final agreement, he said, “has yet to be written and signed, and there are many holes. It is the prime minister’s duty to bring these to the surface, as he indeed does.”

Ya’alon also rebuffed claims Israel was being paranoid about the deal, pointing to concerns raised by other states across the Middle East.

“I suggest you listen to Arab countries, what they say behind closed doors, not to the media,” the defense minister said. “We have a new situation here with a common enemy and common interests.”

The defense minister’s comments came on the heels of a statement by the Saudi Arabian government welcoming the deal.

President Barack Obama speaks to the New York Times on April 4, 2015 (YouTube screenshot)
President Barack Obama speaks to the New York Times on April 4, 2015 (YouTube screenshot)

Ya’alon noted that regardless of US overtures and Iran’s aspirations to become a Middle East powerhouse, the Islamic Republic will not open itself up to the West.

“You will not see a McDonald’s opening in Tehran. ‘Death to America’ was chanted in Iran even as President Obama was making his Nowruz greetings recently,” he said.

The framework agreement reached last Thursday by US-led negotiators with Iran aims to cut significantly into Tehran’s bomb-making technology while giving the Shiite country relief from international sanctions. The commitments, if implemented, would substantially pare down Iranian nuclear assets for a decade and restrict others for an additional five years. Iran would also be subject to intrusive international inspections.

Netanyahu believes the deal leaves intact too much of Iran’s suspect nuclear program, including research facilities and advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium, a key ingredient in a bomb. He also asserts that the deal fails to address Iran’s support for militant groups across the Middle East.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, said Monday that Israel has drawn up a list of 10 issues Israel wants addressed in the final agreement.

The list includes a halt to “research and development” with advanced centrifuges, a reduction in the number of earlier-generation centrifuges that will be allowed to operate, and closing the underground Fordo site.

Yuval Steinitz (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Yuval Steinitz (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Under the terms outlined in Switzerland, Iran has agreed to halt enrichment activities at Fordo but the site will be allowed to continue research, and some centrifuges will remain.

Israel also wants Iran “to come clean” about its past efforts on developing nuclear weapons, seeks stronger assurances on how its stockpile of enriched uranium will be removed, and wants clarity on when sanctions on Iran will be lifted and how quickly they could be re-imposed.

Steinitz said Israel will lobby the world powers — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — to amend the final version of the deal ahead of a June 30 deadline. He said Israel still hopes the final deal can be improved.

“It might become a much better deal and more comprehensive and trusted deal than it is today. This is a bad deal,” Steinitz said.

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