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Israel’s Netanyahu Keeps Up Attacks on Iran Nuke Deal

Posted August 5th, 2015 at 10:42 am (UTC-4)
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By Barbara Slavin

The speech started late and the live feed from Jerusalem was full of glitches, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s message came through loud and clear.

“Oppose this bad deal,” Netanyahu exhorted the more than 16,000 people who signed up to hear a webcast Tuesday sponsored by prominent U.S. Jewish organizations about the recently concluded nuclear agreement with Iran.

Despite provisions that he conceded would make it difficult for Iran to amass the material for a nuclear weapon for more than a decade, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “paves Iran’s path to the bomb,” the Israeli leader insisted, whether Iran abides by the agreement or violates it.

The JCPOA might make it harder “in the short term” for Iran to produce nuclear weapons, but allows it to maintain a nuclear infrastructure that would enable it to make “dozens,” if not “hundreds,” of bombs when key provisions expire, Netanyahu said.  If Iran violates the deal, he suggested, it could become a nuclear weapons state even sooner.

The prime minister offered no reason why Iran would violate its commitment to remain a non-nuclear weapons member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran has also agreed to abide by an additional protocol to that treaty, which allows intrusive access to its program in perpetuity.

But with Congress poised to vote on a resolution disapproving of the JCPOA by September 17, Netanyahu is doubling down on doomsday scenarios. His unflinching opposition to what is clearly a legacy issue for President Obama is putting Democrats – especially Jewish Democrats – in an uncomfortable position, further isolating Israel internationally and potentially undermining Israel’s long-term relationship with the United States.

Israel is now the only country that is openly opposing the nuclear deal, which was negotiated by Iran, the U.S., the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany over the past two years and unanimously approved by the Security Council on July 20.

According to Netanyahu, many of Iran’s Arab rivals, in particular Saudi Arabia, also oppose the deal.

But a day before he spoke, the members of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry,
called the diplomatic resolution of the Iran nuclear issue the best available option. Accepting the JCPOA as a fait accompli, the Gulf Arabs have pivoted to obtaining more military aid and security assurances from Washington and are keeping their misgivings about the Iran deal private.

Notably, Netanyahu’s criticism has not included a realistic alternative.  On Tuesday, he called 10-15 years – the period in which Iran has accepted significant constraints on its ability to make fissile material – “the blink of an eye.” Netanyahu insisted that a better deal than the JCPOA was still to be had, but failed to outline one.  

Having earlier demanded that Iran dismantle its entire nuclear infrastructure – something Iran has refused repeatedly – Netanyahu’s other idea – first presented in March before a controversial joint session of the U.S. Congress – would have tied the nuclear deal to ending what the prime minister called Iran’s aggression and support of terrorism.

Such a grand bargain was dangled before the George W. Bush administration in 2003, but ignored at the time by Washington, which was
distracted by the invasion of Iraq.  Demanding Iran stop supporting key regional partners such as Hezbollah in the current unstable Middle Eastern environment would clearly have doomed a nuclear deal, which is first and foremost about non-proliferation.

The Israeli leader was on stronger ground when he expressed concern about the “massive infusion of cash” Iran will receive if it implements the agreement and sanctions are lifted, although it is debatable how much additional money would to invention abroad.

If the deal falters because of unilateral U.S. action, it is unlikely that the rest of the world will continue to bear the economic burden of avoiding the large Iranian market.  As Netanyahu spoke, a delegation of Italian business people was in Tehran discussing new trade deals.  They followed in the footsteps of the French, the Germans and the European Union.
President Obama, speaking Wednesday at American University, said U.S. allies would not reimpose sanctions just because the U.S. Congress told them to do so. “Walk away from this agreement and you will get a better deal – for Iran,” Obama said.  As for Netanyahu’s continued opposition, Obama said “I do not doubt his sincerity but I believe he is wrong.”
During his speech, Netanyahu said he would be derelict if he failed to point out the “fatal flaws” in the JCPOA and noted that the agreement was opposed by both the right and left wings in Israel’s political system. It is “not a partisan issue in Israel” and shouldn’t be one in the U.S. either, he said.

But his historic and growing identification with the Republican Party puts Israeli interests in jeopardy if another Democrat wins the White House, or Democrats take a majority in the U.S. Senate in 2016.

Netanyahu is also contributing to growing divisions within the U.S. Jewish community, which votes Democratic by a wide margin. Polls show that a majority of American Jews favor the Iran nuclear deal and that young Jews in particular are increasingly alienated by Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and the frightening growth of right-wing extremism in Israeli society. 

In his desire to stave off a nuclear Iran in the future, Netanyahu risks jeopardizing Israel’s long-term relationship with its only real ally.  Prominent Israelis who are also skeptical of the deal, such as retired Gen. Amos Yadlin, a former chief of intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces, have warned Netanyahu against continuing to interfere so overtly in the U.S. political system.
“If Israel opts to intervene officially by attempting to influence Congressional opinion, it can expect a two-fold loss,” Yadlin wrote recently in the journal of the Institute for National Security Studies, a well-known Israeli think tank he heads.

“If it succeeds in thwarting the agreement, Iran will remain closer to a nuclear bomb in the coming years, and the chances of a collapse of the sanctions regime will increase, as Israel will be accused of thwarting an agreement that was already approved by all the major powers and the U.N. Security Council. If Israel fails to block the agreement, its international standing and its deterrence will be damaged.”

Barbara Slavin is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and Washington Correspondent for, a website devoted to news from and about the Middle East. The author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation (2007), she is a regular commentator on US foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, and C-SPAN.

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