Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday discussed “steps to block the Iranian nuclear program” in a call with United States President Joe Biden, just hours after Bennett indicated that his country retains the right to attack Iran “with or without” a renewed nuclear deal between Iran and the major world powers. The Israeli leader’s conversation with Biden on Sunday evening covered a range of topics, including “regional challenges, especially the growing Iranian aggression,” according to a summary of the call published by Israel.
That “growing Iranian aggression” was certainly on Bennett’s mind earlier in the day during Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting, where the Prime Minister made it clear that a nuclear deal will make things worse, not better.
“Our position is well-known and clear: An agreement—according to the apparent terms—will damage the ability to deal with the nuclear program,” said Bennett in comments released by his office. “Whoever thinks that an agreement will increase stability—is mistaken. It will temporarily delay enrichment but all of us in the region will pay a heavy, disproportionate price for it.”
Bennett later issued a veiled threat to attack Iran as needed, regardless of the outcome of the nuclear negotiations. “We are currently closing gaps and building up Israel’s military strength for years and even decades to come. Israel will maintain freedom of action in any case, with or without an agreement,” said Bennett.
The implied warning follows comments last week in which Bennett spelled out some of the ways his country is already working to “weaken” Iran—including “cyber, overt and covert operations”—and as news reports continue to indicate Israel is preparing to launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program if necessary.
In the speech last Tuesday, also published by his office, Bennett laid out the dangerous impact of sanctions relief for Iran as part of a nuclear agreement.
“If an agreement is signed, and the flow of dollars is renewed, we know that their aggressive behavior will only intensify. We in Israel are ready. We will continue to stand against them in every way,” said Bennett.
“No agreement will prevent us from protecting the citizens of Israel. The Israeli strategy remains the same in the case of an agreement, which in any case only buys a very short amount of time until the sunset clause, or in the event that there is no agreement. In both cases, our campaign continues.”
The strong words from Bennett come as the US said they had reached the “final stretch” of talks with Iran. In comments on background last Monday, an unnamed US Senior State Department Official told reporters that there are only “a handful of weeks left to get a deal” before Iran’s nuclear advances make the old terms of the pre-existing deal obsolete.
That deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed in 2015 but the US withdrew from the accord in 2018 after a failed attempt to strengthen the restrictions on Iran. In response, Iran walked away from their own obligations under the JCPOA and then some, making disturbing progress towards enriching enough uranium to serve as nuclear fuel for a weapon.
The US and other major world powers have been trying to resurrect the JCPOA for around 10 months without success, as talks continue in Vienna. The Senior US State Department official, whose comments were published by the State Department, claimed last week that “seniormost former Israeli officials” have called the US withdrawal from the JCPOA a “terrible mistake”.
By contrast, the current leadership in Israel certainly does not believe that returning to the JCPOA would be better—and the current Iranian actions only confirm this. “The greatest threat against the State of Israel is Iran,” said Bennett in the cabinet meeting on Sunday. “… In recent weeks, precisely during the negotiations, Iran is increasing its aggression and repeatedly using terrorism in the region, as you all have seen. This is how you conduct negotiations, Tehran-style.”
Despite the obvious disagreement between Bennett and Biden on how to best handle Iran, in the call on Sunday, Bennett thanked Biden for “his steadfast support of Israel as well as the support of his entire administration, especially with regards to American assistance towards the Iron Dome.” He also invited Biden and his wife to visit Israel.
His future outlook for Iran was not so rosy. In the cabinet meeting, Bennett warned, “Every knowledgeable investor knows that investing in the Iranian regime, in the Iranian economy, is an unwise investment in both the long and intermediate terms.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, February 6, 2022)