In the latest move in a sustained and vehement assault on the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet again called into question the wisdom of a framework agreement decided upon last week in Lausanne. The framework is the first real step towards curbing Iran’s nuclear program, but Netanyahu called the Iran agreement “a very bad deal,” in an interview aired Sunday on CNN. The framework does not go far enough in dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Netanyahu said.
The Israeli premier has previously insisted that any deal with Iran include a “clear and unambiguous Iranian commitment of Israel's right to exist.” Netanyahu has for years insisted that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, and has staunchly opposed any deal with Iran that he deems weak — though Israel was in fact not privy to the Lausanne talks.
In his CNN interview — the first of several scheduled appearances on U.S. news programs Sunday, according to Reuters — Netanyahu warned that he would encourage American legislators not to allow Tehran “a free path to the bomb,” and urged the U.S. to seek a more comprehensive agreement. “A better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure, and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terror worldwide and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel,” he said. “That’s a better deal. It’s achievable.”
Netanyahu has been vocally opposed to an agreement with Iran from the beginning — in an address to Congress last month, he spouted invective against a “bad deal” and referenced Iran “gobbling up” countries. But the freshly signed framework, announced Thursday after exhaustive talks in Lausanne, has reinvigorated his efforts to derail the process. “The proposed agreement would constitute a real danger to the region and the world, and it would threaten the existence of Israel,” Netanyahu said Friday.
By contrast, President Barack Obama has hailed the initial framework as a victory for diplomacy — one that will block “every pathway” to the development of a nuclear weapon in Iran. In stark opposition to Netanyahu, Obama called the agreement a “good deal” and a “historic understanding,” in his address to the nation Saturday. Netanyahu, among others, is unconvinced.
After his speech to Congress in March, at the invitation of Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (who has just concluded a visit to Israel), there has been a strong sense that the Israeli premier and conservative politicians are colluding on the Iran question against the interests of Obama. But Netanyahu denied that he was working with Boehner, during his CNN interview. He said he had spoken to both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representative and the Senate about the proposed deal, insisting that his concerns transcend party and national lines. Netanyahu told CNN's State of the Union:
This is not a partisan issue. This is not solely an Israeli issue. This is a world issue, because everyone is going to be threatened by the pre-eminent terrorist state of our time, keeping the infrastructure to produce not one nuclear bomb but many, many nuclear bombs down the line.
Obama reportedly called Netanyahu just hours after the framework was struck, according to The Times of Israel. During their conversation, Netanyahu insisted that the deal was a mistake. “Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it,” Netanyahu told Obama. “It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war. The alternative is standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved.” This unsparing appraisal no doubt did little to ameliorate the famously tense relationship between the two heads of state.
During his CNN interview, Netanyahu was asked if he trusted Obama. “It's not a question of personal trust,” the Israeli PM replied, emphasizing that Obama was surely doing what he thought best for the country. But Netanyahu said that he and the president had a very different idea of what the best Iran policy would look like. Ironically enough, as Reuters points out, Israel is currently thought to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East.
Senator Dianne Feinstein also appeared on State of the Union Sunday, offering a sharp rebuke to Netanyahu. Feinstein stressed that she did not believe the new agreement would threaten the survival of Israel. “I don't think it's helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity to change a major dynamic, which is downhill — a downhill dynamic in this part of the world,” she said.
Currently, legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate could jeopardize the framework agreement — by setting limits on how quickly sanctions will be rolled back, among other things. Feinstein made clear she was unlikely to vote for such legislation. “A couple of years now have gone in to get this far,” she said. “It’s a better agreement than I thought it was ever going to be.”
Images: Getty Images (3); CNN