MOSCOW – Even as world powers’ talks with Iran continued on Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear a “bad” agreement would not obligate Israel and promised that Iran would not get nuclear weapons.
“The Iranians deny our past and repeat their commitment to wipe the State of Israel off the map. This reminds us of the dark regimes of the past that plotted against us first and then against all of humanity,” he said to a gathering of local Jewish leaders.
Netanyahu said that the “true” Iran was not the one of propaganda films produced by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif smiling and speaking about a peaceful future, but rather that of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling Jews “rabid dogs.” Khamenei, at a rally in Iran on Wednesday, called Israel an “illegitimate regime” led by “untouchable rabid dogs.”
“The public responded to him with calls of ‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’” Netanyahu said, with Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin translating his words into Russian. “Doesn’t this sound familiar to you? This is the real Iran! We are not confused. They must not have nuclear weapons. And I promise you that they will not have nuclear weapons.”
In what some interpreted as subtle criticism directed at Washington for not condemning Khamenei’s statement against Israel, a senior official in Netanyahu’s entourage said the “death to America” chants “revealed the true face of Iran, and we strongly condemn this.”
The officials said that Jerusalem was concerned that Iran, sensing that the P5+1 was keenly intent on signing a deal, may stiffen its positions at the last minute to try to extract more from the world powers.
Netanyahu, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for some fourand- a-half hours, said that both Russia and Israel share the goal of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. He did not, however, reveal whether he succeeded in persuading Putin to take a more forceful stand against Iran at the talks between the P5+1 currently taking place in Geneva.
Netanyahu is trying to get the Russians to take a more active role in those talks, in the hope that this would lead to a type of agreement with Iran similar to what the Russians brokered regarding Syria’s chemical weapons.
Russia, because of its leverage in Syria, was instrumental in getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to agree in September to dismantle his chemical weapons arsenal. Of the P5+1 countries – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – Russia has the closest ties and most leverage with Iran.
Diplomatic sources said that while there was no replacement for the importance of the US inside the P5+1, that did not mean Israel could not try to move other countries in the group closer to its way of thinking.
Likewise, the official said, the special relationship with the US does not preclude Jerusalem from taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves for closer ties to other countries as well.
Israeli-Russian interests overlap in many areas, the official said, one being that Russia is also threatened by Islamic terror, and – for that reason – is interested in a stable Middle East, though not necessarily along the parameters Israel would prefer.
The official said that the sale of Russian state-of-the-art weaponry to Syria and Iran was discussed by the two leaders, with Putin having a track record of taking into consideration Israel’s concerns on this matter.
“This issue demands constant attention,” the official said.
Diplomatic officials said that potential arm sales to Egypt were also raised, and that it was “natural” that Egypt would begin looking for other arms suppliers in light of the US decision to reduce military aid. The official said that Israel’s main concern regarding Egypt was that the country not fall into the hands of the Islamists, something that would put it on a clear trajectory of confrontation with Israel.
The official described the talks with Putin as “good” not because Putin necessarily adopted Netanyahu’s positions on Iran, but because of the hope that his arguments left an impression that will have an impact as the long process to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran continues.
In addition to meeting Russian Jewish leaders, Netanyahu briefed senior Russian journalists and gave a couple of Russian media interviews. He rounded off his 36-hour trip to Moscow with a visit to the new Jewish museum, before heading back to Israel late Thursday night.