A day after US Vice President Joe Biden said in a strongly pro-Israel speech that the Joint Action Plan with Iran has significantly hampered Iran’s nuclear march at a small cost to sanctions relief, National Security Council head Yossi Cohen told the cabinet on Sunday that Iran was continuing its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Cohen said that the extension of the Joint Action Plan with Iran enables it to preserve and even increase its nuclear capabilities while the sanctions are “in danger of collapse. This is something that could lead to a regional nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
Cohen’s comments came as part of an annual briefing on the country’s security challenges he gave to the much trimmed-down cabinet on Sunday, the first “lame duck” cabinet session since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear last week his intention to go to elections.
There were only some 10 ministers around the cabinet table, minus the seven Yesh Atid and Hatnua ministers who either were fired or quit in recent weeks.
In addition, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett was in the US, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was sitting the shiva mourning period for his mother.
Israel played an instrumental role in ensuring that a “bad” agreement between Iran and the world powers, led by the US, was not signed last month, Cohen said. Instead, the current interim agreement – known as the Joint Action Plan – was rolled over for another seven months, during which additional negotiations with Iran will take place.
In the meantime, Iran is continuing with a massive military buildup and in directing terrorism across the globe, Cohen said.
Biden, speaking to the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that Israel has been involved with the US in every “jot and tittle” of the negotiations.
The sanctions regime has been maintained, even though there were those who said that once the Joint Action Plan was signed last year it would collapse, Biden said.
He also said that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was not growing, but rather “moving in the opposite direction.”
In his briefing, Cohen said the actions Israel took recently to tamp down the rioting in Jerusalem and the West Bank were bearing fruit, and that the security services and the IDF recently thwarted a series of attacks aimed at Israelis. No other details were provided.
Before Cohen’s briefing, Netanyahu said Israel was following developments in the Middle East with great interest, because “a great deal is happening.”
“We will remain constantly with our hand on the pulse, and we will deal with these threats and challenges because they do not take a time-out,” the prime minister said.
“We will deal with them with the same degree of responsibility that we have done up until now.”
Netanyahu also addressed the hospitalization over the weekend of Jonathan Pollard, saying that he spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry and said that Pollard’s bad health was an additional reason to set him free.
“Jonathan lost consciousness, was hospitalized, and is not healthy,” Netanyahu said. “He is suffering simultaneously from a number of diseases. The time has come, for all the reasons, after 30 years, that Jonathan Pollard is released and becomes a free man.”
Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in the US for spying for Israel, has paid his debt and should get at least the same treatment as others in his position, Netanyahu said. “We will not stop working until he is returned home, to the State of Israel.”