Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have said that the fight against the world powers’ agreement with Iran is not over yet, but MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) thinks it’s a done deal and Israel must work on protecting itself from new threats.
Bar-Lev headed to Washington on Monday night to present his ambivalent, but nuanced view on the Iran deal to Rob Malley, head of the Middle East desk at the US National Security Council, 15 members of Congress, and at a press briefing. He does so right after Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan returned from a US campus tour to make the case against the agreement.
J Street, which organized Bar- Lev’s trip, said a previous delegation it brought to the US in the summer “shared their sense of how and why upholding the deal will make Israel safer,” but Bar-Lev, a former commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal commandos, only partly falls in line with that stance.
“The last thing I’m saying is that the agreement is good and that I agree with it. I’m saying that it is a fact,” Bar-Lev stated.
“I certainly think it’s a very problematic deal, but it was clear from the beginning that it would be implemented, so we have to see if there are positive elements and know how to prepare for negative elements.”
The positive, Bar-Lev said, is that “if the agreement is fulfilled, the nuclear threat to Israel will be smaller in a year than it is today...It shrinks the strategic, existential threat to Israel.”
However, on the negative side, he said, “canceling sanctions will undoubtedly give Iran more money – that’s an understatement – that can cause instability in the Middle East and will reach Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations...It increases the more tactical threats, which are heavy but not a threat to our existence.”
Bar-Lev said he disagrees with Netanyahu’s strategy of “going head-to-head with the US government,” because, according to his analysis, even if the US were to reject the deal, five of the other six powers that signed it would lift sanctions at the end of 2015. But Iran could be freed from the agreement if not all six signatories keep it, leaving Tehran with no sanctions and no agreement to curb its nuclear aspirations.
The Zionist Union MK plans to explain the threat the deal poses to Israel, which, he says is mainly increased funding to Hezbollah and Hamas, and how the US can and has the responsibility to help Israel deal with it.
First, Bar-Lev called for the US-Israel relationship to be repaired after “the crisis Netanyahu brought us.”
“We need close intelligence cooperation between Israel and the US to make sure the agreement is being followed,” he said. “I’m not naive. I’m sure that if there is no supervision, Iran will violate the agreement.
But I rely on the Mossad, CIA and others to reveal if they do.
We can’t rely on the IAEA.”
Bar-Lev also called for increased US defense aid to Israel to defend it from the increased threats and also to ensure Israel’s strategic edge in the Middle East after the US gave advanced weapons to Sunni states.
“If Saudi Arabia has the most advanced fighter jets, that’s a threat, too,” he warned.
Though opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) backed Netanyahu in his battle against the agreement, Bar-Lev said that no one in his party pressured him not to make the trip.
As for the custom of not criticizing the government while abroad, Bar-Lev said: “I’m going for Israel’s security, which crosses borders and political stances...
not to politically oppose someone or a party with whom I have a political disagreement in Israel.”
Also Monday, Ben-Dahan returned from a campus tour in New York, which was curtailed when Netanyahu said he must come back to vote on the natural gas deal.
Still, the deputy minister managed to speak at Cornell University and to the Jewish community near SUNY Binghamton, where he conveyed the dangers the government sees in the Iran deal.
“I hope that on the one hand, relations with the US will not be harmed by recent events, and I also hope the US will support Israel militarily like it promised to do if the agreement is authorized,” he said, recounting what he told the students in NY.
Ben-Dahan spoke about Iran being a state-sponsor of terrorism.
“It’s a country that encourages terrorism and supports Hamas, Hezbollah, [President Bashar Assad in] Syria and rebels in Yemen. That’s today.
Israel estimates that when sanctions are lifted, trade with Iran will grow by over $500b.
If now, when there are sanctions, Iran funnels money to terrorism, they will have much more money because of their increased trade to support terrorism even more,” he explained.
The deputy defense minister said that his audience did not realize that other countries in the Middle East oppose the Iran deal and think it endangers them.
“I said that Egypt, the Saudis – the great ally of the US – oppose it too, as do Kuwait and other Gulf States. It’s not just Israel, the bad boy of the world,” Ben-Dahan stated.
Ben-Dahan found that most members of his audience oppose the Iran Deal, but said he was still faced with tough questions.
The minister also emphasized that the American Jews he addressed know they can be loyal to America and still oppose the deal.
“It’s not a dilemma between US or Israel,” he said. “They know they’re American citizens, they have no doubts about it. They’re not trying to harm America. At the same time, they think their government is making a mistake by signing a bad agreement that could put Israel in a dangerous situation...and as supporters of Israel, they see themselves as people who have to make sure that danger is not realized.”