With negotiations between Iran and the world powers set to restart September 18, and following Thursday’s bilateral Iran-US talks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reiterating in private meetings that a nuclear-armed Iran, not Islamic State, is the world’s primary threat.
Netanyahu’s message, one government official said, is that without downplaying the significant dangers posed by Islamic State, the world’s No. 1 challenge is preventing Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities.
“Iran is the No. 1 threat, because an Iran with nuclear weapons changes history,” the official said, citing Netanyahu’s remarks in private meetings recently.
Asked about concern that the threat of Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) may bring the US and other countries in the West to ease up pressure on Iran in order to cooperate more closely with it in the fight against the organization, which is their common enemy, the official said Israel was in favor of strong action against Islamic State.
However, he added, “We don’t believe the Iranians should be able to exploit ISIS to take the pressure off of them, which is what they are trying to do.”
Earlier in the week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman surprised some by saying that Islamic State was the biggest threat for the US, Israel and Europe at a press conference with visiting UN congressmen.
One diplomatic official explained afterward that he was merely reflecting the sense of urgency that has gripped the West regarding Islamic State, but did not mean it was more of a threat than a nuclear Iran.
Asked about Iran and Islamic State in an NBC interview in June, Netanyahu said they were both enemies of the US and the West. “When your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both,” he said.
Regarding concern that the US and Iran may cooperate on Islamic State, conceivably leading to less Western vigilance regarding Iran’s nuclear march, Netanyahu said the worst outcome by far would be that Iran “would come out with nuclear weapons capability.”
“That would be a tragic mistake,” he said. “It would make everything else pale in comparison.”
In recent private meetings, Netanyahu repeated what he has been saying for months, that the Syrian model – whereby the chemical stockpiles there were removed and destroyed – should be the model guiding the negotiations on Iran as well.