Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the world powers’ interim
agreement with Iran went from warning the accord would lead to an unraveling of
the sanctions regime, to stating in Rome on Monday that this is already
“There appears to be general relaxation of sanctions, and a
rush to accommodate Iran, and to make it legitimate as if Iran has changed
anything of its actual policies,” Netanyahu said after meeting Italian Prime
Minister Enrico Letta.
Netanyahu continued speaking out against the
agreement even as he faced criticism of this tactic from home and as US
Secretary of State John Kerry, a champion of the deal, was set to arrive on
Wednesday for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
the sanctions regime against Iran collapses, Netanyahu said, that would signal
the end of chances to peacefully stop Iran’s nuclear program. And the program,
he stressed, will be stopped.
Netanyahu flew home Monday evening after
two days in Rome, which included a meeting with Pope Francis and an annual
government- to-government meeting, along with five other Israeli ministers, with
their Italian counterparts.
While Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert
ripped into Netanyahu Sunday for his vocal criticism of the Iran deal, and
Netanyahu responded by saying he will not remain quiet in the face of
significant security dangers, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday on the
CNBC US cable news network that Israel has “earned the right” to be listened to
on the Iranian issue.
“When people wonder why we have been so loud
against this agreement with Iran it is because for us it is not academic or
theoretical, it is existential,” he said. “Here is a regime that has been loud,
not about a dispute with Israel, but rather about its wish and commitment to the
destruction of Israel.”
Lapid added that in his view the most important
strategic asset Israel has is its intimate relationship with the US throughout
“This is an asset that we don’t want to lose,” he
“We are going to be out loud, maybe blunt about out concerns, but
we understand that the US means well and is doing its best under very
complicated circumstances, and we think we have earned the right to be listened
Asked how much damage has been caused to US-Israel relations as a
result of the very public difference over Iran, Lapid said it was “OK to have
disputes within the family, as long as we keep it in the family. I think we are
still within the frame of the family.”
Iran was one of the topics
discussed when Netanyahu met for some 25 minutes in the Vatican earlier Monday
with Pope Francis, whom he formally invited to Israel.
It was the first
time the two leaders met face to face, and in addition to Iran they discussed
the Syrian civil war, the welfare of Christians in Israel as well as the pope’s
expected visit to Israel. If Francis does make such a trip, he will be the third
pope to visit the country since the Vatican established diplomatic ties 20 years
ago, following a visit from John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009. Pope
Paul VI briefly visited Jerusalem in 1964.
Several news sources reported
the visit would take place May 25-26, but Vatican officials said the trip has
not been officially confirmed.
According to political experts in Italy,
Netanyahu’s trip was important for all sides: for Netanyahu as he tries to rally
support for his position against Iran, for Italy as it seeks to play its
traditional role as a bridge builder in the Middle East, and the Vatican as it
looks to reassert its role as a global player after several years in which that
role was reduced.
“During John Paul II’s declining years, and throughout
Benedict XVI’s papacy, the Vatican was more quiet,” said James Walston, a
political scientist with the American University of Rome. “Francis is starting
to show he’s willing to be a lot feistier.”
Retired church historian Fr.
Alistair Sear said “the Vatican has traditionally played an important
behind-the-scenes role in international politics, but that hasn’t been the case
in recent years.”
This was Netanyahu’s first meeting with Francis and he
brought him two gifts: a hanukkia and a Spanish translation of his father
Benzion Netanyahu’s seminal work on the Spanish Inquisition, The Origins of the
Inquisition in Fifteenth- Century Spain. Netanyahu wrote a short inscription
inside the book: “To his Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our