Israel must ask the international community to stop Iran’s nuclearization but prepare to do the task on its own in case the world fails, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Bennett, who is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, spoke before a meeting of the forum, in which the prime minister reported about his meetings with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders and his progress on the Iranian issue. The meeting was held a day after Iran tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching Israel, as security cabinet members backed Netanyahu’s call at the UN last week to either scrap or change the nuclear deal with Iran.
“On the one hand, we need to persuade the US to apply paralyzing sanctions of the highest level as soon as possible,” Bennett said. “Iran must be forced to choose between the nuclear path and a prosperous economy. Since the Iran deal, they haven’t been presented that option. At the same time, Israel must prepare for the possibility that the US and the world won’t be convinced by getting ready to defend ourselves by ourselves.”
Bennett said that Israel must act on both tracks as if the other did not exist. On the sanctions track, he suggested removing Iran from the world-wide Swift banking system, which was done before at the peak of international sanctions on the Islamic Republic. He said companies around the world would then have to choose between doing business with Iran or the US.
But, he added, Israel must act under the assumption that the international community will not provide successful solutions to stop Iran’s nuclearization.
He did not elaborate on what Israel should do to prepare itself militarily, preferring to leave such advice to closed forums like the security cabinet.
MK Naftali Bennett discusses the Iran threat (Courtesy)
Regarding Netanyahu’s decision not to strike Iranian nuclear sites in 2011, when such a step was considered, Bennett said: “I have been in the government since 2013.
Whatever has been missed has been missed and we have to look forward and defend ourselves by ourselves.”
“We are all on a conveyor belt that leads to a cliff,” he warned. “The world’s nuclear deal gave Iran the ability to develop everything necessary for rapid breakaway to nuclearization.
It allowed Iran to develop faster centrifuges and improve its technology. There is a false sense of security now because the breakaway has been postponed by the deal, but they’re using the deal to race toward a bomb.”
Regarding Iranian moves into Syria, Bennett said Israel would not tolerate Iran building a corridor from Tehran to Israel’s borders and the Mediterranean Sea. He said that development would change the balance of power and endanger Israel.
“We won’t allow that to happen, and we will speak by actions, not by words,” he said. “The only thing that works in the Middle East is action.”
Bennett also issued a warning to Lebanon, based on his experience as a commander in the Second Lebanon War and his years in commando units inside the territory of Israel’s northern neighbor.
“There is no way to differentiate between Hezbollah and Lebanon, and sending soldiers to that impossible task is sending them to fail,” he said. “We need a new strategy.
If they are shooting rockets on Israeli cities, we will use full force on the Lebanese government and infrastructure.
Shooting rockets from Lebanon to Israel is a declaration of war on Israel. This is a different strategy than what was used in the Second Lebanon War, and it’s what I’m promoting now.”
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who is also a member of the security cabinet, said there was now a “historic opportunity” to “remove the Iranian threat from Israel.”
Katz’s comments came as a result of a tweet posted by Trump which said: “Iran just test-fired a ballistic missile capable of reaching Israel.
They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have.”
Katz said Israel needed to work with the US to bring about a change in the 2015 nuclear agreement in order to ensure that Iran does not attain nuclear capability.
“Either cancel the agreement or return to sanctions,” he said.
In addition, he said, Israel needs to work with the US to thwart Iran’s missile program, prevent an Iranian military presence in Syria, stop Iranian assistance to Hezbollah and get America to formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
No details of the security cabinet meeting – which was also expected to include a briefing by Netanyahu about his meetings last week in New York with Trump and with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – were made public.
Netanyahu has not yet publicly reacted to the newest Iranian ballistic test. However, at the UN last week he said in regard to Iran that “those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril.”
As long as Iran seeks Israel’s destruction, he added, “Iran will face no fiercer enemy than Israel.”
The full Bennett interview will be published in the Post’s Simhat Torah supplement.