The Defense Ministry released a highly unusual and strongly worded statement on Friday that compared the US-led deal that limits Iran’s nuclear capacity with the failed 1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler.
“The Israeli defense establishment believes that agreements have value only if they are based on an existing reality, and that they have no value if the facts on the ground are completely the opposite of [the concepts] on which an agreement is based on,” the ministry said.
“The Munich agreement did not prevent the Second World War and the Holocaust, precisely because their basic assumption, that Nazi Germany could be a partner to any kind of agreement, was wrong, and because the leaders of the world at that time ignored the explicit statements by Hitler and the rest of the leaders of Nazi Germany,” the ministry added.
It issued its statement in response to a claim Thursday by US President Barack Obama, who stated on the first anniversary of the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran that the deal is working – and Israel knows it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu office quickly issued a statement in support of the United States and Obama, even though Netanyahu had been one of the arch opponents of the agreement.
But in the year since the deal was signed he has taken steps to mend his contentious relationship with Obama.
The two countries are now in the middle of concluding a major 10-year package of US military assistance for Israel.
The Prime Minister’s Office stated: “While Israel’s view on the Iran deal remains unchanged, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly believes that Israel has no greater ally than the United States.
“As the prime minister articulated last year at the UN, it is important now that both those who supported the deal and those who oppose did work together to achieve three goals,” the PMO said.
“One, keep Iran’s feet to the fire to ensure that it doesn’t violate the deal. Two, confront Iran’s regional aggression and three, dismantle Iran’s global terrorism network.”
The PMO added that Netanyahu “looks forward to translating those goals into common policy and to further strengthening the alliance between Israel and the United States with President Obama and with the next US administration.”
The Defense Ministry, however, said that the global lessons from the 1930s, when the Nazis were gaining power, also hold true for Iran today, which openly announces its aim to destroy the State of Israel. It cited a State Department report published this year that placed Iran as the world’s top sponsor of terrorism.
“Hence, the defense establishment, like the rest of the Israeli people and many in the world, understands that agreements of this kind signed between the world powers and Iran are not helpful, but only harm the uncompromising struggle that must be undertaken against a terrorist state like Iran,” it concluded.
Obama spoke in support of the Iran deal as he pushed back against criticism of a legal settlement the US reached with Iran in January – a report this week in The Wall Street Journal suggested that a deal to deliver cash toward that settlement coincided conspicuously with Tehran’s release of four American hostages.
The military and intelligence communities in Israel – “the country that was most opposed to the deal,” Obama said – had come to the conclusion that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was a “game-changer” that had successfully put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program and expanded the time it would require to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
Opponents of the deal from last year should be challenged by reporters to say, “you know what, we were wrong,” Obama added, criticizing “the manufacturing of outrage” over stories tangential to the deal.
While the JCPOA, the formal name for the agreement, was signed in July of 2015, the deal itself was first implemented in January – alongside the release of American political prisoners in Tehran, and the settlement of a decades-old dispute between the US and Iran at a Hague tribunal over a shah-era weapons sale.
“By all accounts, it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work,” Obama said of the nuclear agreement. The JCPOA has a life of ten to fifteen years, depending on the provision, at which point Iran will lawfully be allowed to grow its civilian nuclear infrastructure.
Avigdor Liberman, who became defense minister in May, said in July that the international community is ignoring Iran’s violation of its nuclear agreement with world powers, during his first appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“The Iranian threat is still the greatest threat to the State of Israel,” Liberman said last month. “Iran is still promoting its missile program with full force... and we don’t have to guess whom the missiles program is targeting.”
The defense minister pointed to a test-firing of two missiles in Iran earlier this year, which had the message “Israel must be erased” written on them in Hebrew.
“The fact that nations of the world are trying to ignore this clear violation of UN Security Council decisions about the agreement, which they themselves signed with Iran, proves my point,” he added.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called the Defense Ministry’s statement “a combination of diplomatic irresponsibility and further harm to US-Israel relations.”
Lapid said Israel’s official response cannot compare Obama to a man who surrendered to the Nazis.
“The Americans tend not to forget such insults,” Lapid said.
“This is yet another example of how the current government does not function in international relations.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On accused Liberman of trying to destroy Israel’s strategic relations with the US.
“Liberman’s rhetoric of threats, self-victimization, and scare tactics may serve his own political interests but they do not serve the security needs of the state,” Gal-On said.
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit on Saturday harshly criticized Netanyahu and the Defense Ministry for their response to the United States after it claimed that Israel acknowledges that the Iranian nuclear deal is working.
In a statement released by Margalit’s office to the press, the MK said: “As Israel approaches closing a crucial aid agreement with the United States, an agreement vital to Israel’s security, Netanyahu is using the Defense Ministry like a tool of the Likud Party.”
“Netanyahu’s cynical use of the security establishment,” Margalit continued, “against the US, violates the State of Israel’s interests.”
“Comparing the situation to the Holocaust, as well as comparing Obama with [former prime minister of England Neville] Chamberlain and the Munich agreement, causes serious damage to relations with the United States and conveys hysteria and loss of control,” he added.Gil Hoffman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.