Any unilateral Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a mistake, US Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC, ahead of Tuesday’s hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a deal reached earlier this month to curb Tehran’s ability to produce atomic weapons.
“I think that would be an enormous mistake, a huge mis- take with grave consequences for Israel and for the region,” Kerry said in response to a question on the matter by NBC’s Matt Lauer on Friday.
“If they [Israel] bombed them, sure, I presume Iran would then have a reason to say, ‘Well, this is why we need a bomb.’ And what Iran will decide to do is dig deeper because Israel does not have the ability, nor do we, to stop – unless we went to all-out war and literally annihilated Iran, which I don’t hear people talking about,” Kerry said.
The Prime Minister’s Office had no response to Kerry’s statement.
The interview is part of what will be a prolonged campaign by the Obama Administration to sway Congress to vote for the deal by mid-September.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the agreement worked out between Tehran and the six world powers – the US, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom – a historic mistake, and warned that the deal, which rolls back sanctions, allows Iran to maintain its ability to produce nuclear weapons and emboldens it to continue to support global terrorism. He has urged the world powers to continue to use sanctions to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
Earlier on Friday, Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Israel would be further isolated in the international arena if it continued to oppose the Iran deal.
“I fear that what could happen is, if Congress were to overturn it, our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed, and we would lose Europe and China and Russia with respect to whatever military action we might have to take because we will have turned our backs on a very legitimate program [the Iran deal] that allows us to put their program to the test over these next years,” Kerry said.
The deal, which allows for the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect Iran’s nuclear sites, would be good for Israel, Kerry said.
“I believe Israel is safer, I believe the region is safer, I think the world is safer,” he said.
The deal, he added, is the only viable alternative to a military solution, which, at best, would slow the program down for a few years.
“The president has made it pretty clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. He’s prepared to use military force if necessary in order to prevent that,” Kerry said.
But, he said, “war should be the last resort, not the first.”
When the six world powers began negotiating with Iran, it was two months away from possessing enough fissile matter to start production of nuclear weapons, Kerry said.
“We’ve now pushed that breakout time up to maybe six months or so, and with this agreement, for 10 years, the breakout time will be one year or more. One year or more. Let me ask you a very simple question: Is Israel safer with a one-year breakout time or a two-month breakout time? Frankly, two months is more than we need, but we want the cushion, the safety,” Kerry said. Sanctions were effective in bringing Iran to the negotiating table but cannot halt its nuclear program, Kerry said. Without a deal, Iran would continue enriching uranium and there would be no inspections.
Netanyahu warned last week that “this deal paves Iran’s path to an entire nuclear arsenal within a decade or so because, at that point, Iran will be free of any constraints of producing as many centrifuges as they want and they can enrich as much uranium as they want.”
Kerry is expected to testify again in support of the deal at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Both House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-California), as well as Eliot Engel (D-New York), the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, have expressed serious concern over the outcome of the negotiations.
“While I’m still reviewing the agreement, I must say I do have some serious questions and concerns about certain aspects of the deal,” Engel said at a hearing on the issue, noting his “fundamental concern that 15 years from now, Iran will essentially be off the hook.”
“If they choose, Iran’s leaders could produce weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium without any limitation,” Engel continued. “The truth is, after 15 years, Iran is legitimized as a threshold state.”
MK Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the US, said that, “If American legislators reject the nuclear deal, they will do so exclusively on the basis of US interests. The threat of the secretary of state who, in the past, warned that Israel was in danger of becoming an apartheid state, cannot deter us from fulfilling our national duty to oppose this dangerous deal.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that, despite Israel being strong in the face of its many challenges, Netanyahu has for many years been using what he called “Tisha Be’av syndrome” to fill the nation with fear. Herzog also compared Israel to a ship in stormy waters and Netanyahu to a captain who persuades his passengers to panic.
The Likud responded that Netanyahu faces Israel’s security realities realistically and addresses them responsibly and determinedly to guarantee Israeli security. The party said that from what Herzog said, one might get the false impression that Iran was developing a nuclear capability for peaceful purposes and Hezbollah was working on a plan for tourism in the North.
Separately, on Saturday, the Lebanese Hezbollah group said it could still count on Iran’s support.
In his first public remarks since the agreement was reached this month in Vienna, the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said he is sure Tehran would confound critics who say it will end support to Hezbollah. “We deal with every trust and complete assurance over this,” Nasrallah said in ceremony to honor sons and daughters of fallen Hezbollah fighters.
“Iran’s relationship with its allies is based on ideological grounds and come before the political interests,” Nasrallah said. US sanctions against three Hezbollah military leaders whom Washington said were involved in operations in Syria would have no impact on the group, he said.
“We have no investment accounts... these measures will not change things either way,” he added.
The three leaders – Mustafa Badr Al Din, Ibrahim Aqil, and Fu’ad Shukr – were named for their roles in coordinating or participating in the group’s support for the government in Syria’s civil war, a US Treasury spokesman said. The group also included a businessman in Lebanon who was sanctioned for procuring weapons for Hezbollah and shipping them to Syria.
The new sanctions following the nuclear deal and Washing- ton’s continued designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group showed that US policies have not changed toward it, Nasrallah said, adding, “The United States is the Great Satan before and after the deal.”
Nasrallah said the targeting of Lebanese businessmen was meant to undermine Lebanon’s economy and said monetary authorities should not cave into US Treasury efforts to blacklist local businessmen.
The Treasury said it had taken action in June against Hezbollah front companies.
US President Barack Obama and Kerry have said they are troubled by support from Iran for regional proxy groups such as Hezbollah.
Nasrallah said his group is proud of Tehran’s financial backing, which allows it to stand up to Israel and US policies in the region.
“The support we get from Iran is enough,” Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah’s support has been crucial to Syria’s President Bashar Assad in the four-year long Syrian conflict. Gil Hoffman and Reuters contributed to this report.