Lapid: Israel on ‘intensive campaign’ to pressure US without a crisis in ties

The Mossad chief is set to depart for Washington to talk with House and Senate about the Iranian threat and the dangers of a nuclear deal.

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaking to US President Joe Biden, August 31, 2022.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaking to US President Joe Biden, August 31, 2022.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel will continue to pressure the US not to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, but not to the point that it will cause a crisis in relations, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

We are leading an intensive campaign meant to prevent the signing of a dangerous nuclear deal between Iran and world powers,” he said.

Lapid spoke the day before Mossad chief David Barnea was set to depart for Washington to coordinate responses to the Iranian threat, and several days after the prime minister spoke with US President Joe Biden about Iran.

While in Washington, Barnea will also warn of the dangers of a nuclear deal in meetings with the CIA, the Department of Defense and the State Department, among other US national security bodies.

“The correct policy,” Lapid said, “is the one that we have been leading in the past year: to continue the pressure, without causing a rupture, to present credible intelligence, to be part of the process without destroying the special relationship with the US.”

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Mossad chief David Barnea on August 25. (credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE) Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Mossad chief David Barnea on August 25. (credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)

Lapid said to “those who say that we are not ‘shouty’ enough or blunt enough” should recall that in 2015, when then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “insisted on an unnecessary confrontation [with the US], it was an utter failure. The Americans simply stopped listening to us. There was damage to relations with them and they went and signed a bad deal.”

“The correct policy is the one that we have been leading in the past year: To continue the pressure, without causing a rupture, to present credible intelligence, to be part of the process without destroying the special relationship with the US.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid

Is Lapid's Iran Deal strategy working?

The prime minister argued that, so far, his strategy is working.

“The reservations we presented to the US government were taken into account,” Lapid said. “We also spoke to other partners and presented demands [they should make of] the Iranians. We can’t say everything but not everything should be subject to fights and speeches. There is another way, and it works better.”

President Isaac Herzog spoke out against the “forces of hate... openly striving for Israel’s destruction” in Iran.

“The international community must treat [Iran] severely, firmly and assertively,” Herzog said in remarks at a state welcome ceremony in Berlin. “Toothless and watered-down accords and sweeping benefits will not stop Iran.

“Iran has proven that it cannot be trusted. Iran has proven that it is a threat to the world order. Iran has proven that it has no qualms about sowing terror, death, and thuggish behavior threatening global stability,” the president added.

Israel will not accept threats to its existence, and will defend its citizens and Jews all around the world, Herzog added.

“We expect our allies to stand firmly by our side at this hour.”

Israel opposes the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The limitations on uranium enrichment, centrifuges and other aspects of the nuclear program would gradually expire by 2030 in a series of “sunset clauses,” with a major restriction on centrifuge development lifted at the end of next year.

The sunset clauses would remain intact and on the same schedule and all US sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program, among others, would be lifted, according to the latest draft of a renewed deal, proposed by the European Union, the nuclear talks’ coordinator.

Former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018, imposing more sanctions, but Biden has promised to return to the agreement.

Is the Iran deal progressing?

Iran submitted its latest response to the deal last week, and the parties to the talks have been studying it.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said his country “has a constructive approach aimed at finalizing the negotiations.”

However, the US State Department has cast doubt on the possibility of progress.

“We can confirm that we have received Iran’s response through the EU,” a spokesperson said. “We are studying it and will respond through the EU, but unfortunately [the response] is not constructive.”

Among Iran’s demands are stronger guarantees from Washington that it will not depart the agreement in the future. US law precludes a current president from binding future presidents to a foreign policy, if the agreement is not ratified by Congress, which the Iran deal is not intended to be.

In addition, Tehran wants the International Atomic Energy Agency to drop investigations of traces of enriched uranium found at undeclared nuclear sites, claiming that the probes are “politically motivated.”

The White House on Friday rejected linking the deal’s revival with the closure of the IAEA investigation.

“There should not be any conditionality between reimplementation of the JCPOA and investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under the Non-proliferation Treaty,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, referring to the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

West Bank terrorism rising

In his remarks to the cabinet, Lapid also referred to an increase in Palestinian terrorist activity in the West Bank in recent weeks.

“The IDF and the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] are acting throughout the West Bank in recent weeks, mainly in Jenin and Nablus, to prevent terrorist activity in Israeli territory,” he said. “Our goal is to bring calm, not to escalate.”

Israel’s policy is to use a “heavy hand” in areas where terrorists reside, including in the civil and economic matters, whereas Jerusalem will make an effort to allow routine life and economic advancements for Palestinians in quiet areas, the prime minister said.

Israel will consider allowing 20,000 more workers to enter from Gaza, but not more than that, Lapid said.

“Any additional increase will be conditioned on the return of the boys held in Gaza,” he stated, referring to Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, all held by Hamas in Gaza.

Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.