Israel starting to consider 'day after' Iran agreement

PM meeting Wednesday with Putin in Moscow to discuss Iran; Hanegbi says Israel will not be bound by bad agreement.

PM Netanyahu with Russian President Putin 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
PM Netanyahu with Russian President Putin 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday, as Israel begins preparing its “day after” scenario in expectation of an imminent interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran.
Netanyahu continued on Tuesday to implore the P5+1 – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – to improve the conditions of the deal shaping up. But as he did so, others began talking about strategy for the eventuality that a deal is signed when the sides meet on Wednesday in Geneva for the third time this month.
According to the general contours of the deal, Iran would freeze its nuclear program for six months in return for sanctions relief. This six month period would then be used to try and negotiate a permanent accord.
Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, a Netanyahu confidant, said on Tuesday that Israel would not see itself bound by an agreement that does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But at a briefing organized by The Israel Project, he said that Jerusalem understands this is “a first step toward a final agreement, and will go forward” in its efforts to convey its concerns and convince the world of what is needed to keep Iran from getting nuclear arms.
“We are not going on strike,” he said. “We will not do a sit-in. We will be more frustrated than before, because we were more optimistic that we would be able to convince some of the countries [in the P5+1] that this is the wrong path to follow, but we will go forward in our efforts to convince as many as possible.”
Israel’s main problem with the proposed deal is that it freezes Iran’s program but does not dismantle it or significantly roll it back, in exchange for sanctions relief that Jerusalem believes severely weakens the pressure on Tehran. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Tuesday that in accepting this agreement, the world would be demonstrating that it “is willing to deceive itself.”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, showed no sign of letting up on his public diplomacy campaign against the deal.
Accompanying visiting French President François Hollande to an innovation conference and exhibit in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said, “What we are seeing is the future. I think where radical Islam is trying to take us is the past.
We are for modernity. They are for a dark medievalism.
We’re for opening up our societies for everyone – men, women, minorities and the right to be different. They’re for uniform suppression [by the dictates] of a rigid doctrine, and they want to back it up with weapons of death.”
Netanyahu repeated that it would be a “grave mistake” to ease the pressure on Iran at this time. “It would be a great mistake to capitulate before Iran when they have every reason right now to respond to the pressures that have been put on them. Rather than surrendering to their charm offensive, it’s important that they surrender to the pressure that can be brought to them to have them abandon their nuclear program.”
Hanegbi emphasized the importance of Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin, though the Geneva talks are set to resume before the two leaders meet.
“Russia is a very important player, a key player, because out of the six countries [in the P5+1] it is the one with the most intimate relations with Iran. They built the reactor at Bushehr and are supplying Iran with weapons.
They are very influential. Even though it might not have an effect on Geneva, we feel the dialogue between us and the Russians on this is enormously important,” Hanegbi said.
This will be Netanyahu’s fifth visit to Russia since he became prime minister again in 2009, and he continued a dialogue with the Russians that was also carried out by his predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
Hanegbi said that dialogue has proven effective, and pointed to the fact that the Russians have kept their state-of-the-art S300 anti-aircraft missiles out of the Syrian arena.
Netanyahu will be accompanied on his trip by Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a native Russian speaker who has served as an interpreter in the past during Netanyahu-Putin meetings.
Israel, meanwhile, was not the only actor engaging in aggressive public diplomacy ahead of Wednesday’s talks in Geneva.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who heads Iran’s delegation at the Geneva talks, issued a five-minute video on Tuesday, with subtitles in various languages. In it, he said that the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program could be solved as long as the Western powers treated Iran as an equal and did not seek to impose their will.
“This past summer, our people chose constructive engagement through the ballot box, and through this, they gave the world a historic opportunity to change course,” he said. “To seize this unique opportunity, we need to accept an equal footing and choose a path based on mutual respect.”
According to Brig.-Gen (res.) Michael Herzog, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, one of the problems was that the P5+1 nations did not seem to agree on an “endgame” for the permanent agreement.
“I’m not sure the P5+1 knows where they want to go,” he said.
He noted that there was no agreement among the countries on basic questions such as how far they want to set Iran back from “breakout capacity” and whether the heavy water reactor at Arak needed to be totally decommissioned or not.
Herzog, who over the past decade held senior positions in the Defense Ministry, said in a conference call organized by the Clarion Project that there were several open issues that still needed resolution in Geneva.
The first is whether the preamble to the agreement will say that Tehran has the right to enrich uranium, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
As of a few days ago, the Islamic Republic was demanding that this right be spelled out, while the P5+1 position was that the NPT does not grant a right to enrich uranium, but only the right to a civilian nuclear program for peaceful purposes. Uranium enrichment is not needed for a civilian program.
Herzog speculated that that preamble will be kept vague and say that Iran will enjoy the rights under the NPT, but leave open to interpretation by both sides whether that includes the right to enrich uranium.
Herzog said that the agreement will most likely stipulate that the Iranians cannot enrich uranium to 20 percent, but then the question will arise of what to do with uranium already enriched to that level. While the Iranians will want to oxidize it, something they can convert back if they so decide, the P5+1 wants to see it converted into fuel rods, which is irreversible.
Another major issue has to do with the heavy water reactor at Arak, and whether – as the Iranians are demanding – they will be able to continue work on the project but not make it operational for the next six months, or – as the French are demanding – all work must stop on that plant.
Finally, he said, agreements will have to be reached on the type of supervision regime to be put into place, and what kind of inspections the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to carry out. So far, the Iranians have refused to allow inspection at the Parchin facility, believed to be where military components of the nuclear program are being worked on.
Iranian political figures, meanwhile, have lined up to accuse Paris of jeopardizing chances to reach a deal after Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned against accepting “a fool’s game” – lopsided concessions to Tehran.
On Monday, Hollande set out a tough stance during his visit to Israel, saying he would not give way on nuclear proliferation with respect to Iran.
His remarks received criticism on Tuesday from an Iranian parliamentary official.
“We advise the president of France to comment on the basis of facts, not assumptions, and beyond that, not to be the executor of the Zionist regime’s [Israel’s] plan,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the assembly’s national security and foreign affairs committee, told Iran’s official news agency.
On Tuesday, Iranian parliamentarians gathered signatures to demand that the government continue enriching uranium to levels of 20 percent and finish building the Arak reactor.
“The government is obliged to protect the nuclear rights of Iran in the forthcoming negotiations,” Mehr news agency quoted MP Fatemeh Alia as saying.
Sharon Udasin and Reuters contributed to this report.