Israel will be able to act independently even if world powers reach an agreement with Iran, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday, a day after negotiations for Tehran and Washington to return to the 2015 nuclear deal resumed in Vienna.
Furthermore, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Israel has committed to “no surprises” for the US and won’t be able to act against Iran is a “total lie,” Bennett said.
“Israel won’t be a side in an agreement and will always keep its right to act and defend itself on its own,” Bennett told Army Radio.
At the same time, when asked about comments by the IDF top brass – such as incoming Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Tomer Bar, who said last week that Israel could attack and severely damage Iran’s nuclear sites – the prime minister referenced Ethics of the Fathers: “I prefer to take a line of ‘say a little and do a lot.’ I don’t think we need to wake up every day and threaten left and right. It is more important to act.”
The prime minister made his comments amid the eighth round of talks between world powers and Iran. Negotiations continued in Vienna on Tuesday. The European parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 Iran deal is called, continued to say that there is little time remaining to return to the agreement.
"It is clear that we are reaching the point where Iran’s nuclear escalation will have eliminated the substance of the JCPOA," a statement by diplomats from France, Germany and the UK at the end of Tuesday's talks read. "This means that we have some weeks and not months to reach an agreement before the essential non-proliferation benefits of the JCPOA are lost."
While they said the talks are "urgent," they also said they will not put an "artificial deadline" on the negotiations, and noted approvingly that Iran's atomic agency said it will not enrich uranium past 60%. The level of enrichment needed for a bomb is 90%, but 60% is far beyond the level of any credible civilian use.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters in Tehran that "the Vienna talks are headed in a good direction... We believe that if other parties continue the round of talks which just started with good faith, reaching a good agreement for all parties is possible."
Russian Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said diplomats "held a useful meeting" and made "indisputable progress" in discussions of lifting sanctions on Iran.
Negotiations to restrict Iran's nuclear program were not mentioned by any of the diplomats.
Bennett expressed skepticism that the negotiations could bring the desired result.
“We want a good deal,” he said. “Is this expected to happen in the current parameters? No. Iran is in the talks with very weak cards, but unfortunately, the world is acting like Iran is in a position of power.”
Bennett pointed to major protests in Isfahan, where the Iranian regime has been unable to provide enough water, as well as in other places.
“They are a rotten, very extreme regime,” he said. “They are corrupt and not standing on stable legs.”
The prime minister said Israel must prevent Iran from ever reaching nuclear breakout.
“We built a very robust strategy to face the Iranian danger,” Bennett told Kan Bet. “Not only the nuclear one but the fact that Iran surrounded Israel for 30 years with a kind of ring of rockets.”
The prime minister pointed out that in the past decade, Iran has armed Hezbollah with over 100,000 rockets.
“We need to roll this business back,” Bennett said.
“We don’t always agree with US policy and sometimes there are disputes,” Bennett admitted, in the context of Iran.
That being said, Bennett noted that his government has helped make Israel no longer a partisan issue in the US, garnering support from Democrats and Republicans.
“We have a very good relationship with the US government,” the prime minister told Kan Bet.
Bennett also called reports that US President Joe Biden won’t take his calls “fake news,” saying “the Americans answer us, without a problem.”
He criticized the previous government’s approach, which he said was “prickly, looking to fight,” and that he works more quietly to bring results.
Bennett explained on Army Radio that “when there are gaps in the interests or stances, I express them and act to promote Israel’s interests. We don’t just say no… we don’t just want a fight; we want to act so that we get results. If it can be done pleasantly, then we will do it – and if there is tension, so be it.”
The prime minister reiterated comments he had made in the Knesset the night before that he opposes the US opening a consulate in Jerusalem to serve the Palestinians.
“I clarified very sharply, but not in a confrontational way, that Israel has a capital, it’s called Jerusalem, it’s only the capital of the State of Israel [and] it’s not the capital of another country,” he said. “Therefore, there is no place for a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem.”
Asked if the eight terror attacks in less than two months constitutes a wave of terror, Bennett told Army Radio that he sees “a trend of terror,” but that it is still small and not comparable to the “stabbing intifada” of 2015.
“We are using the tools we developed in the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] and the IDF to stop this thing while it’s early and not to let it raise its head,” he said. “I follow closely with the security forces and I’m on it.”
Bennett slammed the Palestinian Authority for “playing a double game. On the one hand, in these very days, they are sending money to terrorists and families of terrorists. It is unacceptable that to this day there is a price list for murderers – if you murder more, you get more money.”
At the same time, Israel cooperates with the PA’s security forces, the prime minister admitted.
“The key to ensuring Israel’s existence is to keep security in the hands of Israel and the IDF. We don’t outsource our security – and whoever did this, failed.”
Bennett commented on the fate of Homesh, the outpost where 25-year-old Yehuda Dimentman, killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack last week, studied in yeshiva. Israeli authorities demolished two structures there last week but left the yeshiva standing in the settlement, which was demolished in 2006 as part of Israel’s withdrawal from northern Samaria but has had a near-constant presence of Israelis in violation of the Disengagement Law.
“The yeshiva was evacuated a number of times over the years,” Bennett told Kan Bet. “I think the last time was in the Netanyahu-Smotrich government when I was in the opposition… Now, the yeshiva has not been evacuated.”
Bennett said he is in talks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Homesh, and that the most important thing to do is to bring calm.