Lapid: Iran can be forced into a better deal with strong military threat

The prime minister stressed that Netanyahu's approach to the JCPOA nuclear deal "failed miserably."

An Israeli Air Force F-35 flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli air force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, June 27, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
An Israeli Air Force F-35 flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli air force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, June 27, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid stressed that a better deal than the JCPOA nuclear deal could be reached with Iran if a believable military option is placed on the table, in an interview published by Walla on Sunday morning.

"In 2015, when President Obama pressed the Iranians to reach a deal, he publicized the bunker-busting bombs the United States had developed. Iranians always blink when presented with the power of a superpower. The only time they shut down their military weapons program was in the US invasion of Iraq. They were scared."

The prime minister additionally rejected criticisms that he did not act in the same way as Netanyahu against attempts by the US to return to the JCPOA agreement, adding that there was "a lot of blue and white" behind preventing the US from returning to the deal in recent months.

"There was a closed strategy here by [alternate prime minister] Naftali Bennett and myself, and Naftali has great credit here. We said: We will conduct the most incisive debates we have ever had with the Americans behind closed doors. There will be no speech in Congress. Why not? Because we know what damage it caused last time. We conducted an organized process with the government, which also included a lot of intelligence material that we presented."

Lapid explained that "We decided not to interfere in their internal political game. Don't make it a war between Republicans and Democrats. Do not exploit loopholes in the political system, because it causes damage. We don't take public action, which could harm the matter, to look good at home."

"If you notice, I do not argue with Netanyahu on this issue," he continued. "He is no longer the prime minister, although we have an argument here. His position is not illegitimate, but it failed miserably. So after it failed, are we required to repeat it? That sounds unreasonable to me."

 A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

"We decided to run it the way we are running it. So it's true, you earn fewer political points at home, in Israel, but that's not what's important. I think if I wanted to, I could arrange for myself a speech against me in Congress and harm the cause."

Lapid stressed that the Israeli government decided to create pressure on the US and European nations "anchored in facts and intelligence," adding that the government made the decision to "heavily involve" the Mossad in the effort in recent weeks.

The prime minister rejected concerns that Israel would not be able to halt Iran's nuclear program, stressing that Iran is "more afraid of what is not talked about than of idle threats."

In response to a question about whether or not Israel has a reliable military option against Iran, Lapid stated "All I am willing to tell you is that the Israeli government will make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and it has the ability to do so."

The prime minister expressed opposition to "arrogant chatter" concerning Israeli national security.

"We must not get caught up in it again. I try to downplay it as much as possible. It is not helpful in any area. Our enemies, and the Iranians in particular, are more afraid of what is not talked about than of idle threats. That is why I will not enter into this conversation of possible or impossible.

"I'm saying a simple thing: the State of Israel has capabilities that even the United States sometimes stands in awe of. Israel is not a war-mongering country. We don't want war. In the end, we do not have any historical conflict with Iran. But it should be clear that Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear state."

Lapid on Iran protests: 'They believed it was possible to build a Rolls Royce in a scrap yard'

When asked if Iran was stable considering the ongoing protests in the country, the prime minister responded that "our history in trying to decide for other countries who will rule them is not very good" and referenced the First Lebanon War.

"Of course we keep an eye on the Iranian regime, its capabilities and inabilities. Draw your own conclusions: after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I went to interview John Le Carré, an extremely smart man. I told him: You were completely wrong about the KGB, you said there was no limit to its power, and suddenly everything crumbles. He told me that their mistake was that they believed it was possible to build a Rolls Royce in a scrap yard."

Lapid on Lebanon: 'We do not need to go to war every time there are threats'

Concerning Lebanon and recent threats issued by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Lapid emphasized that "we do not need to go to war every time there are threats."

"There is a set of considerations, and there are intermediate solutions, of which the 'war between wars' is one of them. You also operate in covert operations at times. The State of Israel does not go to war lightly. It is convenient to sit in the opposition and shout. In the end, my responsibility is for the safety and security of 9 million citizens."

The prime minister stressed, however, that if Hezbollah's precision military threat becomes one that can no longer be contained, "we will have to respond."

Concerning ongoing efforts to reach an agreement with Lebanon concerning the countries' shared maritime border, Lapid responded that he doesn't "think it's bad for Lebanon to have some sort of economic base" with a natural gas rig near Israel's border.

"Lebanon killed itself from the inside because of Hezbollah and corruption, but we have no interest in harassing the people of Lebanon. If they have a rig in front of our rig, it's a good arrangement."

According to Lapid, the most likely solution in the maritime border demarcation talks will be that the natural gas company working with Lebanon will buy Israel's share in the Kana gas field which is expected to be placed under Lebanese control in the agreement.

In response to questions about criticism from the Netanyahu-led bloc that any agreement should be approved by a referendum, Lapid stressed that Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, who served as energy minister in a Netanyahu-led government, was planning to make nearly the same exact agreement that Lapid's government is heading towards today.

"The demand to deposit the maritime border with the UN was our demand, which Hezbollah opposed furiously. They understood that it was actually a negotiation with Israel, a form of recognition of Israel. True, a political border is not being set here, it is an economic border, but it still has symbolism.

"In the end the Lebanese realized that they had to give in to our demand, but then the Kohelet Forum and Yariv Levin decided to side with Hezbollah and help them. We went to the legal advisor and got an opinion that this thing has nothing to do with the referendum law. I am one of the fathers of the referendum law, we were in the government that passed it. It deals with territories under Israel's sovereignty. The goal then was to protect the Golan Heights. It has nothing to do with this case."

Israel has 'no interest' in operating in Syria

Lapid also responded to questions about Israel's operations in Syria, stating that while Israel "has no interest in operating in Syria," Iran cannot be allowed to use the country as a base for a military buildup or to transfer weapons to Hezbollah.

"If the Syrian government wants nothing to happen on its soil, it should just make sure none of this happens. We're not doing a hobby there and we're not trying to show off power. We are doing this because we must prevent danger from the citizens of Israel and we would be very happy that there would simply be no such danger and we would not have to react."

The prime minister added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad understands that Iran is a "threat to the stability of his rule" and that he is working to remove Iran-backed forces from Syria.

Terror in the West Bank

Concerning a recent increase in terrorist attacks in the West Bank, Lapid pointed to the fact that many threats are not identified.

"The main problem is operational. Many of the hazards are not identified. There is no organizational management. Hamas invests a great effort in joining the celebration, also the [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad, certainly after the Operation Breaking Dawn, but overall there is no organizational revival here, but instead frustrated young people. It should be handled at the field level, and the main effort is to keep it there and pass the High Holidays. We are also before elections.

"The solution is operational. There is an unprecedented quality of cooperation here. Everyone is sitting around one table - the Shin Bet, the army, the police and all the branches - all in the same discussion and acting according to the same directive. There is no policy in the world that can prevent a young man who has decided to kill himself from doing it, but overall a good job is being done."

Lapid also denied that a rise in terrorism could raise support for Netanyahu, saying "this dancing on blood no longer works. Over the years, Israeli society has become sensitive to this. People remember who had the riots in the mixed cities. The feeling that someone is happy when terrible things happen to Israelis is a difficult feeling that causes damage. It is not helpful."