Emerging ‘bad deal’ with Iran puts Israel on offensive

Intelligence Minister Steinitz: Focus on threat of ISIS must not come at the expense of preventing Tehran from going nuclear.

Netanyahu warns against nuclear Iran at 2012 UN General Assembly (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu warns against nuclear Iran at 2012 UN General Assembly
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued in private meetings on Monday to express concern about an emerging “bad deal” between the world powers and Iran, a clear sign that his discussion with US President Barack Obama in Washington three weeks ago left him unconvinced.
Netanyahu repeated in private discussions on Monday the warning he gave publicly on Sunday – that an agreement is emerging that would “leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state, with thousands of centrifuges through which Iran can manufacture the material for a nuclear bomb within a short period of time.”
One government official said Netanyahu’s “No. 1 concern” is that an agreement – which the world powers and Tehran are trying to hammer out before a November 24 deadline – would leave Iran with enough centrifuges in place to allow it to hover above nuclear threshold status.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is closely coordinated with Netanyahu on the Iranian issue, repeated the message publicly on Monday as well, saying in an Israel Radio interview that Israel was concerned by the world’s apparent powerful desire to reach an agreement so it can focus on other problems.
Steinitz said the world understands the danger of a nuclear Iran, “but there are other problems in the world, and there is a desire by some of the actors to clear off the table.”
The minister refrained from mentioning any names.
What makes Netanyahu’s and Steinitz’s comments significant is that they came after both held meetings on the matter in Washington in recent weeks. Netanyahu met Obama on October 1, and Steinitz met with the US’s top negotiators with Iran in mid-September – yet their statements were very critical, indicating that nothing they heard left them reassured.
In an op-ed in The New York Times on Sunday, Steinitz wrote that “Israel is deeply concerned about the trajectory of the ongoing negotiations,” adding that the talks were “moving in the wrong direction, especially on the core issue of uranium enrichment.”
The intelligence minister said on Israeli Radio that since the Iranians have made no concessions on anything significant, but rather only on secondary or symbolic issues, the question today is not whether there will be a good or bad agreement, but rather a bad agreement or no agreement.
“It is better not to sign an agreement now, and wait in the hope of getting a better agreement in the future through the stepping up of pressure,” he said.
Israel’s concern is that the sudden focus on the threat posed by Islamic State is diverting attention from the much more serious concern: a nuclear-threshold Iran, Steinitz said.
It is essential not to repeat the error the US made in 2003, when it focused on Iraq, “at the expense of dealing with a more critical problem for the peace of the world – the Iranian nuclear program, which then was in its early stages,” he said.
While it was important to focus on Islamic State and those who want to establish a new caliphate, this must not come “at the expense of preventing the nuclearization of the veteran caliphate – the Islamic Republic of Iran,“ Steinitz said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose comments on Iran – unlike those of Steinitz – are not as closely coordinated with Netanyahu, said Israeli officials have spoken enough about the issue, and now it is time to make a decision.
“Our message is clear,” he said in an Israel Radio interview.
“In the final analysis we are responsible for our fate, and the Israeli government is responsible for the citizens of Israel, and we have to make decisions without a connection to the position of the world. I have said more than once: ‘if you want to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.’” Israeli leaders must realize they cannot avoid making a decision on Iran by looking for someone else to bail them out, he said. “We don’t always need to look at someone else and say they are to blame, or they need to make the decisions.
The responsibility is on us. It is possible to make a decision, this way or that.”
Throughout the interview, however, Liberman gave no indication of what decision he thought the government should make regarding possible military action against Iran.
In a related development, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will continue leading nuclear negotiations with Iran until a deal is reached, even if the November deadline is missed, she said on Monday.
Ashton’s five-year term as EU foreign policy chief ends at the end of this month, and she had said she would stay on as nuclear negotiator until November 24, the deadline for reaching a long-term settlement.
Asked if she would continue beyond that date if necessary, she told reporters at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg: “I have been asked to carry on until it’s done.”
Steinitz, at a press briefing last month, addressed the approaching end of Ashton’s tenure, saying the Iranians may believe that since Ashton is leaving, and since she has been a leading figure in the negotiations, “she may have extra motivation to conclude a deal – whether it is a good deal or a bad deal – and this is problematic. I hope this is not the case.”
Steinitz said he hoped Ashton “can be honest enough with herself to say that maybe there isn’t a deal, that a deal would be nice, but let’s not deceive ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On accused Netanyahu on Monday of deluding the public by exaggerating the Iranian threat in order to cover up his failures in the diplomatic and economic arenas.
“The solution to the Iranian question revolves around enlisting international support and strengthening the status of Israel in the international community through cooperation with the states acting against the Iranian nuclear threat,” she said. “Instead, Israel is running away from the peace process and is on a collision course with the Europeans and the Americans.”
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office rejected Gal-On’s charges.
Meanwhile on Monday, a monthly UN atomic agency report, seen by Reuters, said Iran is meeting its commitments under the temporary deal with the world powers.
It said Iran had diluted more than 4,100 kg. of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of up to 2% down to the level of natural uranium.
This was one of the additional steps Iran agreed to undertake when the six-month accord that took effect early this year was extended by four months in July.
In addition, Iran since July had used 17.1 kg. of 20% uranium in oxide form to manufacture fuel for a research reactor, the report said.
Jerusalem Post staff and Reuters contributed to this report.