Iran deal only good for Israel if it comes with credible US military threat - Lapid

Mossad chief Barnea to fly next week to Washington to present Israeli intelligence on Iran before Congress.

  Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a briefing, August 28, 2022.  (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a briefing, August 28, 2022.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

The US will not reach a good deal with Iran without a credible military threat, Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned on Sunday.

World powers “have to get Iran to sign a much better agreement, what the Americans themselves called ‘longer and stronger,’” Lapid said. “Such an agreement can only be reached with a credible military threat, so the Iranians see they will have to pay a heavy price for their recalcitrance.”

Lapid argued that the US presentation of bunker-buster bombs able to attack Iran’s underground nuclear facilities was what led Tehran to sign the original nuclear agreement in 2015.

A good deal would be longer, in that “it would not have an end date,” Lapid said, and stronger in that “the oversight would be tighter and it would also deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program and its involvement in terror around the Middle East.”

The prime minister’s comments in a press briefing came after Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Friday. Gantz told Sullivan that the US needs to put a viable military option on the table even after a nuclear deal is reached, and that such a threat will be a strong deterrent against Iran violating the agreement or developing a nuclear weapon when it expires.

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a briefing, August 28, 2022.  (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO) Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a briefing, August 28, 2022. (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

Lapid said he “instructed the IDF and the Mossad to be ready to protect Israel’s security in any scenario; the Americans understand this and the world understands this.”

He reiterated that Israel is not a party to the Iran deal nor is it dependent on world powers’ decisions, and that no agreement between them will limit Israel’s actions against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

The prime minister spoke to journalists amid concerns in Israel about an impending deal between the US and Iran, several days after Washington submitted its response to Iran’s demands following a draft of the nuclear deal by the European Union that was meant to be final, according to the talks’ coordinator, the EU.

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata was in Washington last week to meet with Sullivan on the topic.

Lapid defended his government’s approach to the US as it negotiates indirectly with Iran, saying that he does not want to harm Jerusalem’s strategic ties with Washington and sought to ensure that the Americans would at least listen to what Israel has to say on the topic.

Keeping disputes mostly behind closed doors has led to “achievements” for Israel, Lapid said, such as the US keeping the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps classified as a foreign terrorist organization and stopping other forms of sanctions relief, as well as reassurances that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigations into undeclared nuclear sites in Iran would not be closed.

Lapid argued that the draft is not what US President Joe Biden said he was seeking when he visited Israel.

“The deal should not let $100 billion flow to Iran per year without them showing restraint in response,” a senior diplomatic source said. “It needs to be a deal that will continue forever to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Another concern Israel has brought up with the US and other allies is that Iran is enriching and stockpiling more uranium than anyone knows, the source said.

“It’s clear that they’ve been lying to the IAEA,” the source stated. “We have shown that to the world more than once.”

Lapid believes that “a bad deal is worse than no deal,” as Netanyahu did, the source said. The best option would be a good deal – which is something Netanyahu said as well in 2015, though last week he said Iran couldn’t be trusted under any deal – the second-best is no agreement and increased pressure on Iran, and the worst is a bad deal, the source said.

As for IDF officers, such as those from the Intelligence Directorate, who think that while the Iran deal is not ideal, it could benefit Israel, the source said, “We want there to be an open discussion on such an open topic, but in the end all the senior factors, the prime minister, defense minister, IDF chief of staff and heads of Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] and Mossad think it’s bad. But every time we enter a room, we want a discussion and to hear a range of opinions.”

Lapid has not spoken with Biden or US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in recent weeks, but the diplomatic source said he “doesn’t think Biden is trying to avoid speaking” with the prime minister.

Lapid would like to meet with Biden when both of them address the United Nations next month, but the prime minister’s son is getting married the day after his speech in New York, which has made scheduling a meeting more difficult.

Mossad chief David Barena criticizing the US Biden administration

The senior diplomatic source pushed back against media reports that Mossad chief David Barnea went farther in criticism of the Biden administration than Lapid did, saying that was conjecture on the part of journalists. There is no tension between Lapid and Barnea, and they spoke twice over the weekend, the source added.

Barnea is expected to speak before a US congressional committee next week, in a trip that was planned before the Mossad chief’s comments last week. He plans to speak with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Though Barnea vehemently opposes the Iran deal, the source denied that this contradicts Lapid’s approach of not emulating former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015 and going behind the White House’s back to lobby Congress against a deal.

That being said, Israeli officials, such as Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog, hold meetings with members of Congress from both parties who oppose the deal.

Not campaigning against the Iran deal doesn’t mean not stating Israel’s position, the source said, “We say to the Americans, we will not get in line with you. We think the agreement is bad, and we’ll say it. We will describe our stance to anyone who will listen,” the source said.

Still, Israel is not relying on the midterm elections to change something in the American position, he added.

Asked if there is a concern that J Street will harm Israel’s efforts against the Iran deal, the source said, “We work very well with AIPAC.”

Israel is continually in touch with Gulf states about Iran, but these states don’t necessarily want the details to be made public, especially those, like Saudi Arabia, with which Jerusalem does not have official diplomatic relations, the source stated.

Lapid and Netanyahu are expected to meet on Monday afternoon for the former to brief the latter on the latest in Iran talks.