On the eve of talks to revive the Iran deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran that it faced “grave danger” if it harmed Israel, as he recalled the battle for Jaffa in the 1948 War of Independence.
“Those who want to harm us, place themselves in grave danger. It was true in Jaffa in 1948 and it is true today, with all the differences, with respect to Iran and its proxies,” Netanyahu said.
He delivered his words at a special memorial ceremony for the Irgun fighters who fell in the 1948 campaign for the coastal city, but he mentioned Tehran, just as the world powers were about to gather in Vienna to discuss ways to reactivate the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Netanyahu has been one of the chief opponents of the deal, which was designed to curb the Islamic Republic’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, but which Israel argued actually empowered it to become a nuclear power in the future.
The Trump administration had agreed with Netanyahu and withdrew from the deal in 2018. The other signatories to the deal – Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany – have maintained that the deal remained the best vehicle to prevent a nuclear Iran, even as Tehran increasingly stopped complying with its terms.
The Biden administration now wants to return to the agreement. It will participate Tuesday along with other signatories and the European Union in talks to allow the US to become part of the deal and to secure an agreement from Tehran that it would once again comply with its terms.
During his speech in Jaffa, Netanyahu spoke of the difficulty of relying on allies and friends, and the importance of self-defense.
Israel, he said, must have the ability to “defend itself by itself.” He recalled how in 1948 Israel could not rely on the British. “We know all our covenants and all our friends, but in the end, our future has been determined by our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves,” Netanyahu said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday discussed the negotiations, noting that Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, will lead the US delegation to the talks.
At issue has been Tehran’s instance that Washington must first lift the crippling sanctions president Donald Trump imposed upon it after exiting the deal, and the US has demanded that Iran halt its violations of the agreement.
The talks between Washington and Tehran are expected to be indirect. They will be speaking to the other signatories to the deal, but not with each other. Tehran has ruled out face-to-face bilateral discussions.
Price told reporters that the United States did not expect any direct talks “at present” but remained open to the possibility.
“We don’t underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead,” Price said. “These are early days. We don’t anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough as these discussions, we fully expect, will be difficult.”
Price defended the Biden administration’s decision to try to return to the deal, noting that the US absence from the deal during the four years of Trump’s tenure had only brought Iran closer to the brink of producing a nuclear weapon.
At the end of the Obama administration, Iran was a year away from such production, but now, that time has dwindled.
Washington’s goal is to ensure Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons, Price said, adding that “we are not seeking to draw the talks out,” explaining that the US was pursuing the matter with urgency.
Price said the US would not “entertain unilateral gestures and concessions,” but rather it would seek to set the stage for a mutual return to compliance of both Washington and Tehran.
The goal was to restore the deal, rather than to set new terms and conditions and to match US compliance once more with the deal with Tehran’s compliance with the agreement.
Reuters contributed to this report.