JERUSALEM: Israeli leaders across the political spectrum condemned in stark apocalyptic language the Iranian nuclear pact announced by the United States and world powers Tuesday, calling it a historic mistake that frees Iran to sponsor global terror while assembling the information and materials to build a nuclear weapon.
“Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday. “Many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted.”
With the lifting of economic sanctions, Netanyahu warned, “Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror.”
Netanyahu’s hardline coalition partner, education minister Naftali Bennett said, “Today a terrorist nuclear superpower is born, and it will go down as one of the darkest days in world history.”
Netanyahu’s fellow Likud member, the Science Minister Danny Danon, said the Iran pact “is like providing a pyromaniac with matches.”
Many Israeli leaders view a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to their state.
Israeli social media accounts were filled with images of former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who pushed a policy of appeasement toward Adolf Hitler and the Nazis on the eve of World War II.
Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders blasted the deal even as negotiators in Vienna were still making the announcement and providing the first details of the deal.
“Israel will defend itself,” Bennett warned, vowing that military action is still an option for the Jewish State, which feels itself in the crosshairs from a belligerent enemy, where just last week protesters in Tehran were chanting “Death to Israel!”
Three years ago, Israelis were debating at the highest levels whether it might be necessary for Israel or the United States, or both countries, to launch aerial strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Even as Israel reasserts its rights to act independently and hit Iran if threatened, a unilateral Israeli strike is not more likely today, Israeli defense analysts say, because the United States is committed to making the Iran pact work and Israel is not likely to act alone.
“It goes without saying that an agreement prevents Israel from thinking about a military option, unlike the options that might have existed five or ten ago,” said Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University.
On the eve of the signing of the accord, Netanyahu warned on his Twitter account that Iran “is more dangerous than ISIS,” the Islamic State radicals who have captured vast swathes of Syria and Iraq and “the true goal of this aggression is to take over the world.”
“The only thing Netanyahu has left is to continue talking,” said Yoel Guzansky, former head of the Iran desk at Israel’s National Security Council.
Israeli politicians and pro-Israel supporters in the United States will now likely press Congress to derail the deal, a difficult prospect that could eventually require trying to override a presidential veto, which would require deep Democratic support.
“The State of Israel will employ all diplomatic means to prevent confirmation of the agreement,” said Israel’s top foreign diplomat, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
U.S. and European diplomats have said that Netanyahu has failed to accept that it is better to stall, observe and roll back Iranian nuclear capabilities than double down on economic sanctions and isolation.
Iran has repeatedly said its aims are peaceful and that developing nuclear power and medicine are its right as a sovereign nation.
Opposition leaders were united in condemning the Iran deal, but they also called its signing a major diplomatic failure for Netanyahu, who has spent his years as Israeli premier warning about the “existential threat” posed by a Islamic Republic against Israel, which itself possesses an unknown number of nuclear weapons.
Speaking Tuesday morning on Israel Radio, Efraim Halevy, former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, was critical of the way Israel’s prime minister fought the deal by directly confronting Obama.
Efraim said that perhaps it would have been better for Israel to apply pressure through more discreet channels and have more of a role in the deal eventually reached.
Yair Lapid, a top opposition figure and leader of an Israeli political party, said there is “no daylight” between Israelis in condemning the Iran deal.
But he said Netanyahu bungled the diplomacy. He said, however, that he would be among those Israeli leaders going to Congress to try to convince Israel’s friends in both parties to oppose the Iran pact. “This is not about taking sides,” Lapid said. “To speak your mind is never a bad thing.”
In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, main opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni both criticized Netanyahu for allowing the deal to be reached.
“If you go to a deal, as bad as it may be, the way to minimize its damage is by arriving at an agreement with the US on a very significant security package,” said Herzog.
Netanyahu and his government charge that Obama especially, is naive about Iranian intentions and has placed a foolish bet on a deceptive and devious partner.
Netanyahu uses every opportunity to cut through Iranian disclaimers that their nuclear program is peaceful and designed to develop medicines and energy.
The United States is Israel’s closest and sometimes only ally in the world, supplying diplomatic cover and billions of dollars in military aid over the years, including some of the most sophisticated U.S. arms technology.
But Netanyahu took the extraordinary step of siding with Congressional Republicans and directly and publicly confronting the American president in Congress during a speech in March.
Israeli opposition leaders say that Netanyahu and his circle have helped create the worst relations between Jerusalem and Washington in years with the two leaders and their proxies openly taunting and insulting each other.