JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling an interim deal with Iran on its nuclear program a “historic mistake,” said Israel “has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat.”
“What was agreed to last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular cabinet meeting, several hours after the agreement was announced. “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly called Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the deal, under which Iran will freeze some of its nuclear activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.
The United States and five other world powers signed the deal with Iran late Saturday night.
“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is not obligated by this agreement. I want to make clear we will not allow Iran to obtain military nuclear capability. ”
According to a White House statement, Iran will stop enriching uranium to 20 per cent, but will be able to continue enriching to five per cent. Iran will neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20 per cent enriched uranium and will not install or build any new centrifuges, except to replace damaged machines.
Five per cent is well below the enrichment level needed for weaponization. But Netanyahu has warned that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium even at low levels brings it too close to a breakout capacity for nuclear weapons.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, in an interview Sunday morning with Israel Radio in the hours after the agreement was announced, called the agreement “a new reality in the whole Middle East,” and “the Iranians’ greatest victory.”
In terms of the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, Liberman said, “As always, all options are on the table.”
He said Israel would look to other allies in deciding how to deal with Iran.
“Israel must look into new directions in addition to the U.S.,” he said. “We must take responsibility regardless of the stance of the Americans or of others. We must make our own independent decisions.”
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Ynet news, “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us but the entire world.” Livni, the lead negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, said Israel must work with the United States and other allies to make sure the final deal offers better terms.
Naftali Bennett, chair of the Jewish Home party and a government minister, also came out against the deal.
“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Israel,” he added, “will not be committed to a deal that endangers its very existence.”
Iranian officials reportedly welcomed the agreement, saying it confirmed the country’s right to enrich uranium and that “all plots hatched by the Zionist regime to stop the nuclear agreement have failed,” the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement: “The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words. I would like to say to the Iranian people, you are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles. Israel like others in the international community prefers a diplomatic solution.”
Knesset lawmaker Isaac Herzog, the newly elected chair of the opposition Labor party, said “the deal that was struck between the world powers and Iran is a fact and Israel must adjust itself to the new situation.
“Netanyahu must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S. and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders,” he said.
In a Nov. 24 statement, Foreign Minister John Baird said, “Canada has long held the view that every diplomatic measure should be taken to ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. We appreciate the earnest efforts of the [six world powers].
“Effective sanctions have brought the regime to present a more moderate front and open the door to negotiations. Today’s deal cannot be abused or undermined by deception. The Iranian people deserve the freedom and prosperity that they have been denied for too long by the regime’s nuclear ambitions. Until then, Canadian sanctions will remain tough, and in full force.”
He added: “We will evaluate today’s deal not just on the merits of its words, but more importantly on its verifiable implementation and unfettered access of all Iranian nuclear facilities.”
David Koschitzky, chair of Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said: “We applaud the [six world powers] for [their] serious diplomatic efforts. Israelis, more than anyone, want a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear program. Canadians have every reason to maintain healthy skepticism regarding this deal, given Iran’s track record of manipulating diplomacy and breaching signed agreements. Any pause to Iran’s nuclear drive will only be successful if the next six months are used to reach a comprehensive agreement that permanently denies Iran nuclear weapons capability.”
He added: “Israel and others in the region have pointed to a number of serious deficiencies in this agreement. Just as intensive verification of Iran’s actions will be required, we urge the [six world powers] to address the concerns raised by Israel in the next round of negotiations.
“This is just the beginning of a process that will be tested in the months ahead. We caution the international community to remain vigilant in holding Iran accountable and ensuring that it retains the ability to apply additional pressures should Iran backtrack on its obligations.”
With files from CJN Staff