As world powers and Iranian leaders prepare to meet for the next round of nuclear talks on Tuesday, Israeli officials are bracing for an unacceptable final nuclear deal and have started to take their case to the public.
In recent weeks, Israeli political and national security figures have been publicly outlining what they would find intolerable in a final agreement, and hinting that a bad deal could force Israel to take military action.
“If there is a deal, [the Israelis] will have to decide whether to campaign against it, or urge Congress to demand that it be toughened before sanctions are lifted, or remain quiet,” said Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush. “I doubt they will remain quiet, and why should they: their national existence is on the line, and they don’t owe Obama many favors.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised concerns about a final deal in his last two high-profile speeches, denouncing any potential agreement that would “eliminate the sanctions” against Iran but “leave its [nuclear] capabilities intact.”
“Such a deal, which will enable Iran to be a nuclear threshold state, will bring the entire world to the threshold of an abyss,” said Netanyahu in a speech at Yad Vashem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 27.
“Unlike our situation during the Holocaust, when we were like leaves on the wind, defenseless, now we have great power to defend ourselves, and it is ready for any mission,” he said.
His comments were echoed by former Israeli Gens. Yaakov Amidror and Amos Yadlin, who warned that Iran could covertly restart its nuclear program at any point if the program is not dismantled.
“American intelligence officials have publicly admitted that they cannot guarantee identification in real time of an Iranian breakout move to produce a nuclear weapon,” wrote Amidror.
He added that even if Western intelligence could spot an Iranian breakout effort, the Obama administration cannot be relied on to take military action.
“With such a flimsy agreement, I wonder what will be left of Western commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” wrote Amidror. “And Israel will have to draw its own conclusions.”
Ehud Barak, Israel’s former defense minister, also criticized the Obama administration’s negotiating position at a conference in Washington, D.C., last Thursday.
“The American administration changed its objective from no nuclear military Iran to no nuclear military Iran during the term of this administration,” Barak said.
He argued that Iran’s nuclear facilities could be destroyed in a “fraction of one night,” if the United States chose to take military action.
But analysts remain skeptical that Netanyahu’s public statements carry any influence inside the Obama administration.
“Alas, the chance that Netanyahu’s rhetoric will sway Obama is somewhere between zil and null,” said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and former Pentagon adviser under President George W. Bush.
“Obama dislikes Netanyahu and will dismiss anything the Israeli leader says. Netanyahu, for his part, has not helped his own case for whenever he speaks, all anyone on the fence will think about is the cartoon bomb.”
Other analysts said the Israeli arguments could be intended to bolster congressional opposition to a bad nuclear deal.
“Any criticisms they offer will I think be adopted by many Republicans, and the open question is what Democrats will do. Stick with Obama? Fully? Or distance themselves a bit,” said Abrams. “The problem for [the Israelis] will be a big White House campaign saying that it’s this deal or war.”
The six-month deadline for reaching a long-term nuclear agreement is July 20.