JERUSALEM — Furiously denouncing the accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program on Tuesday as “a historic mistake,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would not be bound by the agreement and warned of negative repercussions in a region already riven with rivalries and armed conflict.
Contrary to President Obama’s assertion that the agreement will cut off every pathway for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, Israel’s leaders rejected the deal as a dangerous compromise that will exacerbate regional tensions and pave the way over time for Iran to produce multiple bombs — “an entire arsenal with the means to deliver it,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its survival. For Mr. Netanyahu, the accord is the bitter culmination of a long struggle that has severely strained Israel’s relations with the United States, its crucial ally. Even before the deal was formally announced Mr. Netanyahu accused the United States and the other five world powers of making “far-reaching concessions” in their determination to reach a deal “at any cost.”
The disagreement showed no sign of abating. In a phone call hours after the signing of the deal, Mr. Obama told Mr. Netanyahu that it “will remove the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran, an outcome in the national security interest of the United States and Israel,” according to a statement from the White House. Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Obama that the agreement raised the danger that Iran would obtain nuclear weapons either by waiting out the 10 to 15 years of restrictions specified by the accord, or by violating it.
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Referring to the expected lifting of sanctions Mr. Netanyahu said in a televised statement in English: “In the coming decade, the deal will reward Iran, the terrorist regime in Tehran, with hundreds of billions of dollars. This cash bonanza will fuel Iran’s terrorism worldwide, its aggression in the region and its efforts to destroy Israel, which are ongoing.”
Describing Iran as a “rogue regime,” he added, “We will always defend ourselves.”
Israeli experts said that even though the agreement contained positive aspects that freeze or even roll back Iran’s nuclear program over the coming decade, it was still deeply problematic given the Israeli conviction that Iran is patient when it comes to building its nuclear capabilities.
Ephraim Asculai, who worked at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for over 40 years, said the main problem he foresaw after reading the agreement was verification of Iranian compliance, particularly inspecting sites other than declared nuclear installations. Mr. Asculai said the verification mechanism “is lacking.”
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“Access is limited,” said Mr. Asculai, who is now at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “One cannot go and search for undeclared facilities or undeclared materials and activities.”
Permission to visit an undeclared facility depends on inspectors presenting evidence of why they want to go there, he said. Since he speculated that that would involve revealing sensitive intelligence to the Iranians, he said “their hands are tied from the beginning.”
Emily Landau, the director of the institute’s arms control and regional security project, asked, “If there is no perceivable change in Iran’s military aspirations in the nuclear realm, the question is, why would sun-setting the deal be a good idea?”
More fundamentally, Israeli experts say the agreement empowers Iran and affords legitimacy to its nuclear program, which it insists is for peaceful purposes. That, they say, is likely to trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey likely to want to acquire similar capabilities.
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In a rare display of Israeli consensus, criticism of the deal crossed the political lines.
Isaac Herzog, the leader of the center-left Zionist Union party and head of the opposition in Parliament, said that Israel was on the verge of “a new era in the Middle East that poses security and diplomatic challenges for Israel that are more dangerous and complex than any we have known before.”
Avigdor Lieberman, the former foreign minister and leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is also in the opposition, compared the accord to the Munich Agreement reached with Nazi Germany in 1938, saying, “It is an agreement of total capitulation to unrestrained terrorism and violence in the international arena.”
But Mr. Netanyahu’s domestic opponents have differed on Israel’s approach, particularly toward relations with the Obama administration. Some critics are portraying the deal as a personal failure for the prime minister, who infuriated the White House by addressing a joint meeting of Congress in the spring to attack the negotiations. They say that the spoiled relations with the Obama administration harmed Israel’s ability to influence the outcome.
Mr. Netanyahu is now gearing up for the next fight: to lobby Congress to reject the deal and ultimately override any presidential veto. But that is likely to lead to further confrontation between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama at a time when many Israelis say what is needed is the rebuilding of trust and intimacy between the allies.
Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israel’s military intelligence, said in an interview that his recommendation was for Israel “not to meddle in internal American affairs.”
But he said that Israel could still come to understandings with the United States about what happens if Iran violates the agreement or decides to race toward building a bomb.
At the same time, Mr. Yadlin said, Israel should maintain its “operational options,” including a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities “for when all other options are exhausted.”
Aside from a possible nuclear arms race in the Middle East, Israeli experts are also concerned that American compensation for the deal in the form of arms packages for other United States allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, could also erode Israel’s so-called qualitative edge when it comes to weapons.
Although Israel and Saudi Arabia share joint concerns about Iran, they do not have diplomatic relations.
“There is an agreement between Israel and the United States, which I hope won’t be violated, that Israel should keep its qualitative edge under any circumstances,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser who is now at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. “This is not compensation but an obligation,” he added.
“In the Middle East,” Mr. Amidror said, “the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, but another enemy.”
Diaa Hadid contributed reporting
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(via NY Times)