Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Tuesday’s nuclear deal with Iran a mistake of “historic proportions” and vowed to keep up efforts to block the Islamic Republic from obtaining an atomic bomb.
The strong reaction was echoed across the political spectrum in Israel, where concern is high the country’s arch enemy has duped the world and will acquire nuclear weapons to use against Israel. Iran already backs militant groups that attack Israel and its leaders frequently have referred to Israel’s destruction in the past.
Netanyahu has been at the forefront of global opposition to the deal and has openly clashed with the Obama administration and other Western powers that have been pushing for an easing of sanctions in return for greater restrictions on its nuclear program. Netanyahu showed no signs of tempering his criticism Tuesday and added a veiled threat of his own.
“One cannot prevent an agreement when the negotiators are willing to make more and more concessions to those who, even during the talks, keep chanting: ‘Death to America,’” he said, before meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders. “We knew very well that the desire to sign an agreement was stronger than anything, and therefore we did not commit to preventing an agreement. We did commit to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands.”
In the past, Israel has threatened to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations. But that option appeared to fade as the U.S.-led group of powers engaged in diplomacy with Iran.
Israel’s first course of action looks to be an intense lobbying effort in the U.S. Congress to oppose the deal. Netanyahu spoke against the emerging deal before a joint session of Congress in March. Yet despite strong support among Republicans in Congress, there is little that can be done now.
The Senate can weigh in on the agreement but can’t kill it, because Obama doesn’t need congressional approval for a multinational deal that is not designated a treaty.
Lawmakers have 60 days to review the agreement, during which Obama can’t ease penalties on Iran. Only if lawmakers were to build a veto-proof majority behind new legislation enacting new sanctions or preventing Obama from suspending existing ones, the administration would be prevented from living up to the accord.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Israel “will employ all diplomatic means to prevent confirmation of the agreement.”
Netanyahu’s coalition partners angrily criticized Wednesday’s agreement. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the hawkish Jewish Home party, said July 14 will be remembered a “dark day for the free world.” Cabinet Minister Miri Regev said the agreement gave Iran a “license to kill.”
The cascade of criticism crossed party lines, reflecting the widespread opposition to the deal in Israel.
“This is a regime based in deceit, and now they are going to do what they did for the last 20 years, which is trying to get themselves nuclear weapons behind the back of the world,” Yair Lapid, the head of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, told The Associated Press. “Now they are going to do it with the help of the international community.”
Netanyahu called on all sides to “put petty politics aside” and unite behind opposing Iran.
“Our concern, of course, is that the militant Islamic state of Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that Iran would get a “jackpot of cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars.”
“This is a bad mistake of historic proportion,” he said.