Israel’s leaders divided over Iranian nuclear deal

Iranian clerics attend an air-defence war game 200 miles south-west of Tehran

Iranian clerics attend an air-defence war game 200 miles south-west of Tehran

The interim agreement signed in Geneva in the early hours of Sunday morning was met with a mixture of derision and alarm by most of Israel’s political leadership. However, former intelligence chiefs and President Shimon Peres gave the deal a much more nuanced reception.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the deal, saying it had made the world “a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”.

Most of his senior ministers responded in a similar vein. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “When you see the smiles of the Iranians in Geneva, you realise this is the Iranians’ greatest victory, maybe since the Khomeini revolution.”

Economics Minister Naftali Bennett warned: “If in another five or six years, a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of this agreement.”

Even the cabinet’s most moderate voice, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, said: “It is a terrible agreement that threatens not only Israel but the entire world.”

Ms Livni adopted a more conciliatory tone towards the international community, however, saying: “We have to act resolutely now with the US and our allies to try to improve positions towards the next agreement.”

Israel’s main problem with the agreement is that it gives the Iranians some sanctions relief while not dismantling any of their capabilities to enrich uranium or develop nuclear-related components.

Despite that, the chorus of condemnation was by no means uniform.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr Peres said: “This is an interim agreement, not a permanent one. Its value will be judged on its results and not on words alone.” He added that “Israelis prefer a diplomatic solution over any other”.

Former commander of IDF Intelligence Branch, Major-General (ret) Amos Yadlin, was also positive.

“The deal signed in Geneva was much less worse than the alternatives,” he said. “It is only an interim deal that will allow the US and the international community to test the Islamic Republic’s seriousness over the next six months. If this was the final agreement, it would have been dangerous, but that isn’t the case.”

The angry response from the ministers failed to register the significant input from Israel that did find its way into the agreement.

The fact that Iran has agreed to freeze building of its heavy-water reactor in Arak, convert all uranium enriched to 20 per cent and accept that sanctions remain on its oil sales and banking sectors, is due in a large part to the personal lobbying of Mr Netanyahu and Israeli intelligence chiefs.

Mr Netanyahu stressed that “Israel is not bound by this agreement” and that “Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”

But senior defence officials admitted off the record that following the international consensus that has formed around the agreement, Israel will have little choice but to wait and see whether it will be implemented and how the negotiations over the final agreement proceed.

For now, at least, they all agree that a military strike against Iran is off the table.

Last updated: 4:45pm, November 28 2013