Israel on Sunday lashed out at the Geneva nuclear deal brokered by world powers as being heavily stacked in Iran’s favour, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a “historic mistake.”
Following a months-long diplomatic campaign warning of the dangers of easing economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for steps to curb its contested nuclear programme, senior cabinet ministers chimed in, with one saying Israel reserved the right to strike Iran on its own.
Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that “what was achieved yesterday in Geneva is not a historic agreement but rather a historic mistake,” according to a post on spokesman Ofir Gendelman’s Twitter account.
“This is a bad agreement,” said Netanyahu’s office in an earlier statement.
“It gives Iran exactly what it wanted — a significant easing of sanctions and allows it to keep hold of the most essential parts of its nuclear programme,” it said just hours after the historic accord was signed in Switzerland.
“The agreement allows Iran to continue enriching uranium and leaves all the centrifuges in place which allow it to create fissile material for nuclear weapons.
“Economic pressure on Iran could have produced a much better agreement that would have led to a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capacities,” it concluded.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the agreement conferred legitimacy on Iran’s uranium enrichment programme in what he described as a diplomatic coup for the Islamic republic.
“This agreement is the greatest diplomatic victory of Iran, which has gained recognition for its so-called legitimate right to enrich uranium,” he told public radio.
‘All options are on table’
The hawkish, blunt-talking chief diplomat, who returned to office earlier this month after seeing off graft charges, stressed that “all options are on the table”.
“The responsibility for the security of the Jewish people and the population of Israel remains the sole responsibility of the Israeli government,” Lieberman said.
“All decisions in this regard will be taken independently and responsibly,” he added.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said the agreement was likely to bring Iran “closer” rather than further away from building a bomb.
“The current deal … is more likely to bring Iran closer to having a bomb. Israel cannot participate in the international celebration, which is based on Iranian deception and world self-delusion,” he said in a statement from his office.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right Jewish Home, said Israel was not bound by the Geneva deal and had a right to self-defence.
“Iran is threatening Israel and Israel has the right to defend itself,” he told army radio.
Israel and much of the West believe Iran’s nuclear programme is a front for a weapons drive, a charge which Iran has repeatedly denied saying it is only for civilian purposes.
Tehran has a long history of belligerent statements towards the Jewish state, notably under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Israel has repeatedly warned that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat, refusing to rule out a preventative military strike on Iran’s atomic infrastructure.
The holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad, who was president for eight years, often questioned Israel’s right to exist, famously saying Israel should be “wiped from the page of time,” which was mistranslated as “wiped off the map”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, a key player in the marathon talks that led to the interim deal, had earlier tried to head off criticism by saying the agreement would push back the threat and ultimately make the Jewish state more secure.
“This first step, I want to emphasise, actually rolls back the programme from where it is today, enlarges the breakout time, which would not have occurred unless this agreement existed.
“It will make our partners in the region safer. It will make our ally Israel safer,” Kerry told reporters.
Israel — widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only atomic-armed nation — has warned the West against being hoodwinked by Iran’s apparent newfound moderation since President Hassan Rouhani, himself a former nuclear negotiator, replaced Ahmadinejad in August.
Kerry said Netanyahu had been updated on progress in the talks and that any differences between the United States and Israel on the issue were cosmetic.
“There is no difference whatsoever between the US and Israel of what the end goal is — that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he added.