Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an outspoken opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, but some in Israel’s government and security establishment see it as a least-bad option that should be preserved.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday the U.S. will exit the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers, calling it “defective at its core” and said he plans to reinstall sanctions on the Iranian regime.
Former President Barack Obama led a coalition of world powers, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, to the nuclear agreement in 2015, at a time when Iran was believed to be rapidly closing in on developing nuclear weapons. The agreement lifted painful economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Shortly before Trump’s announcement, the former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency said Iran is “fully complying with the nuclear deal.” Tamir Pardo told a security conference in the coastal town of Herzliya there “still will be a need for some kind of deal at the end of the day.”
Netanyahu has been a leading critic of the deal, saying it did not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear-weapons capability or address Iran’s other activities across the region or its long-range missile program.
After clashing with Obama when the deal was negotiated, Netanyahu found a close ally in Trump, who has called the agreement “the worst deal ever.”
However, while Netanyahu has been urging the deal be either “fixed or nixed,” not all have been clamoring to cancel the agreement.
“An American announcement that it’s withdrawing from the agreement would let Iran drive a wedge between the world powers and gradually loosen international oversight over its nuclear program,” Amos Gilad, a retired senior Israeli defense official, told the Haaretz newspaper for a story published this week.
“If the Americans abandon the agreement, they have to prepare for alternatives, and I don’t see this being done,” he said.
Gilad said Israel needs to prioritize the threats it faces.
“If Iran now continues to suspend its nuclear project for eight or 10 years, in accordance with the agreement, that will let us focus on more urgent threats relating to the Iranian army establishing a presence in Syria, and preparing the Israeli army for the possibility that, in the future, we’ll have to deal with the nuclear (issue) if a confrontation erupts,” he told Haaretz.
Last week, Netanyahu unveiled what he said was a “half ton” of Iranian nuclear documents he said were illicitly seized by Israeli intelligence. He said the documents provided evidence that Iran attempted to develop a nuclear bomb in the previous decade, especially before 2003.
Although he gave no explicit evidence that Iran violated the 2015 deal, he said Iran had clearly lied in the past and could not be trusted. Iran has denied ever pursuing nuclear arms
“Even after Netanyahu’s impressive news conference, I don’t see other countries, other than the United States, taking a stance in favor of abandoning the agreement. Russia is a strategic partner of Iran’s in Syria. China trades with Iran and the Europeans aren’t budging from their position,” Gilad said.
In a recent interview, Israeli military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told Haaretz that he knows of no violations of the nuclear deal by Iran, though he said Israel is closely watching.
“If its intentions change, we will know. Right now the agreement, with all its faults, is working and is putting off realization of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years,” he told the paper.
Yoel Guzansky, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank, said “the deal is flawed and has many, many problems. I sure hope there is a better deal but I haven’t seen it. ”
Israel considers Iran an existential threat because of its nuclear and missile programs, its support of violent anti-Israel groups in the region and frequent calls for destruction of the Jewish state.