Israel steps up rhetoric ahead of Iran talks

20 November 2013 | 05:35 Code : 1924771 Latest Headlines

Israel escalated its rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear programme at the weekend, with a senior official warning it was prepared to launch a unilateral military strike against Iran.

Although Israel has talked many times about its willingness to take military action on its own, this warning comes ahead of diplomatic talks with Iran on Wednesday that US officials say are “close” to success.

At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, took to the American airwaves again on Sunday to blast the Obama administration over the prospect of a deal with Iran and to lobby public opinion against any agreement. François Hollande, French president, also reiterated his country’s tough stance on the negotiations at the start of his three-day visit to Israel.

Mr Netanyahu, speaking to the CNN news network in an interview aired on Sunday, said “an exceedingly bad deal” was on the table in the talks with Iran. The discussions aim to place restrictions on its nuclear programme – which western powers fear could be used to develop a bomb – in return for modest relief on sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy. Mr Netanyahu said easing sanctions would send “companies and countries scrambling” to invest there, while leaving Tehran’s nuclear weapons capability in place.

“I think a lot is being offered by the P5 + 1 for Iran,” Mr Netanyahu said. “It’s getting just an enormous deal, from their point of view, and it’s giving practically nothing in return. They’re keeping their infrastructure to make nuclear bombs.”

His comments came as Israel’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror – one of Mr Netanyahu’s closest associates until he stepped down in October – told the Financial Times that his country’s military could stop Iran’s nuclear programme “for a very long time”. There was “no question” that Mr Netanyahu would be prepared to make the decision to strike unilaterally if necessary.

“We don’t need permission from anyone – we are an independent state,” said Mr Amidror, who has known Mr Netanyahu since 1969 and served as his national security adviser for two-and-a-half years. “We have our own sovereignty. If Israel is in a position in which Israel must defend itself, Israel will do it.”

Mr Amidror also told the FT that Israel’s air force had been conducting “very long-range flights . . . all around the world” as part of its preparations for a possible military confrontation with Iran.

Defence experts have expressed scepticism over Israel’s ability or willingness to strike Iran’s nuclear sites, including the underground enrichment facility at Fordow, on its own, without the backing of the US military.

The US has consistently opposed a unilateral Israeli strike, which could put its military installations in the Gulf at risk, bring massive retaliation against Israel, and draw Washington into a broader regional war.

The warning comes at a time of unprecedented public sniping between the US and Israel, which is not involved in the talks, but is a strident voice on the sidelines.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister, said last week that the total boost to the Iranian economy of easing sanctions could be $40bn a year.

However, US officials have described such figures as wild exaggerations. According to Jen Psaki, a State department spokeswoman: “There are very large, inaccurate, false numbers out there in terms of what’s on the table.”

Colin Kahl, a former senior Pentagon official, said the figure was closer to $6bn-$7bn.


tags: netanyahu israel