A chorus of fury and fear erupted from Israel’s leaders at the news that Iran and six world powers had closed a deal that would allow Iran to retain a nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has warned for a dozen years that Iran was just around the corner from developing a nuclear weapon, blasted the agreement as a “historical error.” He warned that in 10 years, the West would regret its willingness to trust Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions.
“The leading international powers have bet our collective future on a deal with the foremost sponsor of international terrorism,” Netanyahu said. “In a decade this deal will give an unreformed, unrepentant and far richer terrorist regime the capacity to produce many nuclear bombs, in fact an entire nuclear arsenal, with the means to deliver it.”
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the agreement “rewards deceit, terror and war mongering. The mere thought of re-accepting the chief terrorist regime into the family of nations is beyond belief.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter, “On July 14th, 2015, a terror nuclear superpower is born. Israel will defend itself.”
The deal between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – plus Germany, on one side, and Iran would lift crippling economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic in exchange for limiting Iran’s nuclear program and opening it to international inspections.
Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes; Israel, the only country in the Middle East known to have nuclear weapons, believes Iran intends to develop atomic weapons. The deal signed in Vienna caps more than a decade of talks.
Israeli critics say the accord will give Iran diplomatic cover while it continues to develop weapons that will be directed against the Jewish state. Iran backs Hezbollah and other groups that attack Israel; its leaders have vowed to annihilate Israel.
Arms control expert Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv said her main concerns were that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would only be “mothballed,” not dismantled, that Iranian scientists could continue researching centrifuges over the next 10 years, and that inspections would be subject to Iranian approval.
Landau mused that a nuclear Iran could touch off an arms race in the Middle East.
Not all Israelis agree with the doomsday predictions. Israel-based Iran expert Meir Javedanfar said that while the deal was not perfect, its strict limitations on uranium enrichment would guarantee that despite Iran’s research into centrifuges, nuclear weapons capability would remain out of reach.
“From what I can see it’s going to be very difficult for Iran to make a nuclear weapon,” he told McClatchy.
Opposition lawmakers echoed Netanyahu’s concerns but lambasted his tactics. Netanyahu has been at the forefront of global opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and the deal in Vienna. In March, Netanyahu spoke before the U.S. Congress against the agreement, in what was largely seen as a snub to President Barack Obama.
Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog noted that no Israelis took part in the talks that yielded the agreement in Vienna.
“Israel’s interests were abandoned – in part because of the personal rupture between Netanyahu and the U.S. president,” Herzog wrote on Facebook.
In Jerusalem, Moshe Alon listened to a constant stream of news updates in his picture framing workshop.
“I don’t trust the Iranians,” said Alon, 68. “And I don’t trust Obama because of the way he’s been making concessions along the whole way.”
All the same, he said Iran was not an existential threat to Israel, but rather a constant headache.
Accountant Eti Levy, 35, said, “We don’t have peace with the Arabs, and so it is not likely we will reach peace with Iran.”
Javedanfar, the Israel-based Iran expert, predicted, “Netanyahu is going to embark on probably the mother of all lobbying campaigns in the U.S. to make sure that Congress rejects such a deal.”
Sanctions cannot be lifted until U.S. lawmakers complete their 60-day review of the agreement. However, killing the deal via Congress would be a monumental challenge. Lawmakers would have to pass veto-proof legislation that would enact new sanctions or keep the old ones in place.
Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on whether he would lobby Congress. He did open a Twitter account in Farsi on Monday; by Tuesday it had attracted nearly 1,800 followers, many of whom used it to post insults.
In a mini-market steps from the prime minister’s residence, community organizer Shahaf Levi, 29, told McClatchy he worried about the impact of the deal on Israel, but he was more concerned with how his government communicated its messages.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be left out of the negotiations,” Levi said. “But maybe we need to present ourselves better so the ideas we are trying to express will not be seen as opposed to what the U.S. is trying to do.”