JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling an interim deal with Iran on its nuclear program a “historic mistake,” said Israel “has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat.”
“What was agreed to last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting, several hours after the agreement was announced. “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
President Obama reportedly was scheduled to call Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the deal, under which Iran will freeze some nuclear activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.
The United States and five other world powers signed the deal late Saturday night with Iran.
“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is not obligated by this agreement. I want to make clear we will not allow Iran to obtain military nuclear capability. ”
According to a White House statement, Iran will stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, but will be able to continue enriching to 5 percent. Iran will neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and will not install or build any new centrifuges, except to replace damaged machines.
Five percent is well below the enrichment level needed for weaponization. But Netanyahu has warned that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium even at low levels brings it too close to a breakout capacity for nuclear weapons.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the agreement “a new reality in the whole Middle East,” and “the Iranians’ greatest victory” during an interview Sunday morning with Israel Radio in the hours after the agreement was announced.
In terms of the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, Lieberman said, “As always, all options are on the table.”
He said Israel would look to other allies in deciding how to deal with Iran.
“Israel must look into new directions in addition to the U.S.,” he said. “We must take responsibility regardless of the stance of the Americans or of others. We must make our own independent decisions.”
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Ynet, “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us but the entire world.” Livni, the lead negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, said Israel must work with the United States and other allies to make sure the final deal offers better terms.
Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party and a government minister, also came out against the deal.
“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Israel,” he added, “will not be committed to a deal that endangers its very existence.”
Iranian officials reportedly welcomed the agreement, saying it confirmed the country’s right to enrich uranium and that “all plots hatched by the Zionist regime to stop the nuclear agreement have failed,” the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement: “The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words. I would like to say to the Iranian people, you are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles. Israel like others in the international community prefers a diplomatic solution.”
Knesset lawmaker Isaac Herzog, the newly elected chairman of the opposition Labor Party, said “the deal that was struck between the world powers and Iran is a fact and Israel must adjust itself to the new situation.”
“Netanyahu must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S. and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders,” he said.