Israeli Defense Ministry Slams Obama: Iran Deal as Harmful as Munich Agreement With Hitler

Netanyahu distances himself from the statement, stressing that 'Israel has no ally as important as the U.S.'

President Barack Obama speaks about US - Iranian relations, including the Iranian-American nationals that were jailed in Iran and are being freed as part of a prisoner swap, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 17, 2016.
President Barack Obama speaks about the release of jailed Iranian-American nationals under a prisoner swap, in January 2016. AFP

The Israeli Defense Ministry on Friday issued a harsh response to U.S. President Barack Obama's assertion that Israeli officials believe the nuclear deal with Iran has improved security in the Middle East.  

The Defense Ministry likened the nuclear deal to the Munich Agreement reached between European powers and Nazi Germany in 1938. It said that just like the agreement with Hitler failed to prevent war and turned out to be a mistake, so will the deal with Iran.

Shortly after, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released his own statement in an attempt to minimize the damage, saying that "Israel has no ally more important than the U.S."

In its unusual statement, the Defense Ministry drew a parallel between the Iran deal and the agreement reached between Germany, Britain, France and Italy before World War II, allowing the Nazis to annex the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia.

"The Israeli defense establishment believes that agreements have value only if they are based on reality. They have no value if the facts on the ground are opposite to the ones the agreement is based on," said the statement. "The Munich Agreements didn't prevent World War II and the Holocaust because their fundamental assumption - that Nazi Germany can be partner to any agreement - was false, and because world leaders at the time ignored clear statements made by Hitler and other Nazi leaders."

So far, senior Israeli defense officials have said that Iran hasn't violated the terms of the agreement, but have expressed concern about what might be going on in the Islamic Republic in the wake of the deal. The Defense Ministry's response to Obama is a departure from that line. In fact, during the negotiations between the world powers and Iran, the Defense Ministry did not address the deal officially. This is the first statement to be released by the Defense Ministry since the talks. In January, Israel Defense Forces chief Gadi Eisenkot said that the agreement has "many risks as well as opportunities."  

The statement said Iran "clearly and publically declares that its goal is to destroy the State of Israel, and a U.S. Defense Department report released this year asserted that it is the foremost supporter of global terrorism," the statement continued. "This is why the defense establishment, like the entire people of Israel and others around the world, understands that agreements like the one signed between the world powers and Iran only undermine the unwavering battle that has to be waged against terror states like Iran." 

In his own statement, Netanyahu distanced himself from the Defense Ministry's remarks, which apparently were issued by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and were not coordinated with the prime minister. 

"The Israeli position on the Iran deal remains the same, but the prime minister staunchly believes that Israel has no ally more important than the U.S.," the statement released by Netanyahu's bureau said.

The statement noted that in his UN General Assembly address last September, Netanyahu stressed the importance of cooperation between those who opposed the deal and those who supported it to achieve three goals: Ensuring that Iran doesn't violate the agreement, dealing with Iran's regional aggression and dismantling the Islamic Republic's global terrorism network. "Netanyahu expects that these goals will turn into a joint policy, and that the alliance between Israel and the U.S. will continue to grow stronger under President Obama and the next American administration," the statement said. 

Obama said during a press conference at the Department of Defense on Thursday that even senior Israeli defense officials acknowledge that the nuclear deal with Iran has a positive outcome. He referred to statements by the IDF chief, Eisenkot, who has repeatedly said over the past year that the deal has reduced the threat level faced by Israel. 

“By all accounts, it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work. [The] Israeli military and security community … acknowledges this has been a game changer,” Obama said. “The country that was most opposed to the deal.”

The president also leveled veiled criticism at Netanyahu, who led the fight against the nuclear agreement.

"What I’m interested in is if there’s some news to be made, why not have some of these folks who were predicting disaster come out and say, ‘This thing actually worked,'" he said. “That would be impressive. If some of these folks who said the sky is falling suddenly said, ‘You know what? We were wrong and we are glad that Iran no longer has the capacity to break out in short term and develop a nuclear weapon.’ But that wasn’t going to happen.”