Defense Ministry Statement on Iran Deal Caught Netanyahu by Surprise, Aide Tells U.S. Envoy

A senior aide to Netanyahu told U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro that the statement, which criticized President Obama, was not coordinated with prime minister, Haaretz has learned.

Netanyahu and Lieberman in May 2016.
Netanyahu and Lieberman in May 2016. Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned about the Defense Ministry statement that criticized U.S. President Barack Obama from the media, his aide told U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on Friday. 

Haaretz has learned that a senior aide to Netanyahu called Shapiro on Friday night and told him that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not coordinate the statement with the prime minister and did not brief him on it.

In the unusual statement released on Friday afternoon, the Defense Ministry rejected Obama's claim that Israeli officials believe the nuclear deal with Iran has improved security in the Middle East. It said that just like the 1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler failed to prevent war and turned out to be a mistake, so will the deal with Iran.

The aide told Shapiro that Netanyahu was surprised to learn about the remarks from the media, and mentioned the statement the prime minister's bureau released shortly after.

In his statement, Netanyahu distanced himself from the Defense Ministry remarks. 

"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.," he 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 had a positive outcome. He referred to statements by IDF chief Gadi 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.”