Bennett: Deal With Iran Undermines Efforts to Thwart Nuclear Program

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Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that making a deal with Iran that involves easing the international sanctions on the Islamic Republic would be a strategic mistake.

Bennett, speaking at an event hosted by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Thursday, told the audience that letting up the economic pressure now would only weaken the leverage the international community has over Iran and will thus undermine the effort to thwart the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons.

"I am convinced that if we ratchet up the pressure we can get the right deal," Bennett said at the event. "Does anyone honestly think that six months from now we'll have more leverage than we have now? After letting up on the sanctions? After we see a wave of companies flock to Iran to do business because they sense that the sanctions are on their way out?"

Bennett's remarks echoed the criticism various Israeli leaders have been voicing against a deal with Iran. "Like in a boxing match, Iran's regime is currently on the floor," Bennett wrote last weekend in a letter to North American Jewish organizations, later posted on his Facebook page. "The count is just seconds away from 10. Now is the time to step up the pressure and force Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Not to let it up."

The negotiations between Iran and the international community in Geneva last week have been in the center of tensions between the United States and Israel, who differ over the best course to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers believe, in stark contrast to the Americans and some of the other negotiating powers, that it’s possible to extract a much better agreement from Khamenei, one that will totally halt uranium enrichment at all levels and shut down the centrifuges. They argue that if forced to choose between acquiring an atomic bomb and the survival of his regime – and the economic crisis puts the ayatollahs’ regime in real danger - Khamenei would choose survival. But so far the West has succeeded in extracting very little from him.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that no agreement with Iran has been reached and that opposition to a deal was premature. In a tense meeting with Kerry ahead of his departure to Geneva last week, Netanyahu said that Israel does not see itself committed to any deal reached between the P5+1 and Iran in their negotiations.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday that a "bad deal" with Iran could lead to war. "On Iran," he said, "there aren't only two options – a bad deal or war. There is a third option: Continuing to exert pressure through sanctions." "I would even say that a bad deal could lead to the second, unwanted result," he added.

Iran rejects Western accusations that it is seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons. But its refusal so far to curb its program and lack of full openness with UN anti-proliferation inspectors have drawn tough Western sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani, a pragmatist, succeeded conservative hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August promising to try to settle the decade-old nuclear dispute and secure an easing of sanctions that have severely hurt Iran's oil-dependent economy.

Naftali Bennett used a 2,000-year-old coin to prove his point. One has to understand how the right wing's operating system works.Credit: Emil Salman

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