Netanyahu Meets O'Brien, Says 'Business as Usual With Iran' Would Be a Mistake

Jerusalem visit by U.S. national security adviser follows the announcement of a U.S.-brokered normalization deal between Israel and Morocco, the fourth such agreement since August

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien in Jerusalem, December 13, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien in Jerusalem, December 13, 2020.Credit: Amos Ben Gersom/GPO

Israel and its allies must not "go back to business as usual with Iran," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert C. O'Brien on Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem, in a tacit criticism of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's reported intention to revive the nuclear deal with Tehran. 

“As long as Iran continues to subjugate and threaten its neighbors, as long as Iran continues calling for Israel’s destruction, as long as Iran continues to bankroll, equip and train terrorist organizations throughout the region and the world, and as long as Iran persists in its dangerous quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, we shouldn’t go back to business as usual with Iran," Netanyahu said in remarks given to the press following his meeting with O'Brien. Netanyahu repeatedly praised U.S. President Donald Trump – less than 40 days before Democrat Joe Biden takes over from the Republican president.

"Instead of coddling the tyrants in Tehran, President Trump has adopted the policy of maximum pressure," Netanyahu said. "This is a policy that, I have to say, is widely supported across the Middle East. Both Israelis and Arabs praised President Trump when he pulled out of the failed nuclear agreement, when he reimposed and beefed up tough sanctions on Iran, [and] when he took out the Iranian arch-terrorist Qassem Soleimani."

According to the U.S. Embassy, O'Brien "held a series of meetings with Israeli officials to discuss regional issues, shared security concerns and the Abraham Accords," referring to the deals to normalize ties between Israel and a series of Arab states. 

Netanyahu met with O'Brien alongside Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, to whom O'Brien awarded the  Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. The medals is the highest honorary award given to foreign nationals, and was signed by acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles Miller, the embassy said.

Over the weekend, Trump announced that Morocco would become the fourth country since August to strike a U.S.-brokered deal aimed at normalizing relations with Israel. The others were the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Palestinians have been critical of the normalization deals, saying Arab countries have set back the cause of peace by abandoning a longstanding demand that Israel give up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition.

With Trump set to leave office on January 20, the Morocco deal could be among the last his team, led by Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and U.S. envoy Avi Berkowitz, is able to negotiate before the handoff to President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration.

Much of the momentum behind the deal-making has been to present a united front against Iran and roll back its regional influence.

In November, following U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Israel, Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a secret meeting with Pompeo and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, where they discussed normalization and Iran. A Saudi senior adviser confirmed that the meeting took place, but that no agreements had been reached. 

Earlier in November, Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special representative for Iran and Venezuela, visited Israel to discuss Iran and the leveling of new sanctions against it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.