Netanyahu Ahead of Trump Decision: Israel Is Prepared for Every Scenario

On a snap visit to Cyprus, Netanyahu says Iran is trying to deploy 'dangerous arms in Syria'

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk outside the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
\ YIANNIS KOURTOGLOU/ REUTERS

NICOSIA - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, ahead of President Donald Trump's expected announcement on whether the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, that Israel is prepared for every scenario.

"There is a broad interest that there will be no similar phenomenon [the agreement with Iran] in certain other countries," Netanyahu said before leaving Cyprus. "We are not looking for an escalation [with Iran], but we are preparing for every scenario. We tell the truth to the public, but that's no reason to panic."

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Earlier Netanyahu said that "Iran is calling for the destruction of Israel" and plans to ratchet up its weaponry in Syria.

Speaking to reporters after a joint meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, the premier asserted that Iran is determined "to deploy dangerous arms in Syria against Israel," and that it is in everyone's interest to thwart this peril.

Netanyahu added that he believes that people recognize this aggression and Israel's right to defend itself. 

The prime minister took part in the summit in Nicosia just hours ahead of the announcement in Washington of the possible withdrawal by the United States from the Iranian nuclear deal, and one day before Netanyahu is due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Iran, Netanyahu said, "has a terror network that is spread throughout the world," which, like the arms deployed in Syria, is intended for "use against Israel for the specific purpose of our destruction."

The prime minister told the Greek and Cypriot leaders that it's "in the interest of everyone to prevent this Iranian aggression."

"If they reach the Mediterranean, they wish to establish military naval bases in the Mediterranean for Iranian ships and Iranian submarines," Netanyahu warned. "This is a palpable threat against all of us. I think that everybody recognizes the malign intentions of Iran, and I think everybody also recognizes Israel’s right of self-defense, which is really our common defense."

Prime Minister Tsipras said that although he shares Israel's concerns regarding Iran, he opposes the United States' withdrawal from the nuclear deal with the world powers.

Asked what he predicted in terms of U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement regarding the accord with Iran, Netanyahu said: "I suggest we all wait until 9 P.M. (Israel time), that's not too long now." 

Netanyahu left Israel early Tuesday, and was due to return earlier than planned to Israel in advance of Trump’s announcement.

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Trump has threatened to withdraw from the deal, which provided Iran with relief from sanctions in exchange for limiting its uranium enrichment capacity.

After Trump tweeted Monday that he would make his decision on Tuesday, Netanyahu decided to shorten his trip to Cyprus. This suggests that he may not have known that the U.S. president would make his announcement Tuesday. 

Trump said in mid-January that the United States would back out of the Iran deal in 120 days unless its European allies agreed to “fix” it so that it would encompass Iran’s ballistic-missile program, step up inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency and extend the accord's duration indefinitely.

Regional tensions

Netanyahu’s meeting with Tsipras and Anastasiades was the fourth such summit between the countries since the three-way forum was established in 2016 to advance common interests, mainly in the realms of security and energy.

The meeting took place in the shadow of mounting tensions between Israel and Turkey regarding the crisis in the Gaza Strip, and historical tensions between Turkey and Cyprus – which are being exacerbated by disagreements over offshore natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus have been considering building a gas pipeline from Israel to Western Europe, an ambitious project whose feasibility experts question. The construction of the pipeline would cost tens of billions of shekels.