Israel was pulling out all the stops Sunday to prevent what it considers a looming bad deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, before the talks resume on November 20.
The diplomatic offensive was aimed not only at the world powers engaged in negotiations with Tehran, after three days of talks ended early Sunday without a deal, but will also extend to the US Congress with which Israel retains close ties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke to the US, Russian, French, German and British leaders — five of the six world powers negotiating with Iran — and “told them that according to the information reaching Israel, the looming agreement is bad and dangerous”.
According to Netanyahu, the mooted deal would remove sanctions on Iran while still enabling the Islamic republic to enrich uranium and advance works on a plutonium reactor.
“I asked them what was the rush? I suggested they wait, and seriously consider things,” he said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting.
“I hope they reach a good agreement, and we will do all we can to convince world powers to avoid a bad deal.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier he would lobby the US congress.
“Before the talks resume, we will lobby dozens of members of the US Congress to whom I will personally explain during a visit beginning on Tuesday that Israel’s security is in jeopardy,” he told army radio.
Later on Sunday, Netanyahu was also to address the general assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Home Front Minister Gilad Erdan late Saturday issued statements calling for world powers not to rush into an agreement.
Yaalon called the accord believed to be in the works “a historical mistake”, and Livni said that “a much more favourable agreement could be signed”.
Erdan said: “The pressure is showing results — it would be a grave mistake to give the Iranians what they wanted now.”
Netanyahu spoke on Sunday in the southern town of Sde Boker where Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben Gurion is buried.
His remarks came after Iran and world powers failed to reach a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme despite three days of talks, dashing hopes of an immediate long-sought agreement in the decade-old standoff.
However, diplomats also said significant progress had been made in the marathon negotiations and that talks would resume in Geneva on November 20.
Bennett said there were “differences” within US President Barack Obama’s administration on reaching a deal with Iran.
“If in ten years an atomic bomb hidden in a suitcase explodes in New York, or a nuclear missile hits Rome, one could say it is because of concessions that would have been made” to Iran, he said.
Tensions between Israel and the United States were running high after Netanyahu on Friday publicly slammed a proposed interim nuclear deal with Iran as “very bad” and urged US Secretary of State John Kerry “not to rush and sign”.
Later that day, Obama telephoned Netanyahu to update him, with a White House statement saying the president “underscored his strong commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”.
Before their conversation the White House had rejected Israeli criticism, calling it “premature” because there was still “no deal”.
Israel’s deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, told public radio on Sunday: “In another two and a half years there will be someone else in the White House, but we will still be here.
“If we have no choice we will act — that’s why Israel has an air force,” he added.
The P5+1 — permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — suspect Iran’s programme is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, despite Tehran’s repeated denials.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, believes Iran must be prevented from reaching a military nuclear capability at any cost, and has refused to rule out taking pre-emptive military action to stop it.