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Israel’s Netanyahu Calls Iran Agreement a ‘Historic Mistake’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel has “the right and obligation” to defend itself and won’t allow Iran to develop the capability to build atomic weapons. Photographer: Abir Sultan/Pool via Getty Images

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the agreement between world powers and Iran as a ‘historic mistake’ that doesn’t bind his country.

Israel has “the right and obligation” to defend itself and won’t allow Iran to develop the capability to build atomic weapons, Netanyahu said today at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“What was achieved last night in Geneva is not historic; it is a historic mistake. Today, the world has become a much more dangerous place,” he said in comments broadcast on Israel Radio. “Israel is not bound by this agreement.”

Diplomats said they had a deal early today, the fifth day of meetings in Geneva. The first accord since the Iranian nuclear program came under international scrutiny in 2003 eases sanctions on Iran in return for concessions on its atomic work.

Israel considers Iran to be its fiercest foe because of its nuclear program, its arsenal of missiles capable of striking the Jewish state and its funding of anti-Israel militants in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made frequent references to Israel’s destruction.

Israel’s rejection of the Geneva agreement puts it at odds with its closest ally, the U.S., which led the efforts to reach a deal with Iran. An administration official said President Barack Obama would call Netanyahu today to discuss the accord.

Sought More

The TA-25 benchmark stock index had priced in a deal with Iran, and was following advances in global markets, traders said. At 2:07 p.m. in Tel Aviv, it was up 0.6 percent at 1,353.27 points.

Israel wanted world powers to oblige Iran to stop enriching uranium and dismantle an unfinished heavy water reactor at Arak that could eventually produce plutonium, materials that could be used to produce weapons. The Geneva agreement limits uranium enrichment under close monitoring and halts any further development of the Arak reactor.

“This deal will create a new arms race that includes the Middle East,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said. Finance Minister Yair Lapid said he was concerned that the accord means “the world is no longer listening to Israel.”

Israeli officials have described Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat, saying all options are on the table to stop it, including a military strike.

Self-Defense

“The Iranian regime is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself,” Netanyahu said to his cabinet. “Israel won’t let Iran develop military nuclear capability.”

Iran says its program is intended for peaceful purposes.

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said yesterday that any deal Israel perceived as bad would increase the chances it would consider military force against Iran.

“A bad deal definitely increases the need for action,” Bennett said on Channel Two television. “If the deal gives Iran the ability to achieve a bomb within six weeks, we won’t be able to sit idly by.”

Alex Zabezhinsky, chief economist at Tel Aviv-based Meitav DS Investment House Ltd., said the agreement reduced risks.

“The deal reduces the risk of military action on Iran by the West or Israel,” he said by phone. “As a result, we are likely to see Israel’s country risk decline.”

Interim Risks

Eldad Pardo, a lecturer on Iranian affairs at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Israel opposes the agreement because its interim nature recalls the 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, which never ripened into a final peace deal.

“If you reach very quick agreements on what is easy and leave the difficult issues to some future, it may take years,” he said.

With Iran, “there is a kind of temporary agreement that will lead to another temporary agreement,” he said. “This isn’t a first step within an agreed-upon structure of where we are heading.”

Nabil Abu Rudeina, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Iran agreement should send a message to Israel that regional peace is “unavoidable.” Peace cannot be achieved “either by nuclear weapons or occupation,” Abu Rudeina said in an e-mailed statement.

Netanyahu has told the U.S. that relaxing pressure on Iran would make it harder for Israel to compromise in peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Legitimization Seen

Israeli officials contend the agreement buttresses Iranian actions against Israeli targets across the globe.

“The Iranian regime is getting legitimization to continue its nuclear weapons program and global terrorism activities, ending its international isolation and strengthening its economy,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an e-mailed statement.

President Shimon Peres appealed to the Iranian people to “solve this issue diplomatically.”

“You are not our enemies and we are not yours,” Peres said in an e-mailed statement. “If the diplomatic path fails, the nuclear option will be prevented by other means.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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