Israelis hard-nosed about Iran nuclear talks


News analysis

TEL AVIV -- Israel may not be part of the talks to curb Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, but Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had plenty to say about them. 

Iran is getting "the deal of the century," Netanyahu said on Nov. 8, and he's warned the world powers negotiating with Tehran Thursday and Friday not to surrender to the Iranian charm offensive.

Netanyahu wants an end to all uranium enrichment in Iran, the removal of all uranium stockpiles from the country, the dismantling of the Iranians' most sophisticated enrichment technology and the halting of plutonium enrichment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to lobby Russian President Vladimir Putin against a prospective deal between world powers and Iran. Sasha Mordovets / Getty Images

If there is an agreement between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany -- it will most likely not meet those demands.

President Barack Obama has already spoken about the "essence of the deal" -- Iran agrees to halt advances in its nuclear program and submits to regular inspections, in return for some sanctions relief.

When the Israeli leader says he "utterly rejects" such a deal, he may frustrate the White House, but he has some support in Congress, and lots more at home. Recent polling finds that over two-thirds of Israelis think their prime minister's criticisms are justified.

That opinion stretches across Israeli society.

The students at the Lauder School of Government and Diplomacy at IDC Herzliya, a private college just north of Tel Aviv, all began their studies after completing their compulsory military service with the Israel Defense Forces. Perhaps because of that, the atmosphere on this campus is even more laid back than most.

Boots have been replaced with Birkenstocks, and everyone has long hair. But it's not all peace and love. When the subject of Iran comes up, the attitude is hard-nosed.

"We're looking for a result in Geneva, not 'successful negotiations,'" said Gur Yalon, a second year international relations student. "We're looking for a good, sustainable, credible peace."

His classmate Sharon Pesti agrees.

"The same (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani that looks so nice and lovable on the TV pictures -- he's the same guy who made agreements in the past that he didn't stick to," she said. "We need to talk with somebody who keeps his promises."

In the corridors of power, the talk is yet tougher.

"We cannot live with a nuclear Iran," said Tzachi Hanegbi, chair of the Knesset Defense Committee. "It would threaten our very existence. We will not be bound by any agreement. We will defend ourselves in a place and time that we feel is suitable."

There are those who say that a post-deal Israeli military strike on Iran is not a realistic prospect -- that the risk of international opprobrium would be too high. But history shows that when Israel feels threatened, it acts, and it doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks about it.

It carried out an airstrike on a nuclear reactor in Iraq in the 1980s, and did the same thing in Syria in 2007 -- despite American objections. A breakthrough might be made in Geneva, but its consequences might not be peaceful.