Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Monday with Pope Francis in the Vatican and with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, and with both, the Iranian nuclear issue was a major topic of conversation.
Netanyahu made clear during his state visit that "I will not rely on others to take care of [the Iranian issue] for me." He stressed that he does not intend to stop criticizing the interim deal reached between Iran and the world powers in Geneva, adding that "if I don't stand up against those who want to destroy us, then what would I speak out [against]?"
In closed talks on Monday, Netanyahu said that "the United States is a great friend of the State of Israel and will remain our greatest friend."
He added: "I always suggest maintaining our strong ties to the U.S., but it is clear that the world is changing," explaining that change also means expanding international ties. This sentiment echoes that of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that "ties with the U.S. are decreasing, we need additional allies," indicating the need for new economic collaborations, but not for a new strategic ally to replace the United States.
"What, should we not open a window to China? That's absurd. This obviously would not mean that tomorrow we will sign a defense alliance contract with China. Other collaborations exist with countries in Europe, and that's good," said Netanyahu.
On Monday, an official in the Prime Minister's Office aggressively attacked the words of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who claimed that Netanyahu's conduct is damaging Israel's relationship with the United States. "Not everyone has experience with ongoing failure like Olmert does -- in Lebanon, in the disengagement, in his indecisiveness about whether to close the border fence with Egypt, in dealing with the Iranian threat. At the end of the day, you need to know when to speak up," the official said.
The official also indirectly addressed Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who said on Monday in an interview with American broadcaster CNBC, "The kind of intimacy we have with the United States government" is "maybe [Israel's] most strategic asset." Lapid added that "I think it's okay to have disputes within the family as long we keep it within the family -- I think we're still in the framework of [being] within the family."
According to the Prime Minister's Office official, "The floodgates of [easing] sanctions against Iran are opening up, so what should we do? Send faxes to the White House? Seventy-five years ago, when there was no state, the Jews tried to talk with American President Roosevelt behind closed doors, and that did not really help the Jews of Europe."
Netanyahu passed the message about the Iranian threat on to Pope Francis and to Letta. He told the pope that "Iran aspires to attain a nuclear bomb. It would thus threaten not only Israel but also Italy, Europe, and the entire world," adding that "the most dangerous regime in the world must not be allowed to have the most dangerous weapon in the world."
To his Italian counterpart, Netanyahu said that "even though Iran has not even begun to implement the agreement, there appears to be a general relaxation of sanctions and a rush to accommodate Iran and to make it legitimate, as if Iran has changed anything of its actual policies except to smile, to speak English on occasion and to make Powerpoint presentations. What a revolution!"
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives returned from the Thanksgiving holiday on Monday evening, and despite opposition from the Obama administration, it seems that many legislators still intend to impose additional sanctions on Iran. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) continues to support new sanctions as "insurance" in the event that talks for a permanent deal with Iran fail.
Legislators in support of strengthening sanctions have received backing from Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in Washington, which are working to advance the legislation. The Obama administration is finding itself in the midst of an unpleasant confrontation with these groups precisely during the week of the traditional Hanukkah candlelighting ceremony at the White House. A government official told The Washington Post that approving sanctions while negotiations are ongoing will complicate the talks.