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Israelis Question Netanyahu's Failed Approach To Squelch Iran Nuclear Deal


You heard Sen. Corker say it. The Iran deal is likely going forward. And that would be a major defeat for Israel, which made unprecedented efforts to stop the deal. Among other things, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress at the invitation of Republicans without first informing the White House. So what do Israelis do now? NPR's Emily Harris posed that question in Jerusalem.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: As it became clear last week that Congress would not have the votes to kill the Iran deal, Israeli opposition politician Yair Lapid labeled Netanyahu a failure.


YAIR LAPID: (Through interpreter) Benjamin Netanyahu needs to stand before the Israeli public and say, I failed, because he failed.

HARRIS: Lapid says Netanyahu failed by running an aggressive campaign against the deal that exploited party lines in Congress, heightened tensions with the White House, and then, in the end, didn't change the bottom line. But many Israelis believe Netanyahu did exactly what he had to do. In a coffee shop at a rest stop where two big Israeli highways intersect, Moshe Shimon is sharing waffles and ice cream with his wife.

MOSHE SHIMON: (Through interpreter) It's not a question of failed or succeeded. He had to do this for Israel's sake and for the world's sake to give this alert.

HARRIS: In the grill next door, math instructor Ilan Yanuv says he worries a lot about Iran, not just nukes but its money funding terrorism.

ILAN YANUV: (Through interpreter) I'm very worried. I think a strong Iran with more money, more legitimacy and nothing to stop it is dangerous.

HARRIS: And outside in the heat and dust that have engulfed Israel these last couple of days, Tamar Kanner says she supports Netanyahu's efforts in this case, if not him.

TAMAR KANNER: It doesn't mean that I like him. There is no connection to that at all. But this action that he do it, I think it's good. He can see ahead, or he can see what we don't want to see.

HARRIS: A new survey out yesterday showed few Israeli Jews thought Netanyahu's lobbying against the deal had a large chance of success, but nearly three-quarters are fairly sure he's right that Iran threatens Israel's existence. Ephraim Yaar, co-director of the poll the Regular Peace Index, says that's why Israelis are glad Netanyahu tried to stop the deal.

EPHRAIM YAAR: You can say ipso facto or implicitly that you expect your leaders to succeed. And in this respect, he failed. But on the other hand, they don't criticize him on this completely because they believe that this is what he should have done as a leader.

HARRIS: There are Israelis who disagree. Former Consul General to the U.S. Alon Pinkas says the deal is better for Israel than the current situation. He says Netanyahu should've been less confrontational.

ALON PINKAS: The idea that you could actually get Congress to torpedo or disrupt or kill an agreement that the president was actively pursuing, one that was signed by Russia and China and Britain and Germany and France - that was severely flawed, flawed thinking.

HARRIS: But former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval says in one respect, Netanyahu was very successful. He brought world attention to Iran's nuclear program years ago.

ZALMAN SHOVAL: There probably wouldn't have been sanctions against Iran without Netanyahu's very long-standing effort in that respect.

HARRIS: Now sanctions are expected to be lifted. Shoval expects Netanyahu to keep attention on.

SHOVAL: He will have to make a continuous effort to really make sure that all these limitations, which the agreement is putting on the Iranians, will be faithfully kept.

HARRIS: That may, he says, require Netanyahu to, again, test the usual bounds of diplomacy. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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