Israeli journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid began his initial political campaign this week by accusing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of trying to drag the United States into war with Iran.
In his first English interview since announcing his bid for a seat in the Israeli Knesset, Lapid said Netanyahu made mistakes by instigating a conflict with the U.S. administration led by President Barack Obama, betting that Republican candidate Mitt Romney would win the election and threatening Iran with military action rather than focusing on intensifying sanctions.
“Netanyahu has created a situation in which it became an Israel-Iran problem and not a world-Iran problem,” Lapid told the reporters.
“There is only one way to end the Iranian nuclear threat: The fall of the ayatollahs. An Israeli strike would only delay the Iranian nuclear problem. It would enable the Iranians to say we have been attacked by a nuclear country and now we have no choice but to develop nuclear weapons. The way to make the ayatollahs fall is to strengthen the sanctions.”
Lapid said Netanyahu was wrong to try to force America to set deadlines for Iran.
“It is hubris to give an ultimatum to the U.S.,” he said. “People tend to forget that the plane Netanyahu is sending to bomb Iran is an American plane. He thinks he can drag America to do what it doesn’t want to do. He is leading Israel to war too soon, before it’s necessary. Like Netanyahu, I think that if we came to the point of no return, Israel would have to bomb, but there is still a lot left to do to avoid that.”
Lapid’s charges come as anti-government protests in Iran linked to the country’s weakening currency have raised hopes in Israel that international sanctions are working to undermine Tehran and lowering the likelihood of an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear targets in the coming months.
Netanyahu has frequently dismissed sanctions as ineffective in slowing Iran’s enrichment program, and tried to publicly pressure Obama into immediate action, only to be rebuffed.
But the unrest that erupted in Tehran on Wednesday before subsiding on Thursday is causing Israeli officials to reconsider, analysts and officials said.
Lapid said he would always give an honest answer if he ever served as a minister under Netanyahu.
“What kind of politician would I be if I am silent when I see things that matter that bother me?” he asked. “On the Iranian issue, he did a great job by putting it on the world’s table, but then he took it off the world’s table and made it an Israeli issue. It’s the same with economy: He got it on track, then made mistakes.”
Lapid also called upon the U.S. administration to release Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard, who is serving the 27th year of a life sentence.
“It’s about time to release him,” he said.
“The U.S. is being unnecessarily harsh on someone sick and getting old. All the spies from the Cold War were released years ago even though they spied for an enemy. It’s time to release someone who spied for a friend.”