JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has dismissed as “media spin” a flurry of statements by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, about the goals of his nation’s nuclear program and his willingness to engage in diplomacy regarding it, saying, “There is no need to be fooled by the words.”
“The test is not in what Rouhani says, but in the deeds of the Iranian regime, which continues to advance its nuclear program with vigor while Rouhani is being interviewed,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a lengthy statement issued late Thursday by his office. “The Iranians are engaged in a media spin in order to keep the centrifuges spinning.”
Mr. Netanyahu, who has described Mr. Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” has stepped up his longstanding campaign against Iranian nuclear development in recent days, and plans to make it the focus of a Sept. 30 meeting with President Obama in Washington and an upcoming speech to the United Nations General Assembly. After a year in which Jerusalem and Washington appeared to be mostly in sync on how to handle the Iranian question, President Obama’s overtures to Mr. Rouhani in a private letter, and renewed discussion of diplomatic talks that could lift sanctions against Iran, could revive tensions between the allies.
The primary disagreement has been over how long to pursue diplomacy and sanctions before taking military action against Tehran, which maintains that its nuclear development is for civilian purposes only.
“Netanyahu’s words were most likely meant for the ears of the members of Congress, so they will not let Obama get carried away by Rouhani’s overtures and urge the president to increase the economic pressure on Iran and impose additional, more severe sanctions,” Ron Ben-Yishai, a respected journalist, wrote in an analysis published on Ynet, an Israeli news site. “The Israelis are also telling their American counterparts that just like in the case of the Syrian crisis, a credible military threat is needed in order to get results on the diplomatic track.”
The prime minister’s office statement, issued in response to Mr. Rouhani’s interview broadcast over the past two days on NBC, did not mention President Obama’s letter or the United States’ role. Reiterating a four-step formula Mr. Netanyahu laid out earlier in the week, it said, “The international community must increase the pressure on Iran” until Iran halts uranium enrichment, removes enriched uranium from the country, dismantles the Fordo nuclear plant, and stops the plutonium track.
“Rouhani has boasted in the past about how he deceived the international community in nuclear talks, while Iran continued with its nuclear program,” the statement said. “The goal of the regime in Iran,” it added, is a deal to “give up a secondary part of its nuclear program” but “preserve and fortify the principal element of its capabilities, which will allow it to race to obtain a nuclear weapon within a short time, the moment it chooses to do so.”
The statement picked apart Mr. Rouhani’s comments on other matters as well.
“Rouhani claims in the interview that Israel is responsible for the instability in the region while Iran sends its people to massacre innocent civilians in Syria and encourages terrorism around the world,” it said. “Rouhani claims in the interview that the citizens of Iran should be allowed free access to information, while his government blocks their access to Facebook and Twitter.”
The prime minister’s office also addressed the Iranian president’s ducking of a question about whether he, like his predecessor, believes that the Holocaust was a myth. Mr. Rouhani answered, “I’m not a historian, I’m a politician.” Mr. Netanyahu’s statement declared, “It does not take a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust — it just requires being a human being.”
But while Mr. Netanyahu attacked Mr. Rouhani, Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, said Friday that there was a chance that the new president was promising real change and that a meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani would be positive for Israel.
“As a result of the sanctions the regime in Iran is under real pressure, and Rouhani comes to save the regime, and I think there is a chance,” Mr. Javedanfar, the author of a book of Iran’s nuclear program, said in an interview on Israel Radio. “If Rouhani does the work, this is good for Israel. If the Iranians do the job, our pilots and soldiers don’t have to.”
Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.