Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday opened his first Cabinet meeting since swearing in his new coalition government last week with a condemnation of the new Iranian president. He said Iran’s presidential election was a sign for US-Allies and world powers to “wake up” before returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected Saturday with 62% of the vote amid a historically low voter turnout. He is sanctioned by the U.S. in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi has not commented specifically on the event.
Bennett said at the Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that “of all the people that (Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei could have chosen, he chose the hangman of Tehran, the man infamous among Iranians and across the world for leading the death committees that executed thousands of innocent Iranian citizens throughout the years.”
Iran and world powers resumed indirect talks in Vienna on Sunday to resurrect Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
For weeks, Iranian and American diplomats have been negotiating a return to the accord in the Austrian capital through European intermediaries.
Sunday’s talks are the first since the election of Raisi, which will put hard-liners firmly in control across Iran’s government.
The landmark nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, which Israel opposed, collapsed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018. That decision has seen Iran, over time, abandon every limitation on enrichment and Tehran is currently enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels.
Bennett said Raisi’s election as Iranian president was “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with.
“These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions,” he said.
Israel has long stated that it opposes arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear program and said it would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this month, Israel’s outgoing Mossad intelligence chief signaled that Israel was behind a string of recent attacks targeting the country’s nuclear program.
Bennett heads a broad coalition of parties ranging from Jewish ultranationalists to liberal factions and a small Islamist party. His government convened its first Cabinet meeting since it was sworn in last week, ousting long-time prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office and sending him to the opposition for the first time in 12 years.