Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several other top Israeli officials are strongly rejecting President Obama's Thursday claim that Israeli defense officials now agreed that the Iran nuclear deal has been a "game-changer" and Tehran has so far abided by the constraints the pact outlined.
"I don't know to which Israelis [Obama] spoke recently," one Israeli minister said.
Obama, speaking at a Pentagon press conference Thursday, touted the nuclear agreement, arguing that "all these horror stories about how Iran was going to cheat, and this was not going to work" have not come to pass.
"And it is not just the assessment of our intelligence community, it is the assessment of the Israeli military and intelligence community," he said.
He then amplified the message, referring to Israel: "The country that was most opposed to the deal has acknowledged that this has been a game changer, and that Iran has abided by the deal and they no longer have the short-term breakout capacity that would allow them to develop nuclear weapons," he said.
Netanyahu, who aggressively opposed the pact while the U.S. and other world powers were negotiating it, issued a statement Friday saying Israel's stance hadn't changed toward the accord, according to a report in the Times of Israel.
The prime minister stressed that Israel "has no greater ally than the United States," but said Israel's position on the Iran nuclear deal "remains unchanged."
Now that the pact is inked, he said, it's important for allies to work together for three goals: Keep Iran's feet to the fire to ensure that it doesn't violate the deal; confront Iran's regional aggression; and dismantle Iran's global terror network."
Netanyahu then tried to emphasize the positive, saying that he "looks forward to translating those goals into a common policy, and to further strengthening the alliance between Israel and the United States, with President Obama, and with the next US administration."
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman echoed statements his predecessor made when the deal was signed last summer, comparing it to the 1938 Munich Agreement, a settlement which annexed sections of Czechoslovakia to Germany.
"The Munich Agreement didn't prevent the second world war and the Holocaust, according to which Nazi Germany could be a partner for some sort of agreement, was flawed, and because the leaders of the world then ignored the explicit statements of [Adolf] Hitler and the rest of Nazi Germany's leaders," the ministry said.
"These things are also true about Iran, which also clearly states openly that its aim is to destroy the state of Israel," he said, referring to a recent State Department report that determined that Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism worldwide.
Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi went much further, dismissing Obama's claims completely, arguing that his country's concerns were entirely "justified" over the last year.
"I don't know to which Israelis [Obama] spoke recently," Hanegbi said. "But I can promise you that the position of the prime minister, the defense minister and of most senior officials in the defense establishment has not changed."
"The opposite is the case," he added. "The time that has elapsed since the deal was signed proved that our worries that, regrettably, we had before the deal was made, were justified."
The White House Friday in an email to the Washington Examiner referred to Israel's 2016 National Intelligence Estimate, which shows a "low probability of war" despite some "risks" and "opportunities."
The annual NIE is a joint efforts by Israel's military intelligence with input from the research departments of Mossad, the external espionage agency, and the Israel Security Agency, the domestic service.
A Jerusalem Post editorial analyzing the NIE said the Iran nuclear deal is seen by Israel's military as "an opportunity of sorts, in blatant contrast to the perception and rhetoric of Prime Minister Netanyahu."
"There are advantages to the nuclear deal," the paper's editorial department asserts, citing IDF sources. "True, a better deal could have been reached, and there's a bit of frustration because the deal doesn't take care of the Iranian involvement and efforts to increase its hegemonial aspirations in the region."
"But the fact is that the amount of enriched uranium has been significantly reduced as has the number of centrifuges, and Iran's capability to produce plutonium at its nuclear reactor in Arak has also been dismantled," the Post wrote. "These are dramatic developments with which you can't argue."
Some of Hanegbi's criticism is not based on tangible statistics and Iran's compliance so far. He went on to argue that the nuclear deal gave Tehran international legitimacy and boosted its economy, without limiting its support for terrorist groups.
"The Western world stands in line and chases after the Iranian economy. Western companies that for decades stayed away from Iran are now in competition with each other for the rights to enter the Iranian markets," Hanegbi said. "And we see that the Iranian regime is getting more legitimacy despite not having changed its policy at ongoing support for radical sources in the Middle East, including terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah."
He also pointed to Iran's continued efforts to develop ballistic missiles in violation of several U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"We tried to convince the American administration all throughout the negotiations that they have leverage over the Iranian negotiating team, they can be tough and strong and resolved and make sure that all these problems I just mentioned should be negotiated as part of an all-inclusive Iranian nuclear deal…because its economy was on its knees," he said.
"I don't think there is an Israeli who thinks that this policy of separation of the nuclear issue from the other issues was right," he said.
Because the U.S. didn't use the leverage it had at the time to win more concessions, Hanegbi said the next U.S. president could face a nuclearized Iran.
"President Obama clearly stated that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon during his presidency. That's true," he said. "But he signed an agreement that will lead to the fact that the president after the next one will face an Iran with nuclear capabilities that cannot be blocked or detained, because it will take only weeks for them to produce the fissile material needed for a first bomb."