Republican nominee Donald Trump said Monday that if he is not elected as the U.S. president Israel would cease to exist as a country because of the Iranian nuclear deal.
Trump told labor leaders in Cleveland on Monday, according to The Columbus Dispatch that the deal to slow down Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of a crippling international sanctions regime on the Islamic Republic’s economy “is going to destroy Israel—unless I get elected.” He added: “Then Israel will be just fine.”
Iran’s conservative religious leadership has routinely called for Israel’s destruction and the chief of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, has said that the nuclear deal will increase the threat that Israel faces.
Israeli officials view that Iran’s extra revenue from the lifting of sanctions, estimated to be in the billions, will inevitably be used to fund groups opposed to Israel, such as Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Trump has talked tough on the nuclear deal and threatened to completely abolish the agreement if he comes to power in the U.S. presidential election in November.
In a speech to the lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, he said that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” He has said that if the deal remains, he would “police that contract so tough they don’t have a chance.”
His comments appeared to have provoked Iran’s highest religious leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that he would burn the deal if the next U.S. president chose not to honor it.
“The Islamic Republic won't be the first to violate the nuclear deal. Staying faithful to a promise is a Koranic order,” Khamenei said in June, according to state media. “But if the threat from the American presidential candidates to tear up the deal becomes operational then the Islamic Republic will set fire to the deal.”
Trump is supportive of Israel’s right to exist and its security. He has appeared in a campaign ad for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past but is yet to pay an official visit to the country as part of his presidential campaign.
Trump backer and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said in July that, after speaking to Israeli officials, he knew that Netanyahu’s government wanted the property magnate to defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, a claim that the Israeli government subsequently rejected in a bid to appear impartial in the electoral process of another country.
But polling shows that Israeli attitudes towards the presidential candidates is more favorable to Clinton. A May poll released by the Israeli Democracy Institute showed that 40 percent of Jewish Israeli respondents said they would prefer Clinton to be elected for the benefit of Israel as a whole, compared to 31 percent who preferred Trump.