Israel braces for signing of historic Iran nuclear deal

Israeli ministers today condemned the looming nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, which is expected to be completed in the coming days.

Negotiations are continuing in Vienna between six world powers and Iran over an agreement to halt the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme for the next decade in return for the lifting of sanctions. The deal revolves around the suspicion that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim that it continues to deny.

There has confusion as to when an announcement regarding the deal will be made. Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Associated Press that a final agreement has been reached and would be announced today. However, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that no deal would be signed on Monday, missing the deadline set by both sides.

The Israeli elite has been a consistent opponent of any potential nuclear deal with Iran, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing such an accord for nearly two decades. He travelled to Washington in March to deliver a speech to both sides of Congress in which he condemned the potential deal in hope of applying pressure on Barack Obama's administration.

Today, the Israeli leader said that if it were not for his efforts, Iran would already have a nuclear capability within striking distance of the country.

"If the concessions continue even after 'death to America' chants in Tehran, then it is clear that some are willing to make a deal at any price," Netanyahu said at the Israeli Knesset.

"Were it not for our efforts over the years, Iran would have accumulated nuclear weapons already," he added. "Our commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon still stands today."

His vocal opposition to the deal was joined today by other Israeli ministers, with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon saying the potential deal was "bad" and "full of holes".

"Even if there are some last-minute improvements, the agreement as we understand it is bad, allowing Iran to legitimately be a nuclear threshold state, with all that implies," he warned, adding his concern about Iran "arming Hezbollah and funding Hamas and Islamic Jihad" in Lebanon and Gaza respectively.

Israeli members of the opposition also united behind Netanyahu to condemn the deal. Israeli politician and secretary-general of the opposition Labor Party, Hilik Bar, told Newsweek that Israel has heard the "same songs before with North Korea" regarding nuclear capabilities.

"In this case, we are totally supporting Netanyahu in not believing that this is a good agreement, not believing in the good will of the Iranians to not develop nuclear weapons," he says. "We will be happy to be part of a discussion together with the government for how to react to this agreement."

Despite a unified front against the Iran deal, not all opposition leaders were united on Netanyahu's approach to Tehran's ambitions. Yair Lapid, chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid party and former Israeli minister of finance under Netanyahu, condemned the prime minister's approach as a "colossal failure" for allowing negotiations to reach this point despite making the issue his key pledge in March's general elections.

The deal, if signed, will go to US Congress which will have 60 days to review the agreement and decide whether to reject the deal, although Obama holds a veto over any rejection. Ron Gilran, vice-president at Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk advisory The Levantine Group, says that the Congress review is the last hope for Israel's leadership to prevent any deal.

"It seems like Netanyahu and the people dealing with this subject in Israel will aim at Congressmen in order to somehow affect them and to change parts of the deal," he says. This is probably their last chance to impact or affect the deal in one way or another."

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius cancelled a trip to Africa to remain at the talks in the hope of completing a deal while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said both sides had "come a long way" at the negotiating table.