Israel’s new prime minister Naftali Bennett has opened his first Cabinet meeting with a condemnation of the new Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.
At the meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday Bennett urged world leaders to ‘wake up’ before returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Raisi, a hard-line judiciary chief, was elected on Saturday with 62 per cent of the vote, amid a historically low turnout.
He is sanctioned by the United States 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 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.’
Raisi’s ascendancy comes at a sensitive time for the Middle East, as Iran and world powers ramp up efforts to resurrect a tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
Israel’s new prime minister Naftali Bennett (pictured) has opened his first Cabinet meeting with a condemnation of the new Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi
Raisi, a hard-line judiciary chief, was elected on Saturday with 62 per cent of the vote, amid a historically low turnout [File photo]
Raisi’s ascendancy comes at a sensitive time for the Middle East, as Iran and world powers ramp up efforts to resurrect a tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme. Pictured: Supporters in Tehran on Saturday
For weeks, Iranian and American diplomats have been negotiating a return to the accord in Vienna through European intermediaries.
Talks between the parties to the deal resumed on Sunday, the first round since the election that put hardliners firmly in control across Iran’s government.
The landmark nuclear deal, which Israel opposed, collapsed after former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew 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.
Although the White House has yet to weigh in on Iran’s election, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Sunday that the outcome was unlikely to affect nuclear negotiations because Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wants the deal restored.
‘The person who makes the decision about whether Iran will go back into the Iran nuclear deal, will assume its nuclear obligations under international law, is not the president of Iran, it is the supreme leader of Iran, and that person did not change from before the election,’ Mr Sullivan said on CNN’s State Of The Union.
From Israel, 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.
Bennett (centre) flanked by Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) chairs the first weekly cabinet meeting of the new government in Jerusalem, Sunday, June 20
Israel has long stated that it opposes arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear programme and said it would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is intended for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this month, Israel’s outgoing Mossad intelligence chief signalled that Israel was behind a string of recent attacks targeting the country’s nuclear programme.
Bennett heads a broad coalition of parties ranging from Jewish ultra-nationalists to liberal factions and a small Islamist party. It was cobbled together by Bennett and foreign minister Yair Lapid in the aftermath of Israel’s fourth consecutive election in two years.
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.
Late on Saturday, it was announced that Netanyahu, now leader of the opposition, and his family will leave Israel’s official prime minister’s residence no later than July 10.
Foreign minister Yair Lapid and prime minister Naftali Bennett succeeded in cobbling together a government in the aftermath of Israel’s fourth consecutive election in two years.
The residence on Balfour Street was the scene of weekly protests calling on Netanyahu to resign while on trial for corruption charges in the past year. Netanyahu refused to step down from office and has denied any wrongdoing.
The country’s repeated elections were largely a referendum on his fitness to serve.
In a joint statement late on Saturday, Mr Bennett and Mr Netanyahu’s offices said they had agreed that the Netanyahu family would leave the residence no later than July 10.
Thereafter, the statement said, ‘the residence will transfer to the use of prime minister Bennett’.
Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to topple the newly formed government, which he has called a ‘dangerous leftist government’.
Also on Sunday, Israel’s government has approved the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry into a deadly disaster at a Jewish holy site in April that left 45 people dead.
Bennett said the commission would investigate major safety shortcomings that led to a deadly stampede at Lag Baomer celebrations on Mount Meron.
It will be headed by a current or former senior judge, and its members selected by the country’s chief Supreme Court justice.
Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival in northern Israel despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people, and longstanding warnings about the safety of such gatherings.
Raisi is sanctioned by the United States 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. Pictured: Supporters in Tehran on Saturday
Bennett referred to Raisi as ‘the hangman of Tehran’ in a Cabinet meeting on Sunday. Pictured: Supporters in Tehran on Saturday