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Israelis Disagree On How To Keep Iran From Nuclear Weapons


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been lobbying hard against an agreement with Iran that would ease economic sanctions if it allows Tehran to continue enriching nuclear material in any way. Israelis overwhelmingly agree that the Iranians should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.

The difference of opinion comes on the range of views of how to stop them. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Aharon Lapidot oversees polls for the conservative newspaper "Israel Hayom." He says there is a simple reason that two-thirds of Israelis don't like the deal apparently on the table between world powers and Iran. They don't trust Iran.

AHARON LAPIDOT: They know how to work their way through negotiating with you, even when you come to buy a carpet or a pound of oranges. So they are - in Israel, they think that the Iranian are just very good negotiators, and they are bluffing the West. And they do not intend to stop their nuclear program. It is reflected in every poll that we do.

HARRIS: But some in Israel's security establishment argue that the only way to create trust is to negotiate, even with Iran.

CARMI GILLON: I don't trust the Iranian as well. They are my enemy.

HARRIS: Carmi Gillon notes that Israel now works closely with former enemies, like Egypt and Jordan. Gillon used to head Israel's internal security service.

GILLON: To build up a trust among nations, it takes time. But to say, I don't trust them; period - it's one way. The other way, I don't trust them; but I would give a chance to see maybe I can trust them. At the end of the day, if I don't do anything to try to build up a trust, for sure, there won't be a trust.

HARRIS: Right now, argues analyst Meir Javedanfar, Iran and Israel don't understand each other. Iran doesn't recognize that Israeli positions only harden when the country feels threatened. Javedanfar says that Israel - including Netanyahu - doesn't realize what Iran really wants.

MEIR JAVEDANFAR: Look, every nation has got its own genetic memory, and people of Iran have this genetic memory of their rights being disregarded and disrespected by foreigners. And if we tell the Iranian people, you have no right to enrich, this is not going to be a sustainable deal.

HARRIS: Javedanfar believes Israel should support an agreement that lets Iran continue to enrich controlled levels of uranium, something Netanyahu says is unacceptable. The prime minister has been aggressively criticizing the U.S. and others at the table with Iran, leading to sharp public exchanges between him and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Tel Aviv entrepreneur Assaf Dovrad is one of many Israelis who like what Netanyahu is saying, but not how he's saying it.

ASSAF DOVRAD: I don't like his style. No, I don't. But I think is not in such a good public opinion here in Israel, so if he has one good card to play that most of us agree on, he will play it.

HARRIS: Israel's moves to influence negotiations have found a friendly ear in French President Francois Hollande, who promised on a visit to Israel this week to oppose easing sanctions until it's certain Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Knesset defense committee member Tzachi Hanegbi says the Israeli government will continue to lobby.

TZACHI HANEGBI: We have to try and influence the negotiation, and we have to try and put our issues in the mind of the negotiators.

HARRIS: If Israel's lobbying efforts fail this round, Hanegbi says the government will start working to influence a final agreement. And a military option is never off Israel's table. That's another potential strategy aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear program, also subject to debate here.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.