Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the only foreign leader he can recall who has forcibly interfered in a foreign policy debate in Washington, US President Barack Obama said in an interview aired Sunday.
Obama spoke about Netanyahu in an interview he gave to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that was taped Thursday, but aired in full Sunday night.
In a clip released ahead of the airing, Zakaria asked Obama about Netanyahu’s stiff opposition to the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program reached between Tehran and the six world powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany.
Congress is expected to vote on the deal
by September 17. Netanyahu has mounted a public campaign against the deal which he believes is a historic mistake because it legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and leaves it with the ability to produce atomic weapons.
Netanyahu asks U.S. Jews to oppose Iran nuclear deal
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has injected himself forcefully into this debate on American foreign policy in Washington.
Can you recall a time when a foreign head of government has done that? Is it appropriate for a foreign head of government to inject himself into an American debate?” Zakaria asked.
Obama responded, “I do not recall a similar example.”
He added: “Obviously the relationship between the US and Israel is deep. It is profound. It is reflected in my policies. But as I said in the speech yesterday on the substance, the prime minister is wrong on this.
“I can show that basic assumptions he has made are incorrect. If in fact my argument is right, that this is the best way for Iran not to get a nuclear weapon, that is not just good for the United States, that is very good for Israel.”
In a major speech, Obama delivered on the Iran deal, he singled out Netanyahu when he spoke about opposition to the deal.
“I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees, disagrees strongly. I do not doubt his sincerity, but I believe he is wrong. I believe the facts support this deal. I believe they are in America’s interests and Israel’s interests and, as president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally,” Obama said.
“I do not believe that would be the right thing to do for the United States, I do not believe it would be the right thing to do for Israel,” he said.
The president told CNN he understood why Israelis were suspicious and cautious about a deal with Iran, but assured the audience that, “we’re preserving all our options so that if Iran does cheat, we can still exercise the same set of options that we have in place today.”
The United States’ “commitment to Israel is sacrosanct,” Obama said, adding, “I’ve been very clear about the fact that if Israel were attacked by Iran, for example, there’s no doubt that not just me, but any US administration would do everything that we needed to do to make sure that Israel was protected,” he said.
“So there are all kinds of hedges if, in fact, Iran weren’t to abide by the deal. But, if, in fact, Iran does abide by the deal, as it has the interim deal over the last two years, then we have purchased, at a very small price, one of the single most important national security objectives that both the United States and Israel has,” Obama said.
Netanyahu issued statements against the deal prior to meeting almost every visiting dignitary in Israel over the past few months.
But on Sunday, despite Obama’s attack against him, Netanyahu was silent when it came to the topic of Iran. He met with a visiting delegation of 24 democratic congressman, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. The group is on a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The trip is focused in part on the issue of Iran. But the PMO’s office released only a photo of the meeting with no statement.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), who met with the group on Sunday, as well, spoke against the Iran deal but said it was a mistake for Israel to intervene in US politics.
“I read in recent days that Netanyahu said there’s no daylight between me and him despite the fact that I challenged him in a recent election and that I work daily to topple his government.
That’s exactly what we do in the opposition,” Herzog said, to laughs from the audience.
The Zionist Union chairman pointed out that he and Netanyahu disagree on many issues, and while they agree that the Iran deal is a bad one, they disagree on the approach Israel should take.
“Every Israeli patriot would be worried about this agreement, and I have major criticism of aspects of it,” he said.
“First of all, unleashing the hungry Iranian tiger into the region...is a risk, which may destabilize the region and change its balance of power between moderate nations and extreme nations. In addition, the agreement gives legitimization for Iran to become a nuclear threshold state in 10-15 years... It’s enough to see the positive reactions of President [Bashar] Assad of Syria and [Hassan] Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, to understand what I’m talking about.”
However, Herzog said he has no intention of intervening in American politics, telling members of Congress how to vote, or openly challenging the US president.
“The relationship between our nations is key to Israel’s national security and I think arguments between us and the US are arguments within the family,” he stated.
“We should set rules on how to manage and control this argument and not to cross lines.”
Israel and the US’s enemies are enjoying their public arguments, he added.
“I would respect the outstretched hand of the president when he talks about Israel’s security,” Herzog stated.
Herzog called for containment of Iran via deterrents spearheaded by the US and its allies in the Middle East, meaning Israel and moderate Sunni states that see Iran as a danger.
“We should upgrade the relationship diplomatically, politically, militarily and intelligence-wise between Israel and the US, and I think this is an opportunity for the US to lead this new configuration. I call upon the administration to build up this coalition and make it a deterrent for future generations in light of the Iranian threat. We should enhance the alliance between the US and Israel in a way that is clear that whoever hurts Israeli interests, hurts American interests,” he stated.
Referring to statements by members of the Obama administration that the Iran deal’s opponents want war, Herzog said he does not want war, he wants peace and Israel’s continued well-being as a democracy.
“It must be made clear to the Iranian leadership that Israel is here to exist forever. There is nothing more annoying than to hear the Iranian president Rouhani… call us the ‘Zionist entity.’ Well, the Zionist entity is Israel. It’s about time that in Tehran and anywhere else, including terrorist leaders in the region... know that Israel will be here forever and there is no power that can change that,” he declared.
Following Herzog’s statements, MK Bennie Begin (Likud), a close ally of the prime minister, said that “to claim Netanyahu is intervening in internal US affairs, in light of the disagreement about the [Iran deal], is a naïve and partial presentation of the facts.”