Foreign leaders have been telling Binyamin Netanyahu to quit trying to sabotage the agreement with Iran and to work with them to shape the outcome of the negotiations of a nuclear pact with Iran, according to published reports.
Barack Obama phoned the prime minister shortly after Netanyahu bitterly denounced the agreement to try to calm the Israeli leader and assure him that they share the same goals -- preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon -- and to say that the military option is still on the table. Netanyahu agreed to send his national security team to Washington to discuss the next step.
Nonetheless, there is concern in Washington that many of Israel’s supporters in Congress, particularly among Republicans eager to use any weapon to bash the president, may try to sabotage the talks.
Last weekend’s Geneva agreement calls for no new sanctions for six months of negotiations for final agreement, and the administration has repeatedly urged the Senate to freeze action on a tough House sanctions bill.
Netanyahu’s supporters may want to ignore that in order to back Obama into a corner, giving him the choice of signing it and scuttling the negotiations or vetoing it and being branded anti-Israel.
Right-wing organizations like the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and others, many with the backing of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who spent tens of millions last year in a failed effort to defeat Obama, have denounced the Geneva agreement and called for immediate imposition of tougher new sanctions.
The Israel Fund was among the first to send out fund-raising appeals for money to fight “the dangerous deal with Iran.”
Some in the Democratic leadership are talking about ways to avoid that. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer proposed passing the legislation but authorizing the president to delay implementation while Iran is in compliance with the Geneva agreement. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated he might not allow the sanctions bill to come to a vote during the negotiations.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPA C), which usually marches to Netanyahu’s tune, appears to be taking a more cautious approach. It apparently has dropped its demands for immediate imposition of tougher new sanctions in favor of an approach similar to Hoyer’s proposal.
Netanyahu’s reaction to the Geneva agreement bordered on hysterical as he and some of his ministers tossed around words like “appeasement,” “historic mistake,” “sell-out,” “tantamount to the plague and cholera” and “a danger to Israel’s very existence.”
From the tone of their attacks, it was hard to tell who was the enemy – Washington or Tehran.
Netanyahu’s overheated rhetoric tells Iran that it has achieved a victory and tells the West that the Israeli leader is an intemperate scold. In the process, he is likely to do more damage to his relationship with the United States and other big powers than harm to Iran.
That may be what led Isaac Herzog, the newly elected leader of the Labor Party and head of the Israeli opposition, to say, “The deal that was struck between the world powers and Iran is a fact, and Israel must adjust itself to the new situation.”
He called on Netanyahu to “fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the US and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders.”
There are few indications the Israeli leader will listen.
Look for Netanyahu to work with his friends in Jewish organizations and on Capitol Hill to continue his stiff political offensive against the Obama administration. And in the middle of that, look for his new ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, who reporters have said was a reliable source of anti-Obama leaks when he worked in the PM’s office and had a history as a Republican political operative before moving to Israel.
For all his threats of unilateral military action, Netanyahu knows his hands are tied, and so do the Iranians. He would only intensify Israel’s isolation, further aggravate already-troubled relations with the United States and undermine international support to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu’s failed attempts to court Russian and French support for his approach to talks, along with the sharp attacks on Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, only made him look weaker and more of an outsider.
That doesn’t alter the fact that he deserves credit for putting the Iranian nuclear issue atop the international agenda and pushing for greater awareness and tougher terms than during the first round of talks two weeks ago, particularly the need to halt work on the Arak heavy water reactor. In the months ahead, he has to choose between making a constructive contribution to the process or being sidelined.
His strident rejection of the Geneva agreement is not shared by his own security and intelligence leaders. Many think it buys time for a diplomatic solution that will be more effective than a military strike that at best could set the program back a couple of years. They weren’t alone.
The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange hit a new high on news of the deal.
The agreement is temporary on both sides. It was not intended to permanently disband the Iranian nuclear program but to slow it down and open it up enough to prevent Iran from using the negotiations to buy time while secretly rushing to build a weapon.
It is not a matter of trusting Iran, as critics charge, but of testing Iranian intentions. With its long record of deception and cheating, the Islamic Republic will have to be held to high standards of proof of compliance, and the US must continue to assert strong international leadership to make sure that happens.
The Iranians want relief from the intense sanctions, and they know that cheating on this agreement will bring more.
Amos Yadlin, the former chief of Israeli military intelligence and now head of a major think tank, said the Iranians did not sign this agreement in order to break it.
The interim agreement, if it produces a full, verifiable halt to Iran’s weapons program, could dramatically improve Israel’s security; a continuation of Netanyahu’s over-the-top politically motivated opposition could undermine that security and Israel’s critical relationship with the United States.