US President Barack Obama (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House October 1, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Even before the announcement of a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, relations were bad between the Obama administration and the slowly materializing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since the announcement relations have gone from bad to worse.
US President Barack Obama fired the latest salvo when he accused Netanyahu of preferring war to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program.
During a speech at the White House’s Rose Garden, Obama framed the disagreement between himself and Netanyahu in a particularly misleading way.
“It’s no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don’t agree about whether the US should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue,” Obama said.
“If, in fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.”
Netanyahu has never opposed a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue. And Obama knows this. In fact, no country has more of an interest in seeing a peaceful resolution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear weapons program than Israel. It is the Jewish state, more than any other country in the region, that would be targeted first by Iran’s proxies – the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza – in the event of a military conflagration resulting from an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran’s most senior leaders have said on numerous occasions that they intend to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Obama’s attempt to portray Netanyahu as a war-mongering leader appears to be part of the US president’s campaign to convince Americans that the framework agreement is the best possible way of preventing the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons.
It seems to be a continuation of Obama’s very public conflict with Netanyahu – first over his March 3 speech on the Iran deal before Congress, then over comments made by Netanyahu ahead of elections here. Obama’s rhetorical offensive against Netanyahu – which included a threat that the US would “reassess” its foreign policy relations with Israel – seems to be geared to divert attention away from serious Israeli criticism of the materializing deal with Iran and focus instead on Netanyahu’s purported disrespect for a US president, his supposed intransigence on the two-state solution, and his alleged bigotry toward Israel’s Arab citizens.
Unfortunately, Obama’s strategy has left Israel’s leaders with little choice but to take an aggressive tact vis-a-vis the framework deal drafted in Lausanne. Netanyahu has launched a lobbying campaign directed at Americans that severely criticizes the framework agreement. Over the weekend Netanyahu was interviewed on a number of US TV networks, including CNN and NBC. He argued that Americans no less than Israelis are put at risk by Iran – particularly by the Islamic Republic’s intercontinental ballistic missile system, which is not even mentioned in the framework agreement.
Because the framework deal is a capitulation to so many of Iran’s demands and reflects a reneging of Obama’s promises (the US president insisted in the past that Iran cease enrichment and dismantle its facilities, while the framework deal permits Iran to maintain uranium enrichment and makes no demand to dismantle centrifuges), more heated and very public clashes between Jerusalem and Washington are in the offing.
Inevitably, the very vocal clashes over the Iran negotiations will have negative ramifications regarding other aspects of US-Israel relations, perhaps even with regard to intelligence cooperation. And deterioration in relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government – particularly if a national unity government is not formed – will spill over to other arenas.
The open hostility that already exists between the Republican- controlled Senate and House of Representatives will likely escalate as criticism of the emerging deal voiced by Republicans and some Democrats becomes more vocal.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey are all threatened by the prospects of Iran turning into an internationally recognized nuclear threshold state. A rare, if informal, Sunni-Israeli anti-Iran-deal coalition will put additional pressure on the US and the other nations negotiating with Iran to demand more.
We are entering into a rocky period for US-Israeli relations.
But the stakes are high and the dangers are real. There are times in history when even the closest of allies have serious, substantive disagreements. This is one of those times.