Israel eager to put rift with Obama over Iran deal in past, Netanyahu says

Prime minister tells US television that the two governments must now work to contain Iranian aggression in the region.

US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The rift between the United States and Israel over the Iran nuclear deal is in the past, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the American public over the weekend.
In extensive interviews he granted to the Fox News Channel and CNN in New York before returning to Israel on Sunday, Netanyahu said the two countries must now work together to contain Tehran’s aggression in the region and ensure its compliance with the July deal to curb its nuclear program.
“President [Barack] Obama has said that he is committed to preventing dangerous weapons coming into the hands of Iran’s proxies, that he wants to prevent Iran from destabilizing countries in the Middle East,” the prime minister told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren on Friday. “There is no better partner for that than Israel.”
He also talked about ending the public battle between him and Obama over the Iran deal, which has marred the relationship for the past year.
“You know, we had a profound disagreement on the Iran nuclear deal. And President Obama and I both said, ‘Well, this is a disagreement within the family,’” he told Van Susteren.
He made similar statements to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview that aired on Sunday.
“President Obama was – [he] called me up at the time that the deal was being debated. And he said, ‘I’d like to talk to you about bolstering Israel’s security, about maintaining its qualitative military edge, about preventing things from going into Iran’s proxies. Would you like to do that now, or would you like to do it later?’ And I said I’d like to do it later, the day after,” he told Zakaria.
“Well, today in my conversation with John Kerry, this is the day after. And we began that conversation,” Netanyahu said.
He met with the US secretary of state in New York on Friday – their first face-to-face conversation since the deal was signed.
During their talk, Netanyahu spoke about ways the two countries could combat Iranian aggression.
The prime minister plans to hold a similar conversation with Obama when he meets with him in the White House in November.
Netanyahu last spoke with the US president in Washington in the fall of 2014.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is also expected to head to Washington in a few weeks to meet with US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
On Thursday, Netanyahu delivered a fiery address to the UN General Assembly in New York against the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Germany and Great Britain.
The nations of the world, not just Israel, are endangered by the deal, which leaves Iran with the ability to build atomic weapons and does not hinder its work on intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, he told the General Assembly.
“Now remember this: Iran already has missiles that can reach Israel. So those intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran is building – they’re not meant for us, they’re meant for you. For Europe. For America. For raining down mass destruction – anytime, anywhere,” he said.
The prime minister’s persistent public campaign against the deal has put him at odds with Obama, creating the most serious crisis in relations between the two leaders since they both entered office in 2009.
In his UN address on Monday, Obama did not mention Israel at all, even though he did so in all six of his past speeches at the opening sessions of the General Assembly.
Netanyahu, by contrast, mentioned Obama three times during his UN speech on Thursday, in which he spoke of how the two countries would work together for a common future. He also thanked the US for its continued support of Israel.
“Israel deeply appreciates President Obama’s willingness to bolster our security, help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge and help Israel confront the enormous challenges we face,” he told the world body.
In his interviews with Fox and CNN, Netanyahu outlined three points that Israel plans to focus on in its talks with US officials in the coming months: ensuring Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal; bolstering regional forces such as Israel to combat Iranian aggression; and dismantling Tehran’s global network of terror.
“We’re going to talk [with the US], and we started talking about what we need to do,” Netanyahu told Fox’s Van Susteren.
“One is we have to keep Iran’s feet to the fire. We have to make sure it abides by its obligations under the nuclear treaty, under the nuclear deal. Second, we have to bolster those forces that are working against Iran’s aggression in the region. It’s growing. And the most important party that works against Iran’s aggression in the region is Israel,” he explained.
“So I appreciated it. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss with President Obama how to put flesh on his serious commitment to bolster Israel’s security in the face of this new challenge,” he said.
“And third, we have to tear down Iran’s global terror network, because it’s not merely increasing its aggression in the region, it’s building terror cells on five continents, including in this hemisphere,” he said.
Israel, Netanyahu added, is the most powerful country that stands in the breach of a collapsing region.
“The one party that is standing there, 10 miles from ISIS, a few hundred yards from Iran’s murderous proxies, is Israel,” he told Van Susteren. “Now, we’re protecting ourselves. But in so doing, we’re also protecting the neighborhood. Israel has no better ally than the United States, and the United States has no better ally than Israel. And I think the order of the day now, after the deal, is to make sure that Israel and America’s other allies are strengthened in the region against this Iranian aggression. And I look forward to this conversation with the president.”
One of the places where Iran is operating is the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. He said that if Israel is attacked from Syria, it would retaliate. He added that Israel would also thwart the transfer of arms through that territory.
Late last month, he told Van Susteren, he flew to Moscow to discuss the situation in Syria with President Vladimir Putin. The two countries are creating a mechanism by which they can operate separately in Syria, without “bumping” into each other.
Israel and Russia “used to be in an adversarial position many years ago. I don’t think we want to get back there, and I know Russia doesn’t want to get back there,” Netanyahu said.
“We’re doing our best to make sure that it doesn’t happen. And I don’t think it will happen,” he added.