That controversy speaks to the apparent effect that the Iran nuclear issue has had on the “special relationship” traditionally enjoyed between the governments of the US and Israel. Reuters suggests that recent public comments from both sides indicate an attempt to defuse tensions, but the news agency also notes that the current divide is the worst that the two powers have experienced in decades.
Unconfirmed reports even state, according to Hot Air, that the conflict rose to the level of military threats last year when the Obama administration forced Netanyahu to back down on plans to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which would have taken Israeli fighters over US-controlled airspace in Iraq. An “unnamed Israeli minister” reportedly told a Kuwaiti newspaper that Obama declared willingness to shoot down Israeli jets in order to prevent such unilateral action.
Hot Air notes that the anonymous, second-hand source of the story casts some doubt upon it, as does the fact that it is broke in Western media just as Netanyahu was set to give his speech. But the same site also claims that such a move would not be out of keeping with Obama’s broader strategy, and that his commitment to that strategy might even extend to considering an attack against an ally. Indeed, many of Obama’s critics on this issue have taken umbrage with the way in which his continuous outreach to Iran has often alienated America’s existing allies in the Middle East region.
A day ahead of his speech to Congress, Netanyahu began his visit to the US by outlining this and other arguments against the nuclear deal to attendees at the first day of a three day conference of the American Israeli Political Action Committee. The pro-Israel lobbying group has joined Netanyahu in strict opposition to the US’s current approach to dealing with Iran, and the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that AIPAC had used the conference to outline a strategy of leveraging congressional skepticism about Tehran to disrupt Obama’s plans to move ahead in spite of objections from legislators.
However, Obama dispatched nation security adviser Susan Rice and UN ambassador Samantha Power to the same conference to defend the administration’s strategy. And on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the issue to the American public on television news, insisting that the main goal of Obama’s efforts is to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Bet that as it may, many of Obama’s critics simply feel that any agreement with Iran that is feasible at this time would fall far short of putting sufficient restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear enrichment, research and development. AIPAC and Netanyahu have both been clear that they expect Western powers to insist upon the complete removal of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities.
Of course this position is a non-starter, but so too are some of the positions that have been maintained by Tehran throughout the negotiating process, including the expectation that all economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic will be removed at once, immediately upon reaching an agreement. This demand, one of the declared red lines for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was reiterated on Monday by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is generally regarded by the Obama administration as being more moderate than Khamenei.
“Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all come to the understanding that sanctions and agreement don’t go together,” Zarif said in Geneva, where Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 are working to arrive at a compromise to restrain Iran’s nuclear progress in exchange for sanctions relief. “If they want an agreement, sanctions must go,” he continued, according to the Times of India.
Zarif and Kerry were scheduled to meet for up to three days starting Monday, in the Swiss town of Montreux, in order to attempt to resolve some of the outstanding discord in the interest of securing a framework agreement by the end of this month, and a final agreement by the end of June. Reuters reports that before leaving for Montreux, Kerry cautioned Netanyahu against undercutting negotiations that still have a chance of reaching compromise.
But it is not clear how much of a chance the latest talks have of actually achieving such compromise. “We’re going to find out whether or not Iran is willing to make the hard choices that are necessary,” the Secretary of State told reporters. He also emphasized the importance of reliable, intrusive inspections in order to confirm Iran’s compliance with whatever deal may be reached. Yet any extraordinary relationship between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency has been ruled out by Supreme Leader Khamenei.
What’s more, Reuters also reports that IAEA head Yukiya Amano said on Monday that the agency still has no prospective end date for its ongoing probe into the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program. “It depends on the level and pace of cooperation from Iran,” he told reporters, evoking previous remarks by IAEA officials who have found Tehran to be inconsistent and inadequate in answering specific questions and granting access to suspicious sites.
In an editorial on Monday, Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post added that on Thursday the IAEA had mentioned the “possible existence in Iran of undisclosed … development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Krauthammer cited this as one of several points that make the current status of the nuclear talks concerning. The other issues deal with concessions the Obama administration has made to Tehran including, most recently, a sunset clause that would limit the duration of the agreement to as little as ten years, after which the Islamic Republic would be “home free.”
As a result of all this, Krauthammer declares, “Not only does Iran get a clear path to the bomb but it gets sanctions lifted, all pressure removed and international legitimacy.” As a preferable alternative, Krauthammer recommends keeping up the pressure, roughly in line with the policy advice that Netanyahu was expected to present to Congress on Tuesday.
In an article in The Week, Peter Weber wonders what the outcome would be if Netanyahu and his supporters succeed in sinking a nuclear deal. He determines that this is unclear, but may involve the creation of a “new anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East” or a new round of cyber-espionage attacks aimed at crippling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But although Netanyahu’s endgame has arguably not been articulated thus far, Weber notes that his concerns are well recognized even among some of President Obama’s usual supporters.
For instance, he quotes Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic as saying, “the deal that seems to be taking shape right now does not fill me — or many others who support a diplomatic solution to this crisis — with confidence,” but then going on to assert that “Netanyahu has no actual ideas” for a better resolution.
Of course, not everyone agrees. At PJ Media, Roger L. Simon describes the nuclear deal that is currently taking shape as the “worst deal ever,” but also notes that he expects no deal to be finalized, as Ayatollah Khamenei appears to have never wanted one in the first place. He also refers to Goldberg’s doubts about a viable alternative, but dismisses them, noting that “serious economic sanctions — the truly crippling kind — have not even been tried.”