US Politicians Comment on Future Policy Toward Iran and Israel

Hillary Clinton & Benjamin Netanyahu

The Washington Post reported upon her remarks and characterized them as a rebuke of inconsistent policies as expressed by her leading Republican rival, Donald Trump. But the report notes that Clinton did not address Trump by name. And although she helped to implement the Obama administration’s policies surrounding the nuclear deal, it is possible to regard some of Clinton’s commentary as a negative reaction to that policy. Specifically, Clinton criticized the notion that “everything is negotiable,” thereby mirroring criticism of the Obama administration’s negotiating strategies, which some described as leading to an escalating series of concessions and even “appeasement.”

Indeed, much of the Israeli government took this position, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming last year that the agreement then being formulated by the Obama administration would ultimately “pave the way” to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Mrs. Clinton’s insistence that “Israel’s security is not negotiable” can easily be read either as an attempt to reassure the Israelis about the effectiveness of current Democratic policy, or as implying that that policy would shift under her presidency.

If the former is her intention, it is certainly in keeping with a range of comments that Obama administration officials have made to the Israelis over the several months since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations. Albawwaba pointed out, for instance, that Vice President Joe Biden had taken pains to insist that the US would be “watching Iran like a hawk,” effectively pursuing Clinton’s preferred policy of “distrust and verify.”

Biden also emphasized that regardless of conflicts between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations over Iran policy, Israel would soon be receiving the largest ever security assistance package from the US, thus helping to counterbalance fears of ascendant Iranian power in the region.

But it is unlikely that these reassurances will convince the whole of the Israeli government that current US policies are sufficient to safeguard Israel and the broader Middle East against an Iranian threat. This is especially true in the wake of provocative Iranian activities including its three recent tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and its aggressive politicization of an incident in January in which 10 American sailors were seized and held for a day by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps after mistakenly straying into Iranian territorial waters.

These and other activities have invited accusations that the Islamic Republic has been defying the spirit, if not the letter of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the international resolutions accompanying it. UN Security Council Resolution 2231, for instance, calls upon Iran to avoid development or testing of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. And legislators from both political parties have responded to Iran’s defiance of this resolution by calling for severe new economic sanctions.

For others, that incident has further contributed to the justification for simply cancelling the nuclear agreement altogether and returning to a more punitive and confrontational policy toward the Islamic Republic. Breitbart reported on Monday that former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton had explicitly advocated this position, saying of the deal, “It was a strategic mistake when it was signed for the United States. It’s been violated repeatedly by the Iranian regime. They violate now both on ballistic missiles and on the nuclear side.”

Bolton went on to impugn the broader policy surrounding this nuclear agreement, saying that the Obama administration had been pursuing a misguided strategy of reaching out to moderates within the Iranian regime, whom many critics of the regime believe simply do not exist.

Those critics, including Ambassador Bolton, have variously expressed the view that this strategy has led to a long series of concessions being handed to the Iranians in exchange for very little being given to the US. On Monday, The Diplomat arguably illustrated one of these concessions in its discussion of an American court case that was recently concluded against Chinese nationals who had helped Iran to gain access to rare pressure transducers, which are important to the nuclear enrichment process.

The Diplomat points out that pending charges against Iranian nationals involved in the scheme were dropped as part of a prisoner exchange that saw four Americans released from Iran in exchange for the US releasing or dropping charges against 21 Iranians. Furthermore, future charges against Iranians will be difficult to pursue in this and similar cases as long as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains in place, in part because the implementation of that agreement led to the dissolution of a UN body that had been tasked with investigating possible Iranian violations of the now-suspended sanctions.