Trouble in paradise? Israel-U.S. relationship frosting over as Netanyahu attempts to kill nuclear deal
Benjamin Netanyahu shows an illustration as he describes his concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions during his address to the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly last September. [AP]
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This has been a rather grim week for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The "special relationship" between the United States and Israel is fast eroding as accords between international community and Iran inches closer.
According to the proposed short-term deal, Iran would freeze its nuclear activities for the next six months, allowing for more time to reach a permanent agreement.
While both U.S and Israel are in complete agreement about the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Netanyahu seems determined to avoid a reasonable deal and feverishly voices his objection to the yet un-nstruck deal while defiantly standing his ground for a full dismantlement of Iran's enrichment facilities before easing of sanctions.
According to Barak Ravid, a diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, as Kerry backed out of a planned photo before the meeting, Netanyahu stepped in to deliver a one-man show and expressed his disapproval of the Iran nuclear agreement saying: “the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva, and they should be because they got everything and paid nothing.”
In a video, Netanyahu registered fierce opposition to the emerging deal. In a bitter outburst he said: “Iran got the deal of the century, and the international community got a bad deal. This is a very bad deal, and Israel utterly rejects it.”
His intransigent stance and brazen comments provoked a lot of criticism of diplomats who have long struggled to negotiate a solution to the standoff. Carl Bildt, Sweden's Foreign Minister criticized Netanyahu for condemning the deal as "bad" before it was even concluded. "Irrational that Israel is trying to block efforts to reach a reasonable deal with Iran on nuclear issue. Endless confrontation no policy." He added.
So fearful that the deal should be struck, Netanyahu is unaware of the consequences of putting himself in direct conflict with Washington. While Israeli Prime Minister still enjoys substantial leverage in Washington, many deem it unwise to so openly challenge the U.S.
If Netanyahu should do more than fume over the deal, Israel will be perceived as a big liability to achieving a deal with Iran, or, worse, as responsible for destroying it outright. Moreover, if Netanyahu does not try to cool the thaw in U.S-Iran relationship, the special bond which characterized the Israel-U.S relationship will be frayed.
In an interview with the news site GlobalPost, Mr. Burns, who is now a professor of the practice of diplomacy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said:
Netanyahu is making a serious error in judgment by criticizing the U.S. so openly before the deal is even announced. It does not make good sense for Israel to feud with the Obama administration. That can only help Iran. Israel and the U.S. will be much stronger and effective if the two sides keep their arguments private and stand together publicly.
Netanyahu's outburst has also gave way to humorous comments. Expatriate Iranian joked that his "utter rejection" of the deal was a sign that an agreement might actually be reached, while juxtaposing the Israeli Prime Minister with radicals in Iran.
Another tweet by Karim Sadjadpour jested: "No one in the world misses Mahmoud Ahmadinejad more today than Benjamin Netanyahu".
Israel has long feared that Iran should acquire nuclear power, something that Israel views as an existential threat.
While Iran has consistently said that its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian use, some Western experts remain concerned that Iran is enriching uranium for use in atomic weapons rather than in a civilian nuclear energy.
“I can understand why Netanyahu is so furious,” said Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser.
“A unilateral military option would have no real chance now. Not because we can't do it, but because it would be seen as moving against the whole international community,” he told Reuters. “That is something Israel cannot afford.”
Netanyahu, in his harshest comments to date on the matter, said Israel "utterly rejects" the deal, "and what I am saying is shared by many, many in the region whether or not they express it publicly. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to defend itself, to defend the security of its people."
Netanyahu's percieved intrensagince on the Palestine-Israel issue and now the Iranian nuclear deal might isolate him "from the rest of the world, precisely at a moment when he needs the rest of the world to help him." As Jeffrey Goldberg writes at Bloomberg.