Netanyahu vs Obama on US Iranian policy
By Ali Rizk
The Israeli announcement of the interception of an alleged Iranian ship carrying advanced weapons destined for Gaza is another development in the series of Israeli stunts that began after the interim agreement that was reached between Iran and the P5+1 regarding Tehran’s nuclear program. After failing to sabotage the interim deal despite its intense lobbying, Israel and its allies are now turning their attention towards the much more important final deal which could come about in July, and which could indeed herald a new chapter in Iranian-Western ties (particularly Iranian-US ties), and which could be a prelude for the expansion of these ties into other arena’s besides the nuclear issue. (and there are plenty of other arena’s).
Israel’s announcement about the alleged Iranian weapons-laden ship which was timed to coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington for the annual AIPAC summit is part of a broader plot to demonize, and to weaken Iran. Israel appears to have resorted to such tactics after its failure thus far in gathering enough support in Congress for the Kirk-Menendez bill which threatens new sanctions on Iran, and which if adopted would deal the death blow to delicate diplomatic process underway between Iran and the West.
The early news of this Israeli plot came when Netanyahu visited the Golan Heights where he met with a fighter from one of the armed opposition groups in Syria being treated by the Israeli army, and also made statements which fully focused on Iran. Timing his trip to the Golan Heights with the opening of expert level talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna Netanyahu stated: “On the day when talks between the major powers and Iran are being opened in Vienna, it is important that the world sees the pictures from this place, which divides the good that is in the world from the bad. The good part is that Israel is saving the lives of those who have been wounded in the daily slaughter that is being perpetrated in Syria. This is the true face of Israel. The bad part is that Iran is arming those who are carrying out the slaughter. This is the true face of Iran.”
Then the Israeli premier went on to say that “all of the children who have been injured, to say nothing of those who have been killed, were injured as a result of Iran’s arming, financing and training the Assad regime in the massacres that it is perpetrating”
Obama’s strategy in countering those in Washington who are trying to sabotage a deal with Iran has been to cast them as warmongerers. And thus far this strategy has worked with the White House realizing the significance of the war-wariness amongst the US public and using this card to advance the cause for diplomacy.(in the end popular sentiments can defeat any power however strong it may be, including the pro-Israel lobby). So after Obama made the argument which implicitly states “that sabotaging the diplomatic process now would be equivalent to pushing for war”, Netanyahu is coming up with a counter strategy which appears to aim at US public opinion, and subsequently at members of Congress. The references to “good and evil” “children in Syria being killed and wounded” (because of Iran) are a renewed push to demonize Iran and rally people and congress to prevent an accord from being reached on Iran’s nuclear program. For Netanyahu, this is a matter of life and death and one should expect him to resort to desperate measures. Hence the next step came in the “Iranian weapons ship announcement”. Here as well, the demonization was clear and the desperation was evident in the statements. Speaking at an Israeli cabinet meeting after the announcement, Netanyahu equated Iran with the US’s most notorious enemies saying that “Iran with a nuclear weapon is the difference between Pakistan with its current government in possession of a bomb, and Pakistan ruled by the Taliban in possession of a bomb”.
Now what seems to actually be going on is a battle of strategies between Obama on the one hand and Netanyahu on the other regarding US policy towards Iran. Obama will continue to defend his diplomatic track by saying the alternative is war, and Netanyahu will continue to counter by going to the extreme in his description of Iran being evil, irrational and extremist. It is the winner of this battle who will determine the direction of future ties between the US and Iran.
In the meantime Israel will also upgrade its role in the Syrian conflict in the next few months to prevent what Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon described as the “axis of evil comprised of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah” from winning in Syria. For if a nuclear accord is reached, and Bashar Assad is victorious, Iran would be in an unprecedented strengthened position, and just might bring about a new era of bilateral US-Iranian cooperation that will be evident in Syria. Israel will view that weakening Assad’s stance, would therefore weaken Iran’s stance and change the views of some lawmakers about the need for a deal with Iran. The recent Israeli strike on a Hezbollah base on the Lebanese Syrian border comes in this context.
So from now until July, which marks the end of the interim agreement phase whereby it will be determined if a final deal is reached, one could expect significant Israeli escalation both in rhetoric and to somewhat lesser extent in action, as the battle between Obama and Netanyahu plays out with regards to Iran.
(Ali Rizk is an award winning journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon.)
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