Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is belatedly getting together a position paper for his forthcoming visit to the White House on Sept. 30 and talks with Barack Obama. He laid out before a cabinet meeting Tuesday, Sept 17, four demands for addressing the nuclear issue with Tehran:
- Complete halt of uranium enrichment;
- Removal of enriched fissile materials from Iran;
- Closure of the Fordo enrichment plant;
- Termination of plutonium production at Arak.
However, by the time those conditions are presented at the White House, the Obama summit with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be over and will have capped the US-Iranian nuclear understandings covered in direct contacts between the two capitals (and outlined in two other articles in this edition of DEBKA Weekly).
Those four conditions will therefore be left behind in the dust.
While Netanyahu often talks about an Israeli military option against Iran, its credibility has long ceased to be taken seriously in Washington, Tehran or Moscow. At home, people may believe that Iran’s nuclear program is dangerous, but they no longer expect their prime minister to go through with an attack to preempt it.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Jerusalem, the prime minister tells his advisers that his four conditions should be treated as a basis for negotiations and he doesn’t expect them all to be fulfilled to the letter. But he is confident that in the final reckoning, Israel has enough leverage to apply with the help of two ironclad buttresses:
- US Congress. He believes he can persuade a majority of US lawmakers to back up his conditions for approving any Obama-Rouhani accords, in the same way as Congress withheld its authorization from Obama’s military steps against Syria.
- Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Notwithstanding US Secretary of State John Kerry’s upbeat assessment that the talks will culminate in a peace accord within nine months (of which three have elapsed), the fact is that the negotiations are stalled, with no sign of a breakthrough anywhere in sight.
Most informed political figures in Jerusalem agree that by his decision to stand aloof from the Syrian and Iranian controversies, Netanyahu has lost control of events.
Congress is no longer a forum where the Israeli Prime Minister can be sure of making his mark.
The pro-Israeli lobby, The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, is in decline after sitting on the fence for the more than two and-a-half years of the Syrian civil war, at Jerusalem’s behest.
When finally asked by the prime minister last month to climb down and take a position, AIPAC lobbyists found themselves on the losing side of Congress, i.e., the minority which sided with Obama on a military strike against Syria’s chemical weapons.
No offensives, no clout in Washington
Israel has consequently been reduced to non-player in the administration’s pivotal decisions on Middle East policy, and is absent from the American public eye.
Netanyahu’s critics accuse him of misreading the Kerry-Lavrov understanding for the removal of Syria’s chemical stockpile, when it was announced in Geneva on Sept. 14.
He started out by lauding it with warm praise, only grasping after it became general knowledge, that the deal was a non-starter.
One of the reasons for the prime minister’s apparent loss of direction is that he is kept in the dark by the Obama administration on the fast-moving events surrounding Syria and Iran, with the deliberate intention of keeping Israel out of things and amenable.
In the latter stages of Netanyahu’s five years in office, his security policy has been oriented on systematically building up Israel’s defenses against attack. For the most part, he has shunned military initiatives and stayed out of any role in regional crises, even when they touched Israel’s borders.
This posture suited President Obama’s diplomacy-based Middle East policy and his avoidance of military action. However, the irony is that the Netanyahu government’s aloof inactive stance has allowed the Obama administration to count Israel out of key Middle East policy-making and treat the Jewish state as a non-factor in its considerations.