Nuclear deal pushes Israel aside in Washington, raises Iran to leading US partner and ally
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bitterly accused the “leading international powers of gambling our collective future on a deal with the foremost sponsor of international terrorism” – roundly condemning all six world powers who signed the nuclear deal with Iran in Vienna Tuesday, July 14.
President Barack Obama topped the list. Netanyahu pointed out that the president had determined on a deal with Iran at any price before he took office, which is true. Therefore, it had nothing to do with the poor relations between himself and the US President, he said in answer to critics. It was now time for Israeli leaders to set aside differences and pull together, he said. Opposition leader, the Zionist Union’s Yitzhak Herzog, agreed and said he was enlisting for the necessary effort on behalf of Israeli security. Tuesday night he received an update on the situation from the prime minister.
The special security cabinet meeting, called to discuss the ramifications of the nuclear deal, hours after it was signed, unanimously rejected it and declared “this deal does not commit Israel.”
Unfortunately, Israel was never asked for its commitment, any more than the other Middle East powers directly affected by it. The cabinet statement was therefore no more than a meaningless expression of futility, a sensation shared equally by Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi, in the face of the iron wall Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have built for Iran in the region.
Both unceremoniously ditched Israel and its Arab neighbors in order to join hands with Iran. By this reshuffle of allies, Washington has created a new geopolitical reality in the region at the expense of its equilibrium.
The US Congress has 60 days to review the nuclear accord and reach a decision. But if Netanyahu had had any hopes of swinging the Senate around to voting down the veto President Obama promised to impose to mullify its rejection, that hope swiftly vanished in thin air. Leading presidential contender Hillary Clinton announced that if she wins the 2016 election she would abide in full by the nuclear accord Obama signed with Iran. This announcement assured Obama of a Senate majority.
The dead end reached by Netanyahu on this issue also symbolizes the end of Israeli’s special standing in Washington as “America’s leading Middle East ally.”
Iran has stepped into this position. There is little point in Israel knocking on the White House door to renew the old understanding and sympathy, as advised by former prime minister Ehud Barak and others. It does not matter who sits in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, as matters stand now, he/she will find themselves on the wrong side of that door.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will visit Israel next week. But that is only an attempt to soften the blow.
This does not mean that the Obama administration will totally abandon Israel, only that it will no longer enjoy favored status compared with other Middle East nations. By ditching the Arab world, Obama equally dumped the Palestinian issue. This has some advantages for the Netanyahu government, but is not the end of the world for the Palestinians. They, like Arab governments, have the option of seeking an understanding with Tehran, whereas that door is shut tight against Israel.
In this situation, Israel’s quiet understandings with a number of Arab leaders directed at forming a bloc to counter the US-Iran alliance, have no immediate future. When the earth shakes in a major upheaval, each individual is out to save himself and has no time to look around for allies.
In some ways, the Netanyahu government may find relief in being released from the political and strategic constraints bound up in the relationship with the Obama administration, and find the freedom to be more pragmatic and independent in its policy-making.
After all, Israel still has the strongest army and the most vibrant economy in the Middle East. Its leaders must learn to use those huge assets wisely and independently of the Obama administration.