Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin went all out this week to persuade Israel that nothing but good would come to the Jewish state out of the partial deal they had forged with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran’s nuclear program.
Holding out the prospect of better relations between Jerusalem and Tehran – and one day even a peace pact – they were avidly pursuing Binyamin Netanyahu this week in an effort to sell him their outreach to Tehran.
The pursuit comes from three directions, say DEBKA Weekly’s Washington and Jerusalem sources:
1. President Obama’s handlers for Tehran are dropping hints that Iranian officials were not only heard referring in upbeat tones to the bright prospects of better relations with America, but even privately to a possible reconciliation with Israel. One of Obama’s staffers said that he had actually heard Iranian officials speak of the Iranian-US accords as a door opening to the beginning of diplomatic, economic and even possible military ties between Tehran and Jerusalem.
These ties would start out as secret understandings on local and regional issues, but eventually, after Iran halts its nuclear weapons program and restricts it to agreed boundaries, those understandings could blossom into full-blown relations.
To convince Netanyahu that this impression was no mirage, those US officials offered to bring to Jerusalem the man who had directly witnessed these remarks in the offices of Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
Sultan Qaboos visits Jerusalem after Riyadh
2. This opened up the pursuit of Netanyahu from a second direction with the secret arrival in Jerusalem of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, the live wire in the exchanges between Tehran and Washington. He quoted the words he said he had heard with his own ears while in Tehran.
The Sultan met the Israeli prime minister after a discreet trip to Riyadh on a similar errand.
There, he sought to persuade King Abdullah and other Saudi leaders that Iran is not just keen on making friends with Israel but even more eager to mend its fences with Saudi Arabia.
Although highly skeptical, the Saudis agreed to send a high-ranking emissary to Tehran to quietly explore the Omani ruler’s message.
Netanyahu later received word from Riyadh that it did not check out.
He was therefore polite but guarded in his response to Sultan Qaboos’s enthusiastic presentation of Oman’s potential as an economic bridge between Iran and Israel and its prospects of evolving into a military relationship. The sultan gave Netanyahu a long list of international companies which do business with Tehran via Oman in defiance of international sanctions.
Israel officials concluded that the Sultan’s mission was to support the Obama administration’s efforts to soften the prime minister’s strong objections to the nuclear accommodations unfolding between Obama and Khamenei.
Does Tehran really seek détente with Israel?
DEBKA Weekly’s sources heard from some Israeli sources an alternative take on this episode.
They estimated that the Obama administration is maneuvering to attach Israel to the Shiite-oriented alliance embodied by Iran, Syria and Hizballah, which is growing out of its joint US initiatives with Moscow on Syria and Iran. This would be a way to lure Israel away form its burgeoning rapport with Sunni Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
3. A third direction was activated by means of another source of information currently under close study in Jerusalem.
Leaders of a state bordering on Russia with close ties to President Putin have reported hearing of an impression gained recently by Russian officials visiting Tehran that the Iranians are feeling their way toward acknowledging Israel without outright recognition.
Those Russian officials discovered a discreet new directive handed down from on high to the Iranian media to qualify their total rejection of Israel’s right to exist, while continuing to excoriate its government’s polices and Netanyahu in person.
According to our sources, this channel continues to function and feed new tidbits of information to Jerusalem in order to keep Israel interested and curious.
At this early stage, there is no point in speculating about any interaction between the pursuit of the Netanyahu government to alleviate its resistance to the Obama administration’s moves for a détente with Tehran and diplomacy on the Palestinian issue which has reached another impasse.