Robert Satloff in Politico writes:
The current crisis is already one of the biggest U.S.-Israel blowups, ever—and it could get worse before it gets better.
Not since Menachem Begin trashed Ronald Reagan’s 1982 peace plan has Israel so publicly criticized a major U.S. diplomatic initiative. In a rousing speech in Jerusalem on Nov. 10, Netanyahu even called on leaders of American Jewry to use their influence to stop what he called a “bad” Iran deal.
Never has a U.S. secretary of state taken to a podium in an Arab capital, proclaim his pro-Israel bona fides and then specifically caution the prime minister of Israel to butt out of ongoing U.S. diplomatic efforts and save his critique for after a deal is inked. That is what John Kerry did in a remarkable Nov. 11 news conference in Abu Dhabi, standing next to the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.
And not in recent memory has the spokesperson for the president of the United States, knowing that Israel and many of its American friends have criticized the administration’s Iran policy, accused detractors of leading a “march to war,” thereby opening a Pandora’s box of hateful recrimination that will be difficult to close.
Israel’s critique of U.S. Iran policy has three key aspects.
First, in terms of strategy, Israel worries that the administration quietly dropped its longtime insistence that Iran fulfill its U.N. Security Council obligation to suspend all enrichment activities and that an end to enrichment is no longer even a goal of these negotiations.
Second, in terms of tactics, Israel cheers the administration’s imposition of devastating sanctions on Iran but fears that the near-agreement in Geneva would have wasted the enormous leverage that sanctions have created in exchange for a deal that, at most, would cap Iran’s progress without any rollback of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and no commitment to mothball the worrisome Arak plant, which could provide an alternative plutonium-based path to a nuclear weapon.
And third, operationally, Israel has complained that it was kept in the dark on details of the proposed Geneva deal—what was being offered to Tehran and what was being demanded of it—despite commitments from Washington to keep Jerusalem fully apprised.
These are weighty concerns and serious accusations. They deserve a full accounting. It is shameful to suggest that anyone who raises these questions prefers war to diplomacy. That is especially because each of these charges appears to have merit.
One would be hard-pressed, for example, to find a senior administration official saying that securing Iran’s full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions remains the goal of these negotiations, let alone an American “red line.” Instead, officials have termed the pursuit of suspension a “maximalist” position and prefer to cite the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, a far looser formulation that could allow Iran a breakout capacity. Rejecting the Iranians’ claim to a “right to enrich,” as the administration apparently did in Geneva, is important, but it is not the same as demanding that they suspend enrichment.
The signals from the US get even worse.
Yesterday, John Kerry said, “I have no specific expectations with respect to the negotiations in Geneva except that we will negotiate in good faith and we will try to get a first-step agreement and hope that Iran will understand the importance of coming there prepared to create a document that can prove to the world that this is a peaceful program.”
In the first year of the Obama administration, statements coming from top officials showed that the US believed that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. On May 24, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), Admiral Michael Mullen, said “Well, I believe then and I still believe that Iran’s strategic objective is to achieve nuclear weapons, and that that path continues. Their leadership is committed to it. They conducted a missile test this last week that was successful, which continues to improve their missile delivery system and capability. Their intent seems very clear to me, and I’m one who believes if they achieve that objective, that it is incredibly destabilizing for the region. And I think eventually for the world.”
Now, Kerry seems to be saying that Iran only needs to produce a document that can prove it has no military dimensions to its nuclear program. It is an invitation to Iran to show that it can hide its activities. (This has been a key IAEA requirement for years, and Iran has never shown interest.)