Israeli officials were described as “furious at the Obama administration” over what seemed to be an emerging nuclear deal between the P5+1 countries (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany) and Iran.
One official was quoted saying that “the Americans capitulated to Iranian maneuvering…. Kerry wants a deal at all costs and the Iranians are leading the Americans by the nose.”
As for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he was described as being “in shock.” That was evident enough in a statement Netanyahu released Friday morning after seeing off Secretary of State Kerry at the airport, in which Netanyahu dispensed with diplomatic bromides and said:
I urge Secretary Kerry not to rush to sign, to wait, to reconsider, to get a good deal. But this is a bad deal—a very, very bad deal. It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community.
Kerry’s visit to Israel had already been a rough one, in which he first stigmatized Israeli communities as “illegitimate” and then, on Israeli TV Thursday night, as The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren aptly put it, “appeared to come perilously close to empathizing with potential Palestinian aggression against Israel.” (Reactions by other Israeli commentators were titled “Kerry, give it a rest” and “Kerry: Stay home”.)
But the real stunner came on Friday when Jerusalem apparently got word of the deal that seemed to be taking shape in Geneva. It led to the canceling of a joint media appearance between Netanyahu and Kerry, and prompted, instead, a bitter exchange between them before Kerry headed off to the Swiss city.
The possible deal gravely worries Israel—and others with a realistic view of the situation—because it allows Iran to continue uranium enrichment (albeit at a lower level—now meaningless given Iran’s advanced centrifuges), continue the construction of its heavy-water reactor in Arak (aimed at producing plutonium bombs), while not requiring the dismantling of a single centrifuge.
At the same time, in “reward” essentially for nothing, the deal gives Iran sanctions relief far beyond what Israeli officials had been led to expect, reportedly including “the unfreezing of $3 billion of fuel funds, an easing of sanctions on the petrochemical and gold sectors, an easing of sanctions on replacement parts for planes and a loosening of restrictions on the Iranian car industry.”
With Chinese, Italian, German, and other companies champing at the bit to resume doing lucrative business with Iran, it’s believed such an opening will lead to the sanctions regime’s total collapse.
So Israel was relieved when it turned out the deal—for the time being—had fallen through on Saturday. But with the talks set to resume in nine days, trepidation remains high.
Israel’s ally in objecting to the putative deal has turned out to be France. That appeared to validate earlier reports that, among the Western powers, France was the most clear-eyed about the ayatollahs’ regime and the closest to Israel in its perceptions. France has long had tight ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and appears to have absorbed some of their realism—and fear—about a nuclear Iran.
Meanwhile, on Sunday morning, Netanyahu’s office issued a press release in which he stated:
Over the weekend I spoke with President Obama, with President Putin, with President Hollande, with Chancellor Merkel and with British Prime Minister Cameron. I told them that according to all the information reaching Israel, the impending deal is bad and dangerous.
It is not only dangerous to us; it is dangerous for them, too. It is dangerous for the peace of the world because in one fell swoop it lowers the pressure of the sanctions which took years to build, and conversely, Iran essentially preserves its nuclear uranium enrichment capabilities as well as the ability to advance on the plutonium enrichment path.
…I asked all the leaders what the rush is. And I suggested that they wait…. It is good that this was ultimately the choice that was made but I am not fooling myself—there is a strong desire to strike a deal….
Iran’s allegedly “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani, for his part, did not sound conciliatory on Sunday when he said Iran’s “red lines” included uranium enrichment and that “We will not answer to any threat, sanction, humiliation or discrimination.” But with Iran’s interlocutors—possibly with the exception of France—already apparently ready to fold on the enrichment issue, Rouhani’s words seemed aimed mainly at Israel.
For Israel, after so many avowals of President Obama’s determination to prevent Iran from going nuclear, the latest turn of events is alarming and disillusioning. Many believe that, as long as diplomatic activity between the P5+1 and Iran is going on, Israel is effectively screened out of taking military action. Netanyahu had that in mind when he also said on Friday: “Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people.”
If the situation looks desperate and Israel takes that course, it will not be without (tacit) allies in the region.
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