Misplaced Trust

“It will be difficult to trust Netanyahu in the future,” senior U.S. officials told Israel’s Channel 2 after the U.S.-Israeli dustup over House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress, which neither Boehner nor Netanyahu coordinated with the White House.

Even Israel’s strongest U.S. supporters admit that Netanyahu can be politically insensitive, and the backdrop to his upcoming address surely puts him on even more of a collision course with President Barack Obama than he’s endured during the six years of their rocky relationship. Obama’s pushing hard for a nuclear deal with Iran, Israel fears a deal that will enable Iran to quickly develop nuclear weaponry, and Congress increasingly leans far more towards Netanyahu’s fears than Obama’s hopes.

That neither Obama nor his aides trust Netanyahu is hardly news. For years, they’ve disparaged him harshly, insulted him gratuitously, called him crass names, and suggested they know what’s good for Israel more than he does. In the latest controversy, a U.S. official said that Netanyahu had “spat” in Obama’s face.

What’s striking about recent events, however, is not how little Obama trusts Netanyahu. Rather, it’s how much – in his desperate quest for a nuclear deal – he chooses to “trust” Iran’s leaders, or at least look the other way, as they truly “spit” in his face by undercutting U.S. interests in the region and beyond.

For starters, the president is either woefully uninformed or willfully deceptive when it comes to the nuclear talks. “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran,” the president proclaimed in his State of the Union address, “where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.”

In fact, since negotiators crafted the interim deal of November 2013 that was supposed to last only six months, Iran has continued to enrich uranium, build at its plutonium site at Arak, and advance its ballistic missile program that U.S. officials had promised would be central to these talks; it vows to continue enriching uranium and adding centrifuges; it announced that it would build two new nuclear reactors at Bushehr just as a critical meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva was getting underway; and it refuses to come clean on its explosives technologies that have nuclear applications.

Obama buys Tehran’s line that further sanctions that would take effect if talks over a final deal fail – which a strong bipartisan contingent in Congress wants to enact now – would guarantee such failure. Thus, he’s vowed to veto such legislation, and his aides have worked the issue hard on Capitol Hill. In fact, tough sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table by steering its economy to the brink of collapse, and the sanctions relief of the interim deal substantially eased the economic pressure, thus giving Iran’s leaders far more flexibility to make more nuclear progress and toughen its negotiating posture.

Tehran is surely delighted that Obama whitewashes the truth about U.S.-Iranian talks in public, that one of his top foreign policy aides compares a nuclear deal to Obama’s landmark health reform, that the United States continues to extend the interim deal as the two sides fail to reach a final one, that U.S. negotiators continue to make concessions without securing any from Iran, that Obama promises to veto sanctions legislation that would increase his negotiating leverage and that neither Obama nor his team force Iran to pay any price for its nuclear and other provocations.

Beyond the talks themselves, Tehran provides no reason to “trust” it as a negotiating partner anyway as the Islamic Republic undercuts U.S. interests in the region and beyond by destabilizing U.S. allies.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who chant “Death to America,” just overran Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and forced its U.S.-backed President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to resign. That threatens U.S. efforts to maintain the offensive against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen.

Meanwhile, Iran faces suspicion over the murder of Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was set to testify to Argentina’s Congress about the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center for which he previously indicted top Iranian officials. He was working to expose the efforts of top Iranian and Argentine officials to whitewash the issue in exchange for more bilateral economic cooperation and to craft a plan that would bring the perpetrators to justice.

While Obama’s team takes offense at Netanyahu’s mischief, the president himself remains shockingly silent about the very real Iranian threat.

Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.


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