The issue of Iran dominated a late-Monday night foreign policy session at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in National Harbor.
“Obviously from [Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin] Netanyahu’s point of view” even if the deal doesn’t happen, the “fact that you would even consider some kind of alliance with Iran against ISIS, this is dealing with the devil,” said one of the panelists, Steve Linde editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. “After condemning Assad for so many years for murdering his own people — maybe 200,000 people including with chemical weapons — now to come around and sort of support him even if it’s implicitly, seems to be really questionable policy and I’m not sure what message it gives to the world.”
According to Linde, there’s a feeling in Israel that the United States is not utilizing any leverage on Iran and appears desperate to make a deal.
“Why are we not feeling that strength of the superpower from the United States? Why do we feel like [Obama] is trying to get a Nobel Prize for this?” Linde said.
In addition to Linde, the panel discussion on how Israelis and Americans view complex foreign policy issues featured Atlantic magazine correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg and Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz.
Goldberg’s recent reporting in the Atlantic about the fractious relationship between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in which an anonymous White House source referred to Netanyahu as “chickenshit” and “Aspergery” – was picked up by newspaper and websites across the globe, prompting Secretary of State John Kerry to apologize to the Israeli leader.
Even with the deadline for a nuclear deal fast approaching, there is little public information available from the closed-door meetings, which Goldberg attributes to no real work being done – something he says is typical for such negotiations.
Goldberg says that any breakthrough, which could possibly lead to a permanent nuclear deal, will likely come within days, or even the day before, the actual deadline if any breakthrough is achieved at all. Yet, he said that there was a chance that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will not concede to any of the negotiators’ demands because of his hatred for the United States.
“The president has said that he’s not going to go for a bad deal, a bad deal in his mind is something different than a bad deal in Netanyahu’s mind,” said Goldberg. “This is one of the reasons why we might be heading into the biggest confrontation yet between Netanyahu and President Obama, and it’s going to be intensified if it happens, because Netanyahu feels the wind is at his back at Capitol Hill.”
With the Republicans taking control of both houses of Congress in January, the president’s time is running out. If another extension is requested by the administration, it is almost certain that Congress will try to go against president’s wishes and pass new sanctions legislation – likely with a bipartisan veto-proof majority.
“Obviously, right now the Senate is geared up for a sanctions festival starting in January,” said Goldberg.
Though the prime minister and members of his government have focused the majority of their public comments on Iran’s existential threat, both Linde and Benn agree that the Israeli people,although concerned about Iran, see dealing with that country as Netanyahu’s private battle.
“Israeli public opinion by and large lays Iran up to Netanyahu,” said Benn. “It’s his own personal project in terms of the Israeli public, which is far more worried about stabbings in Tel Aviv or people run over by cars in Jerusalem than about the Iranian nuclear program… .”
According to Linde, being the son of a historian makes Netanyahu especially sensitive to how historians will view his record. Linde believes that despite the narrative that Netanyahu is an ineffective leader, his ability to make tough choices should not be discounted.
“If he goes down in history, which he wants to do I believe, it will be as the leader who stopped Iran from becoming nuclear.”