US President Barack Obama has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of improperly interfering in US foreign policy by actively opposing the Iran nuclear deal.In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Mr Obama said he couldn’t recall a similar example where a foreign head of government had injected himself into an American political debate. He continued: “The Prime Minister is wrong on this. And I think that I can show that the basic assumptions that he’s made are incorrect.”
This is an absurd and dangerous accusation that should be universally condemned. From Lafayette to Churchill, foreign leaders have tried, with varying degrees of success, to influence US foreign policy, as well they should when their national interests are at stake. Indeed, earlier this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron was personally lobbying senators regarding the Iranian nuclear negotiations; so, too, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Israel has a considerable stake in the Iran deal, a stake far greater than the members of the P5 plus one that negotiated the deal, yet it was excluded from the negotiation. It would be irresponsible for any democratically elected leader of Israel not to try to influence the congressional debate over the deal. Israel is the primary intended target of an Iranian nuclear arsenal.
This was made clear in 2004 when its former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a supposed moderate, boasted that were Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, it would kill as many as five million Jews. He later elaborated that “the dropping of one atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel”. Despite Iran’s participation in negotiations, such rhetoric has continued unabated.
In May, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated that Iran and its allies had more than 80,000 rockets ready to fire and that “Iran, with the help of Hezbollah and its friends, is capable of destroying Tel Aviv and Haifa”. This was followed last month by Khamenei himself stating “Israel’s security will not be ensured whether there will be an Iran deal or not.”
Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China have little to fear from a nuclear Iran. The US does have something to fear but not as much as Israel. The risk- benefit ratios are very different for each country.
Yet Israel, which has had little or no input into the negotiations or final deal, is being asked by Obama to silently accept the consequences of what it regards as a bad and dangerous deal. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot: if other countries had negotiated a deal involving our security but we had been excluded from the negotiation. Would we silently accept a bad deal as a fait accompli? Of course not. We would be aggressively trying to protect our legitimate interest. Any American leader who failed to do that would be justly condemned.
Nor can Israel be content with the Obama administration’s promises never to let Iran develop a nuclear weapon. Indeed, much of the opposition to the deal is based on the fact it crosses Obama’s own red lines. Rather than preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, it may merely postpone and legitimate this catastrophic outcome. It does not assure the immediate inspections that Obama originally demanded, nor does it provide the transparency he promised. We know that in a worst-case scenario, international inspectors would need 24 days to access a site.
The administration also has not released the content of side agreements between International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and the Iranian government regarding the conduct of inspections.
Rather than attacking Netanyahu for advancing his nation’s legitimate national security interests, the Obama administration should stand by its own promise to encourage a substantive discussion about this important issue. Instead of attacking critics of the deal, the administration ought to welcome a spirited national debate.
With that in mind, let me propose a series of TV and radio debates between supporters and opponents of the agreement. I challenge any administration defender to debate me, or other opponents of the deal, on its merits and demerits.
The American public has the right hear all sides of this issue without Obama’s bully pulpit being used to bully loyal Americans and close allies who oppose the deal into silence.