Netanyahu slated in Israel for foreign policy failure over Iran nuclear accord – Peter Beaumont/The Guardian
Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, appears determined to push allies in the US Congress to block the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, despite warnings that his strategy would fail and further damage relations with the Obama administration.
With few Israeli analysts demonstrating any confidence that Israel could muster the two-thirds support in Congress needed to overcome a presidential veto, a chorus of voices warned against persisting with a strategy they fear has left Israel increasingly marginalised.
Netanyahu’s approach has already been described as “coarse” by the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and “way over the top” by John Kerry, the US secretary of state. Barack Obama is bullishly confident that opponents in Congress will not be able to overturn the deal.
On Tuesday, the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, also weighed in, saying that Israel did not want a deal with Iran but instead preferred a permanent standoff.
“The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv. The answer of course is that Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran,” Hammond said in response to an opposition legislator, who had objected to the agreement and cited dismay in Tel Aviv.
“Israel wants a permanent state of standoff and I don’t believe that’s in the interests of the region. I don’t believe it’s in our interest,” Hammond said.
Pessimistic number-crunching by Israeli analysts echoes Obama’s view. They point out that Congressional opponents of the deal would require 44 out of 188 Democrats in the House of Representatives to oppose the president, in the midst of a presidential election cycle and following the endorsement of the deal by Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate.
The day after the Vienna deal, Netanyahu’s reaction to the Iran talks dominated the Israeli media as much as the deal itself, with even usually sympathetic rightwing commentators cautioning against continuing a battle with the Obama White House they believe the Israeli prime minister cannot win.
The conclusion of the deal – against Israel’s bitter complaints – continued to be presented by some political opponents as a historic failure on Netanyahu’s part.
Returning to the attack in the aftermath of the deal, Yair Lapid, leader of the liberal centrist Yesh Atid party, compared the deal to the aftermath of the 1973 war – an event that shocked Israel’s confidence for a generation.
“Today we are witnessing the greatest failure in foreign policy of any Israeli prime minister since the state’s establishment. Netanyahu is not Churchill of pre-world war two,” railed Lapid, a former minister in Netanyahu’s last government.
“He is Golda [Meir] after the Yom Kippur War … As of yesterday, the world learned that the United States is no longer willing to listen to the prime minister of Israel. He left Israel-US relations in ruins.”
Lacking a foreign minister in his new government and with a controversial ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer – regarded as being close to the Republican party and unwelcome at the White House – Netanyahu is identified as being the exclusive architect of the failed policy he has so closely associated himself with.
Although the opposition Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, who also opposes the deal, has offered to help Netanyahu with the diplomacy in the US, many analysts have argued that the agreement is in effect a done deal.
However, comments by Herzog suggested that the best Israel could now hope for was additional security assistance and guarantees from the US.
“I spoke to our good friends at [the pro-Israel lobby group] Aipac and other organisations in the United States, and I plan to go there soon to hold meetings in order to clarify the substance of the dangers in this agreement, for Israel and the region, and to demand that Israel receive a security umbrella in light of the difficult situation that we now face,” said Herzog.
Predicting the damage likely to be done to Israeli interests, the columnist Nahum Barnea was among many predicting a largely pointless battle.
“In the coming two months, the Senate will be the arena of a violent struggle between Netanyahu and the Obama administration. Based on the initial reactions to the agreement, all the Republican senators will vote against it.
“Obama will cast a veto. To break the veto, Netanyahu needs 13 Democratic senators. He will get some of them – mainly those who depend on Jewish voters and Jewish funding. His chances of reaching 13 are not high.”
His view was echoed by Shimon Shiffer, another commentator. “It’s reasonable to assume that Netanyahu will now even further intensify the clash with the White House and try to enlist Congress to his side,” he said. “It can be said with fair certainty that these steps are doomed to fail.”
Perhaps most surprising was the view of Ben-Dror Yemini, a usually reliably rightwing columnist, who argued that a continuing effort in Congress would only damage Israel.
“The agreement is a fact. There was a point in waging the battle against the agreement as long as something could have been changed. But this is a lost battle.
“Netanyahu chose a path that led to a direct confrontation with the [Obama] administration. If only this had helped. But the opposite happened. The damage was double. Both a crisis with the administration and a dangerous agreement. So there is no point in continuing on exactly the same path that proved to be a failure.”