WASHINGTON – Amid an election campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces further isolation with the prospect of a U.S. agreement with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Middle East sources told WND the prospect may be a reason why Netanyahu’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, quietly did an end-run around the Obama White House to work with House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, to appear before a joint session of Congress March 3 to discuss the Iranian nuclear crisis.
Boehner’s announcement of the visit came as a surprise to the White House and further antagonized relations between Washington and Tel Aviv.
Sources say the end-run will work in Iran’s favor, since Tehran believes it will get what it wants from ongoing discussions on its nuclear program with the P5+1 countries of Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: Russia, Britain, France, China and the United States.
Iran ‘getting what it wants’
Netanyahu regards any nuclear deal with Iran – which is expected to be finalized after the March 17 Israeli elections – as a “bad agreement.”
The “most obvious sign” of Iran getting what it wants is the “cooperation between the United States and Iran against the Islamic State in the Iraqi arena,” according to Middle East expert Akiva Eldar. “An additional indicator can be found in the talks between the Gulf states and Iran on establishing a new regional order.”
Iran and Saudi Arabia, faced with the increasing threat from ISIS, have quietly been meeting behind the scenes to improve their contentious relationship, a development put on a fast track by the newly chosen Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Such an effort has been underscored in recent days by Alaeddin Bourouerdi, who heads the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee.
“Iran’s long-term policy is essentially based on establishing the best of brotherly relations with countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia,” Boroujerdi said.
Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia has been in a war of influence in the region with Iran, the leader of Shia Islam. In a number of countries, their rivalry has resulted in sectarian fighting between Shiites and Sunnis, as reflected in the current civil war in Syria.
Iran backs the preservation of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite, an offshoot of the Shiites.
All of this underscores the basis for Iran pushing for success in its nuclear talks with the P5+1 countries, with the prospect that the Sunni Gulf Arab countries will go along with it as a basis to further lessen regional tensions and focus on their common enemy, ISIS.
The next P5+1 meeting with Iran is slated for March 1 to continue finalizing the political framework, with full technical details to be worked out by July 1.
Negotiators for both sides failed to meet a self-imposed deadline in November.
Opposition to Washington visit
Netanyahu’s apparent end-run not only antagonized the White House, the sources say, but also raised concerns with Netanyahu’s previous ambassador to the U.S. for four years, Michael Oren.
Oren has called on Netanyahu to cancel his speech before the joint session of Congress.
Netanyahu’s planned speech also was met with opposition from Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, who called it “irresponsible.”
In criticizing Netanyahu, however, Oren and Yadlin also have their own political motives.
Oren wants to run for the Knesset while Yadlin is the designated defense minister for the center-left party Zionist Camp.
Netanyahu, however, had strong allies in the Republican-controlled House and Senate and is expected to receive a sympathetic ear, even though congressional leaders for now have decided to hold off any further sanctions against Iran pending the outcome of the ongoing P5+1 negotiations.
Victory for Iran?
If successful, Eldar asserts, the talks will be a victory for Iran.
He believes Netanyahu’s rejection of an agreement with Iran will result in Israel losing the support of its Western allies, with Iran being legitimized as a nuclear threshold state by its Arab neighbors.
He said the “obvious wedge” between Netanyahu and Obama would expose Israel, not Iran, as the “recalcitrant outsider.”
“When Netanyahu arranged to appear before both houses of Congress on March 3, proclaiming his speech as designed to derail Obama’s efforts to achieve an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, the prime minister actually gave Iran additional incentive to sign an accord,” Eldar said.
He said Iran can now be assured that signing an agreement will deepen the rift between the White House and Obama as long as Netanyahu is prime minister.
“It is hard to overstate the significance of turning the leader of Shiite Islam from a bitter enemy into a partner having mutual interests with the West and with its leading Sunni Arab neighbors,” Eldar said.
In so doing, it will help insure Iran’s ambition to achieve the status of a regional power by, as Eldar says, “obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities.
“Legitimization of Iran as a nuclear threshold state by its major Arab Sunni rivals, opponents of the emerging deal contend, will render invalid Israel’s argument that such an agreement would destroy the regional balance of power, he said.
The agreement then could help Washington shift its emphasis on the Syrian crisis and bring Assad into a resolution of the four-year civil war.
The Obama administration no longer is seeking the forced removal of Assad but is going along with efforts by Iran and Russia to work on a transitional arrangement that will be acceptable to Iran and Russia. Both nations have been staunch backers of the Syrian president and his position as an extension of Tehran’s Shiite influence throughout the region.
As WND reported, Israel continues to need Iran to be, as one Middle East observer said, a “scarecrow,” along with its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, to confront Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries that appear to be supportive of the impending P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.
And because Iran will defend Assad at almost all costs, the preservation of his government is linked to the nuclear agreement.
If Assad were to be overthrown, the Middle East observer told WND, presumably to the strongest Sunni group, ISIS, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s existence would be threatened, leading to an all-out sectarian conflict that would spill into Lebanon.
The development, the observer pointed out, may be why the Israelis haven’t been eager to criticize the Saudi financial backing of the Sunni jihadist fighters who are increasingly aligning with ISIS.
“Israel needs a scarecrow to confront Saudi Arabia,” the source told WND, “and that’s why Israel won’t confront Sunni extremism directly and will continue holding Iran up as the enemy.”
Eldar said the Iranians want Netanyahu to win the March elections
“The dirty snowball that Netanyahu threw toward the frozen U.S. capital,” he said, “could quickly turn into a boomerang.”