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Why Netanyahu Broke Publicly with Obama over Iran

The public rift between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more than a personality dispute, a senior Israeli official has said. It has been building for more than two years and reflects a deep disagreement about how best to limit the threat of a rising Iran, according to Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence:

[Steinitz] said that the nuclear agreement contemplated by Obama would ratify Iran as a threshold nuclear-weapons state, and that the one-year breakout time sought by Washington wasn’t adequate. And he stressed that these views aren’t new.

“From the very beginning, we made it clear we had reservations about the goal of the negotiations,” he explained. “We thought the goal should be to get rid of the Iranian nuclear threat, not verify or inspect it.”

Steinitz, who helps oversee Iran strategy for Netanyahu, said he understands the United States wants to tie Iran’s hands for a decade until a new generation takes power there. But he warns: “You’re saying, okay, in 10 or 12 years Iran might be a different country.” This is “dangerous” because it ignores that Iran is “thinking like an old-fashioned superpower.”

Netanyahu’s skepticism reached a tipping point last month when he concluded that the United States had offered so many concessions to Iran that any deal reached would be bad for Israel. He broke with Obama, first in a private phone call Jan. 12, and then in his public acceptance of an offer by GOP House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress on March 3 and, in effect, lobby against the deal.

The administration argues that the pact taking shape, although imperfect, is preferable to any realistic alternative. It would limit the Iranian program and allow careful monitoring of its actions. Angered by what it sees as Netanyahu’s efforts to sabotage the agreement, the administration decided in early February to limit the information it shared with Israel about its bargaining with Iran. …

Steinitz said the Israeli government understands the U.S. goal of a 10- to 15-year duration for the agreement, which would constrain Iran into what’s likely to be the next generation after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is 75. But here again, he dissented.

 “I understand the logic, but I disagree,” Steinitz said. What the United States is saying to Iran, in effect, is “if you agree to freeze for 10 years, that’s enough for us.” But that won’t work for Israel. “To believe that in the next decade there will be a democratic change in leadership and that Iran won’t threaten the U.S. or Israel anymore, I think this is too speculative.”

Tags: US-Israel Relations , Iran

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