Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear talks

Obama Sabotaged AIPAC, Not Netanyahu

The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

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The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

Whatever the motivations of those who published the piece — and the website is quite hostile to Israel’s government — the answer is clearly no. The current dustup is obviously a disaster as far as AIPAC is concerned. But as much as Netanyahu deserves some of the blame for their dilemma, the second story was just as true. Whatever their feelings about the wisdom of the decision to go to Congress in this manner, AIPAC activists who will be descending on Washington next week aren’t in any doubt about who’s the one who is working to undermine the alliance and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus: President Obama.

Those inclined to defend both AIPAC and Netanyahu should concede that the basic conceit of the AL Monitor article actually captured a basic truth about the lobby’s purpose and the way it operates. Contrary to the allegations that have been hurled against it by its critics and the left-wing J Street lobby, AIPAC isn’t a creature of the right or slanted toward Republicans. It backs all Israeli governments, whether led by figures of the right or those of the left. And its great achievement over the course of the last 40 years is to have created a truly bipartisan, across-the-board coalition in favor of Israel in Congress and the nation.

So it is hardly surprising that the perception that the Netanyahu speech was a plot cooked up with Republicans to embarrass or insult a Democratic president would create a problem for AIPAC. That’s the way the speech has been treated by most of the mainstream media and the incessant and increasingly bitter attacks on Netanyahu by senior figures in the Obama administration has made AIPAC’s task of smoothing the way for support for both the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill much more difficult.

It’s also true that, as AL Monitor gleefully reported, leading American Jews have tried to persuade Netanyahu to back off on his plans and that figures in Israel’s defense establishment — many of whom have always disliked and tried to undermine the prime minister’s stands on security issues like Iran for political motivations of their own — have been not so quiet about their dismay about his decision.

Much as those who are rightly up in arms about President Obama’s dangerous concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks are eager to hear Netanyahu, there’s no getting around the fact the speech gave the White House the opportunity to change the subject from the administration’s push for détente with Iran to that of an alleged breach of protocol and the injection of partisanship into the discussion of the issue. This was nothing more than transparent political spin but that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and his advisers didn’t make a mistake. For weeks, even as news broke about astonishing concessions being offered Iran in the form of a sunset clause that would give Tehran carte blanche to gain a weapon after ten years, Washington has been debating Netanyahu’s chutzpah and the president’s hurt feelings instead of the negotiations or the need for more sanctions. As a result, the odds of a veto-proof majority in both Houses of Congress in favor of a sanctions bill that would have had a chance to hold the administration accountable on the issue is far less likely than it was before the announcement of the speech. That’s because the White House has been able to pick off Democrats who don’t feel comfortable taking sides with Netanyahu against Obama. Can anyone blame AIPAC officials for being frustrated about the Israeli government’s unwillingness to listen to their advice about the consequences of the speech?

But the focus on AIPAC is a sidebar to the real story here.

Though Netanyahu deserves to be criticized for walking into Obama’s trap, the only player in this drama who has consistently sought to inject partisanship or to sabotage the U.S.-Israel alliance has been the president.

It was Obama who discarded his 2012 campaign promises (repeated in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) about ensuring the end of Iran’s nuclear program and instead embarked on a path of appeasement whose goal is a misguided effort to make the Islamist regime a partner on a whole range of political and economic issues. The price for this entente cordial with the ayatollahs is acquiescence to their long-term nuclear ambitions as well as their plan for regional hegemony that is scaring the daylights out of America’s moderate Arab allies.

The decision to turn the Netanyahu speech into a cause célèbre was rooted in the White House’s belief that the only way to derail a new sanctions bill that already could count on massive bipartisan support was to turn Iran into a partisan football. And that’s just what the administration has done by piling on Netanyahu while disingenuously claiming to be defending the alliance.

At this point friends of Israel understand the argument about Netanyahu’s speech is now largely irrelevant. With an Iran nuclear deal that would sink any chance of stopping the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power and eventually the owners of a bomb now perhaps only weeks away, the time has ended for recriminations about the way the invitation to Congress was handled. The only thing worth discussing now is what, if anything, Congress and the pro-Israel community can do to derail Obama’s betrayal of principle.

The number of those who boycott the speech will be a barometer of how much success the White House has had in undermining the pro-Israel consensus. Democrats who claim to be friends of the Jewish state and opposed to an Iranian nuclear weapon need to forget about false arguments about partisanship and join with fellow Democrats as well as Republicans in listening to Netanyahu. More importantly, they must help pass the Iran sanctions bill before it is too late to stop the president’s plans for détente with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic Islamist regime.

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Iran Needs to Come Clean on both Nukes and Terrorism

Journalists and many diplomats who give President Barack Obama credit for his willingness to engage with Iran often forget that two decades before Obama asked Iranian leaders to unclench their fist, George H.W. Bush was as enthusiastic for a breakthrough. Just six months into Bush’s presidency, Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died. Journalists and diplomats saw Khomeini’s successor, former President Ali Khamenei as a moderate. As Khamenei took the leadership, he was replaced as president by the clerical businessman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who, the day after taking office, suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the hostages that Iranian proxies in Lebanon still held.

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Journalists and many diplomats who give President Barack Obama credit for his willingness to engage with Iran often forget that two decades before Obama asked Iranian leaders to unclench their fist, George H.W. Bush was as enthusiastic for a breakthrough. Just six months into Bush’s presidency, Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died. Journalists and diplomats saw Khomeini’s successor, former President Ali Khamenei as a moderate. As Khamenei took the leadership, he was replaced as president by the clerical businessman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who, the day after taking office, suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the hostages that Iranian proxies in Lebanon still held.

In an episode I detail in my book about the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, Rafsanjani privately told intermediaries that U.S. gestures might catalyze their release. American diplomats smelled a process—an allure that few diplomats can resist. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler voiced her belief that “Iran is genuinely engaged.” Bush issued a national security directive saying that the United States should prepare for “a normal relationship with Iran on the basis of strict reciprocity,” and he asked UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to serve as an intermediary between the national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, and Iran’s new president. Pérez de Cuéllar sent Giandomenico Picco, a career UN bureaucrat, to Tehran and met Rafsanjani, where he got a surprise: Rafsanjani dismissed the idea of negotiating the release of hostages out of hand: to talk would be to admit culpability in taking hostages in the first place. Within the Iranian context, there’s a huge difference between projecting the image of moderations and actually being will to act moderately. Coming clean is not something the Iranian government is willing to do.

Hence, it has been the case with regard to Iran’s nuclear program. The irony of those who seize upon the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to argue that Iran doesn’t have any military nuclear program is that the 2007 NIE acknowledged that Iran had earlier had just that: after all, experimenting within nuclear weapons triggers is not part and parcel of the energy cycle. And yet, rather than hold Iran to account and, at a minimum demand that Iran comes clean, the Obama administration seems willing to allow Iran simply to sweep its earlier cheating under the rug. If a nuclear agreement is meant to be a fresh start, however, there is no reason why Iran should not come clean fully. At the very least, intelligence can gauge their sincerity by comparing Iranian admissions with what the Central Intelligence Agency believes it knows through its own sources and methods.

The same failure to demand accountability occurs with regard to continued Iranian involvement in terrorism. That the Islamic Republic facilitated the 9/11 attacks was revealed by none other than the 9/11 Commission. The latest revelations that the documents seized from the Bin Laden compound show continued Iranian complacency with Al Qaeda come as little surprise to Iran watchers, but do raise questions about the Obama administration’s efforts to cover up that fact behind a barrier of classification and a simple refusal to release those documents found in the Abbottabad compound.

While those Al Qaeda documents might now be in the headlines thanks to the dogged work of terrorism expert Thomas Jocelyn, there are other aspects of Iran’s terror sponsorship that requires as much exposure and explanation. Take the latest reported in the pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat:

Iran has been coordinating with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates since 2007 with the aim of carrying out terror attacks against US targets in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, informed sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat. Speaking under condition of anonymity, the sources said coordination between Iran and the global terrorist organization was mainly taking place through Saudi citizen Saleh Al-Qarawi, a senior member of the organization who is on the Kingdom’s most-wanted lists and is the founder of Al-Qaeda affiliate the Abdullah Al-Azzam Brigades. The sources contend Qarawi is the main Al-Qaeda figure coordinating operations from inside Iran, where they say he has been moving freely for a number of years and from where he has been recruiting other Saudi citizens for the organization and coordinating their movement into Iran from the Kingdom. Along with Abdul Mohsen Al-Sharikh, another senior Saudi member of the organization—and also on the Kingdom’s most-wanted lists—the sources accuse Qarawi of planning a terror attack in Saudi Arabia aiming to abduct US citizens residing in the country. The plan eventually failed but the sources say Qarawi and Iran have been coordinating on several other operations, including a planned attack in 2007 against a US army base in Jordan which was foiled by the Jordanian authorities. Qarawi and Iran have also coordinated on another failed operation, the sources said, which planned to attack the US embassy [sic- should be consulate] in Dubai using either a drone aircraft loaded with missiles and bombs or by having a pilot fly a small aircraft used for flight instruction into the embassy building.

It’s admirable to want to bring an end to the enmity which exists between Iran and the United States. But to do it when Tehran seems so unwilling to come clean and stop its efforts to kill Americans does not advance peace; it only emboldens an already overconfident adversary. If Iran wants peace, let them come clean, change their behavior, and make amends. But under no circumstances should the Obama administration or its senior diplomats and officials give Tehran a free pass.

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The Anti-Bibi Offensive Reaches the Point of Diminishing Returns

Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

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Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

After several weeks of feuding over Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol in accepting an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner, the breach between the two governments has now reached the stage where it cannot be dismissed as a mere spat. The administration’s commitment to a policy shift on Iran, in which the effort to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon has been set aside in favor of a push for détente with the Islamist regime, has created more than just a little daylight between Israel and the United States. But what is curious is the way leading figures in President Obama’s foreign-policy team, whether it be Kerry or National Security Advisor Susan Rice, have chosen to treat Netanyahu as a major threat to its objective rather than just the leader of a small, albeit influential, allied country who is not in a position to do anything to stop Obama from doing as he likes.

The most remarkable thing about the piling on the Israeli this week is the disproportionate nature of the attacks. That this treatment has been ordered from the top—which is to say, the president—isn’t doubted by anyone in the know. But in doing so, the administration is now running the risk of losing the advantage it obtained when it was able to use Netanyahu’s blunder about the speech to divert the national discussion from its indefensible position on Iran. Rather than damaging Netanyahu’s credibility and increasing his isolation (an absurd charge since few took notice of Netanyahu’s testimony on Iraq at the time), this all-out offensive is making him seem a more sympathetic figure that deserves a hearing.

Netanyahu has shown remarkably poor judgment in recent weeks that belied the supposedly deft understanding of Washington and American politics that has been his trademark and that of Ron Dermer, his ambassador to the United States. Accepting Boehner’s invitation without clearing it with the White House allowed Obama to make Netanyahu the issue rather than the administration’s opposition to a sanctions bill that would have strengthened its hands in the Iran talks. The prime minister compounded that mistake by then refusing an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats because he feared that might constitute an admission that he was colluding with the Republicans.

The administration ought to be wary of overplaying its hand on Netanyahu. After all, no matter how much applause he gets or doesn’t get when he gives his speech to Congress next week, none of that can prevent Kerry from cutting a disastrous deal with Iran if the ayatollahs are ready to make one at all. Given the president’s plans not to present any agreement to the Senate for approval as a treaty and the poor chances of an override of a veto of an Iran sanctions bill, he might be better off ignoring Israeli objections rather than jousting with him.

Though Obama has a reputation as a cold-blooded decision maker, he seems to have let his hatred for Netanyahu get the better of him and ordered his minions to launch a general offensive against Israel in order to crush the prime minister even before he opens his mouth in Washington. Why is he bothering?

The answer is that deep underneath the president’s cool exterior and his conviction that he and only he understands what is right for the country is a fear that Netanyahu’s powerful arguments against appeasing Iran will be heard and believed. That gives the Israeli more credit than he may deserve, but it also reflects Obama’s awareness that if openly debated, his string of unprecedented concessions to Iran can’t be easily defended.

After promising in his 2012 reelection campaign that any deal with Iran would ensure that its nuclear program be eliminated, the president is now preparing to not only guarantee its continued possession of a vast nuclear infrastructure but the phased portion of the current proposal on the table would implicitly grant the Islamist regime the ability to build a bomb after a ten-year period. Just as importantly, the U.S. now seems as indifferent to Iran’s support of international terrorism, its anti-Semitism, threats to destroy Israel, and its push for regional hegemony as it is to the prospect of it being a threshold nuclear power.

In pursuit of this agenda with Iran, the president has ruthlessly played the partisan card (while accusing Netanyahu of doing the same), pushing Democrats to abandon what was formerly a true bipartisan consensus against Iran and seeking to undermine the pro-Israel coalition in Congress. But as long as pundits are discussing or bashing Netanyahu, these issues have been marginalized. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing even when it comes to sniping at the Israeli leader.

Kerry’s absurd overreach against Netanyahu while lamely seeking to defend his current concessions to Iran shows that the administration has reached the point of diminishing returns with respect to the Israeli. Whether Netanyahu was wise to plan this speech is now beside the point. The more the administration seeks to shut him up, the more credence his remarks get. Whereas the address might have been just a Washington story had the White House not gone ballistic about it, it will now be treated as a major international event raising the stakes on the Iran debate just at the moment the administration would like to calm things down. The time has come for the administration to back down and let him talk lest the country listen to Netanyahu’s arguments and realize the president is selling them a bill of goods on Iran.

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Who’s Destroying the U.S.-Israel Relationship? Obama Deserves the Blame.

It was President Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who said the administration never wanted to waste a crisis. The maxim appears to still be cherished by the president’s current advisors. The latest administration shot fired at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, this time by National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which she charged the Israeli with acting in a way that was “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship, is best understood by Emanuel’s subsequent explanation of his much-quoted statement: “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Netanyahu’s blunder in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress was an opening that the administration has used to change the discussion about Iran’s nuclear threat to its advantage. But it has also given Obama’s team the chance to do something they’ve been longing to do for six years: openly attack Israel’s government. Yet while they are enjoying doing that, no one should be under any illusions about the fault for the problems between Israel and the United States being solely the fault of Netanyahu.

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It was President Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who said the administration never wanted to waste a crisis. The maxim appears to still be cherished by the president’s current advisors. The latest administration shot fired at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, this time by National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which she charged the Israeli with acting in a way that was “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship, is best understood by Emanuel’s subsequent explanation of his much-quoted statement: “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Netanyahu’s blunder in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress was an opening that the administration has used to change the discussion about Iran’s nuclear threat to its advantage. But it has also given Obama’s team the chance to do something they’ve been longing to do for six years: openly attack Israel’s government. Yet while they are enjoying doing that, no one should be under any illusions about the fault for the problems between Israel and the United States being solely the fault of Netanyahu.

As I wrote earlier today, Netanyahu’s decision to turn down an invitation to speak to Senate Democrats is the latest in a series of unforced errors that have aided the administration’s efforts to distract the country from their string of unprecedented concessions to Iran on the nuclear issue. By choosing to accept an invitation from the speaker to speak to Congress in favor of a measure the president opposed—increased sanctions on Iran—Netanyahu allowed the White House to make his alleged breach of protocol the issue rather than the president’s indefensible appeasement of Iran in pursuit of a new détente with the Islamist regime.

That was a tactical error. But if we’re going to discuss who has done the most damage to the U.S.-Israel alliance, the notion that Netanyahu’s willingness to speak up about the administration’s drift to appeasement is the main factor tearing it apart means we’ve left the world of analysis and entered that of fiction. If you want to pin the blame for the decline in closeness, the fault belongs to President Obama.

Let’s remember that this is the same man who came into office determined above all to change one thing about U.S. Middle East policy: create more distance between the U.S. and Israel. At that time, the Obama team took it as a given that the reason peace had eluded the region was that George W. Bush had grown too close to Israel. President Obama did everything he could in subsequent years to change that perception, and he succeeded.

But years of pointless spats with Israel over Jerusalem (though Obama’s predecessors had never recognized Israeli sovereignty over its capital, this administration broke new ground by turning building projects in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods into sources of tension), West Bank settlements (in spite of the fact that Netanyahu agreed at one point to a building freeze), and the terms of a final peace settlement brought the region not one inch closer to peace. That’s because no matter how much Obama tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, they were still uninterested in a peace deal. But not even Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas torpedoing peace talks by making a deal with Hamas and heading to the United Nations in violation of his Oslo Accords commitments could convince this administration that the fault for their failure was the fault of anyone but Netanyahu.

Though the Obama administration did increase security cooperation and funding for defense projects like the Iron Dome missile-defense system, it also sought to undermine Israeli self-defense against Hamas attacks at every step, even cutting off the resupply of ammunition during last summer’s Gaza war.

But it is on Iran, an entente with which seems to have become the chief obsession of the president’s second term, that Obama did most to damage the relationship. Though he had pledged that any deal would not allow Iran to keep its nuclear program, a string of concessions has now led to the point where it is clear an agreement would allow it to become a threshold nuclear power. The latest U.S. retreat is now an offer to allow Iran to do anything it likes with its nuclear toys after a ten-year freeze. Moreover, the president’s decision to acquiesce to Iran’s military moves in Iraq and the continuation in power of Tehran ally Bashar Assad in Syria have signaled a major U.S. policy shift. While moderate Arab nations and Israel are worried about Iran’s successful drive for regional hegemony, the administration appears to be encouraging it.

Just as important, it is the administration that has done most to make Israel a partisan issue by trying to break up the bipartisan coalition in favor of Iran sanctions on party lines. Throughout the last few months it has been Obama who has been playing the partisan card to stop Iran sanctions even though prominent Democrats like New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez were leading the charge against his dangerous policies.

It is these actions and not Netanyahu’s inept decisions that are truly damaging the relationship. Blame the prime minister all you want for allowing his speech to become the cause célèbre symbolizing the breakdown in relations under Obama, but it has always been the president who has been the prime mover in damaging the alliance.

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Another Unforced Error for Netanyahu

What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

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What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

As his official response indicates, it is likely that the prime minister’s office saw the invitation as a trap rather than an opportunity to counter the White House spin of his speech as the Israeli government taking sides with Republicans against the White House on the question of Iran sanctions. Since he rightly believes that speaking to Congress about the dangers from Iran’s nuclear program and the need for increased sanctions is an issue that transcends partisan loyalties, Netanyahu may have thought that accepting the invite from the Democrats would have been a tacit admission that he had erred in cooking up the speech with Boehner.

He may have been right about that. But, once again, the prime minister and his advisors—people who have a better grasp of Washington culture than most Israelis—have gotten so deep into the issue that they’ve lost sight of political reality. Rightly or wrongly, the speech to Congress is widely seen as a Netanyahu attack on Obama that is resented even by Democrats who agree with the prime minister and disagree with the president on Iran sanctions and the direction of the negotiations with Tehran. Rather than viewing the invitation from the Senate Democrats negatively, he should have taken it as an opportunity to prove that he had no interest in playing one party against another. If there were a problem with the perception of him meeting with one group of senators—something that is far from unprecedented—it wouldn’t have been too hard to persuade Republicans to meet with him too.

Instead, by stubbornly sticking to his narrative about the speech to Congress and ignoring the need to acknowledge that the story has gotten away from him, Netanyahu has done more damage to his reputation and, once again, assisted the administration’s efforts to brand him as a disruptive force within the alliance. Just at the moment when it seemed the discussion was shifting from one about the prime minister’s chutzpah to the latest dangerous round of concessions being offered to Iran by the president, we get another news cycle in which the focus is on Netanyahu’s incompetent management of relations with people who should be his allies in Congress.

Acknowledging this latest blunder doesn’t mean that Netanyahu’s position on Iran isn’t correct. The administration’s reported offer of a ten-year freeze with Tehran that would grant Western approval not only for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but its eventual acquisition of a weapon is a betrayal of the president’s 2008 and 2012 campaign pledges on the issue. Though some were accusing Israel of making up stories about the talks in order to discredit the diplomatic process, it now appears that the worst fears about Obama’s push for détente with Iran are coming true. Rather than stopping Iran, the administration’s priority is making common cause with it to the detriment of the security of both America’s moderate Arab allies and the Jewish state.

This is the moment when the bipartisan pro-Israel community in this country should be uniting behind a push for more sanctions on Iran and opposition to appeasement of its nuclear ambitions. But by walking right into Obama’s trap, Netanyahu has reduced the chances of passing sanctions by a veto-proof majority. And by doubling down on this by refusing to meet with Senate Democrats, he has ensured that his speech will continue to be interpreted through a partisan lens rather than as a necessary cry of alarm that should be taken up by both parties.

It’s possible that, as I wrote yesterday, the duel with the White House may actually be helping Netanyahu in his reelection fight at home since it puts Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog in the unenviable position of being the Israeli ally of a president that is rightly viewed with suspicion by most voters in the Jewish state. But you don’t have to sympathize with either Obama or Herzog to understand that Netanyahu’s blunders are deepening the divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israel just at the moment when he should be redoubling his efforts to bridge them.

In the first six years of this administration, Netanyahu was roundly abused in the American press for his arguments with the president. But on the whole he conducted himself with dignity and strength and was rarely outmaneuvered. But in the last two months, Netanyahu has not been able to get out of his own way when it comes to managing relations with Congress or the White House. It may be too late for him to step back from the speech. But it isn’t too late to try and rectify the harm he is doing by rethinking his rejection of the Democrats’ invitation.

I don’t know exactly who is advising him to make these unforced errors but whoever it is, they should be fired or ignored in the future. Whether or not Netanyahu is reelected next month, the next prime minister of Israel is going to need both Republicans and Democrats in the years to come to maintain the alliance and to manage the growing threat from Iran that Obama is encouraging rather than stopping. Much to my surprise and others who thought him a brilliant political operator, Netanyahu seems to have forgotten that.

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Obama’s Uncomfortable Israeli Ally

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog stated the obvious when he noted today that both the Israeli government and its opposition agreed on the nuclear threat from Iran. But as much as he shares Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conviction that Israel cannot tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon, he wants no part of a joint trip to Washington with his rival. Herzog rejected the invitation from the Likud to join the prime minister when he goes to Congress in early March. But while there are good reasons for both Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state to question the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation to address a joint session of Congress, Herzog’s unwillingness to play along with Netanyahu’s gambit demonstrates that a move that has actually worsened the chances of Congress passing more sanctions may be helping the prime minister politically at home more than it is hurting him. By forcing Herzog to declare himself ready to trust the Obama administration to do the right thing on Iran—just at a time when it appears to be making even more concessions that endanger the security of the West and Israel—Netanyahu could be ensuring his reelection next month.

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Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog stated the obvious when he noted today that both the Israeli government and its opposition agreed on the nuclear threat from Iran. But as much as he shares Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conviction that Israel cannot tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon, he wants no part of a joint trip to Washington with his rival. Herzog rejected the invitation from the Likud to join the prime minister when he goes to Congress in early March. But while there are good reasons for both Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state to question the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation to address a joint session of Congress, Herzog’s unwillingness to play along with Netanyahu’s gambit demonstrates that a move that has actually worsened the chances of Congress passing more sanctions may be helping the prime minister politically at home more than it is hurting him. By forcing Herzog to declare himself ready to trust the Obama administration to do the right thing on Iran—just at a time when it appears to be making even more concessions that endanger the security of the West and Israel—Netanyahu could be ensuring his reelection next month.

With only three weeks to go before Israeli voters head to the polls, the race between Netanyahu’s Likud and the Zionist Union bloc led by Herzog is still too close to call in terms of which party will get the most Knesset seats. But the coalition math in which either party must negotiate deals with several smaller parties in order to get to a 61-seat majority and the right to govern still favors Netanyahu. In order to become the next prime minister, Herzog is going to have to finish first by a healthy margin and then put together a tenuous coalition including the religious and centrist parties but excluding the anti-Zionist Arabs.

Pulling off such a feat is possible but not likely. And the more Netanyahu is able to position himself as the sole figure standing up to American pressure on the Palestinians and fighting against appeasement of Iran, the worse Herzog’s chances look. Thus, it might have made sense to make some gesture of national unity that would have enabled him to steal at least some of Netanyahu’s thunder in Washington. But Herzog can’t do it. Why? Because the rationale underlying his candidacy is a critique of the way Netanyahu has messed up the alliance with the United States.

Herzog rightly understood that the invitation to join Netanyahu was a political stunt and that the Likud was hoping he would say no. The opposition leader isn’t wrong to view the speech as now having a lot more to do with Israeli domestic politics than an effective effort to stop an administration determined to cut a deal with Iran on any terms, even if its provisions virtually concede its status as a threshold nuclear power and will eventually allow the regime to build a weapon with impunity. But the problem for Herzog is not in diagnosing the futility of Netanyahu’s speech or the fact that it has helped President Obama pick off wavering Democrats and therefore prevent the creation of a veto-proof majority for increased sanctions on Iran. Rather, it is in being put in the position of being Obama’s man in Jerusalem just at a time when the president seems to be betraying Israel’s interests in the Iran talks rather than just engaging in another pointless spat with Netanyahu.

There’s no question that the White House will be holding its breath on March 17 and the days following the Israeli vote hoping that somehow Herzog and his ally Tzipi Livni can prevail. Herzog seems to appreciate this and is saying nothing to indicate that he will make trouble for Obama on Iran or any other issue.

But Herzog has to be worried about two things happening that would make Netanyahu’s congressional speech more than a campaign speech.

One is the very real possibility that the U.S. will cut a deal with Iran in the next couple of weeks that will give the Islamist regime the right to hold onto to its nuclear toys and give it a chance—whether by a breakout or waiting out a freeze period such as the one suggested by the U.S. this week—that will give it a nuclear weapon. If the president who is already deeply unpopular in Israel agrees to a deal that is widely seen as undermining Israeli security, Herzog will be hard-put to continue to claim that he can defend Israel’s interests more effectively than Netanyahu by warming up the relationship with Obama. At that point, he will be forced into a stance that will be a faint echo of Netanyahu’s full-throated opposition to an Iran deal and irrelevance.

But even if a deal isn’t struck before the speech or the election, Herzog still has to be concerned about the administration’s push for Iran détente becoming more overt. Indeed, the closer we get to a deal, whether or not it is signed, the steady stream of U.S. concessions to the Islamist regime makes Herzog’s position as Obama’s favorite in the elections more untenable than ever. Though Obama would like to help Herzog, the irony is that the harder he tries to achieve his main second-term foreign-policy goal—an entente with Iran—the worse Herzog’s chances may be. While Herzog is right to say that, if elected, he would, at least initially, be able to warm up relations with Obama, being cozy with someone who is getting cozy with Iran is a very uncomfortable place to be for a man who wants to be elected prime minister of Israel.

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Why the Fake Story About the Mossad Contradicting Netanyahu?

Yesterday the headlines in the Guardian and Al Jazeera trumpeted what seemed like a very juicy story. According to leaked South African intelligence cables obtained by Al Jazeera and shared with the Guardian, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had come to conclusions that “contradicted” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertions about Iran’s nuclear program in his 2012 speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The charge was repeated today in a story published by the New York Times. If true, then Netanyahu’s speech, best remembered for the cartoon bomb illustration he brandished, would be exposed as political hyperbole. But a closer look at the speech and the leaked cable shows that the headlines aren’t justified. In fact, they are downright false. That leads us to ask the question why major media outlets are seeking to discredit Netanyahu with misleading stories just at the moment when details about President Obama’s latest nuclear offer to Iran has become public. The answer reveals a great deal about both the bias of the press and the stakes in the Iran nuclear debate.

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Yesterday the headlines in the Guardian and Al Jazeera trumpeted what seemed like a very juicy story. According to leaked South African intelligence cables obtained by Al Jazeera and shared with the Guardian, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had come to conclusions that “contradicted” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertions about Iran’s nuclear program in his 2012 speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The charge was repeated today in a story published by the New York Times. If true, then Netanyahu’s speech, best remembered for the cartoon bomb illustration he brandished, would be exposed as political hyperbole. But a closer look at the speech and the leaked cable shows that the headlines aren’t justified. In fact, they are downright false. That leads us to ask the question why major media outlets are seeking to discredit Netanyahu with misleading stories just at the moment when details about President Obama’s latest nuclear offer to Iran has become public. The answer reveals a great deal about both the bias of the press and the stakes in the Iran nuclear debate.

Unpacking the assertions in the Al Jazeera/Guardian story isn’t difficult. As Mitch Ginsburg points out today in the Times of Israel, the crux of that story is that the leaked documents say that in 2012, the Mossad told its South African counterparts that, “Iran at this time is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” That led both papers (dutifully echoed by the Times a day later) to claim that Netanyahu’s “inflammatory rhetoric” and “alarmist tone” about the prospect of an Iranian bomb was not only unjustified but a lie made out of whole cloth.

That is damning stuff indeed. But what exactly did Netanyahu say in September 2012 while brandishing a picture of a Wile E. Coyote-style bomb?

By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move[d] on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.

Let’s be clear about this. Netanyahu did not say that Iran would have a bomb in a few months. He just said they were enriching enough uranium to create a bomb. That is not a minor distinction. And on that point, there was no disagreement between the Mossad and the prime minister. Which is to say this big story is no story at all. But the much-ballyhooed “contradiction” which was not actually a contradiction is still being reported throughout the world and on cable news networks as a flaw in Netanyahu’s arguments and a blow to his credibility.

It is true that the heads of Israel’s intelligence agencies have at times clashed with Netanyahu. That was particularly true in 2012 when rumors were rife that the prime minister and his former rival and then coalition partner Ehud Barak, serving as defense minister at that time, were thinking seriously about ordering a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The spooks were worried that such a plan couldn’t work, would alienate the United States and, more to the point, might be rendered unnecessary by covert activities such as cyber attacks on the Iranian program and assassinations of scientists. As it turns out, the spy agency and its American counterparts overestimated the damage that their Stuxnet attack on the Iranian computer systems could do. Though Tehran experienced a setback, all indications are that covert action conclusively failed to halt the Iranian program.

But the decision to go big with a story undermining Netanyahu this week is no accident. Yesterday we learned that Israel’s warnings that the U.S. was offering massive concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks were entirely true. The administration told the press that it was presenting the Iranians with a proposal that would not only allow them to keep most of their existing nuclear infrastructure and lift sanctions but that all they were asking them to do was to freeze their development for ten years after which restrictions would be lifted. Combined with the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency that showed the Iranians were continuing to stonewall efforts to inspect sites that would allow the UN body to discover how much progress had been made toward weaponization, and what you get is a picture of a negotiating process whose only aim is to foster détente between the U.S. and Iran, not one whose purpose is to spike their nuclear ambitions.

The weaponization aspect of that report is significant particularly in light of the attention given the Mossad’s 2012 conclusions. At that time it wasn’t clear whether the Iranians were close to a bomb. Neither the U.S. nor Israel knows the answer to that question today either. But what we do know is that Netanyahu’s predictions about Iran’s capabilities were not only vindicated but may well become accepted by the West in the wake of President Obama’s proposal.

Thus at this moment, damaging Netanyahu’s credibility, even if it means shading the truth or inventing a contradiction when there is none, has become vital for those who believe confronting Iran over its nuclear program is a mistake. No matter how many brickbats are hurled at him by the media or how many tactical mistakes he and his staff may make as they are being outmaneuvered in Washington by the White House, the fact remains that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a deadly threat to the security of the West and the moderate Arab nations as well as an existential challenge to Israel’s existence. But the president’s apologists will have to do better than a misleading Mossad story if they are to succeed in silencing the critics of Obama’s Iran appeasement.

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Iran Talks Continue U.S. Nuclear Retreat

The latest round of nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and its Western partners and Iran ended today in Geneva without agreement. But it’s clear that the Obama administration is hoping that its latest concessions will entice Iran to finally sign a document in the coming weeks that could somehow be interpreted as a foreign-policy victory for a president badly in need of one. To support this notion of an impending deal, a “senior administration official” briefed the press on the outlines of the latest proposal delivered to the Iranians. But while it seems like something Tehran ought to pounce on if it really wants to “get right with the world,” in the president’s words, the details tell us more about the administration’s desperation than about progress toward an accord that would conclusively end the Iranian nuclear threat. After several previous Western retreats that had gradually ensured that Iran could keep its nuclear infrastructure, the latest concession in the form of a phased program will eventually grant the Islamist regime the freedom to do anything it wants.

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The latest round of nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and its Western partners and Iran ended today in Geneva without agreement. But it’s clear that the Obama administration is hoping that its latest concessions will entice Iran to finally sign a document in the coming weeks that could somehow be interpreted as a foreign-policy victory for a president badly in need of one. To support this notion of an impending deal, a “senior administration official” briefed the press on the outlines of the latest proposal delivered to the Iranians. But while it seems like something Tehran ought to pounce on if it really wants to “get right with the world,” in the president’s words, the details tell us more about the administration’s desperation than about progress toward an accord that would conclusively end the Iranian nuclear threat. After several previous Western retreats that had gradually ensured that Iran could keep its nuclear infrastructure, the latest concession in the form of a phased program will eventually grant the Islamist regime the freedom to do anything it wants.

The proposed terms leaked by the U.S. represent a shocking demarche from the president’s 2012 promise that any deal would mean Iran would have to give up its nuclear program. As the Associated Press reports:

The United States and Iran are working on a two-phase deal that clamps down on Tehran’s nuclear program for at least a decade before providing it leeway over the remainder of the agreement to slowly ramp up activities that could be used to make weapons. …

The U.S. initially sought restrictions lasting for up to 20 years; Iran had pushed for less than a decade. The prospective deal appears to be somewhere in the middle. One variation being discussed would place at least 10-year regime of strict controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. If Iran complies, the restrictions would be gradually lifted over the last five years of such an agreement.

Iran could be allowed to operate significantly more centrifuges than the U.S. administration first demanded, though at lower capacity than they currently run. Several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise, with the U.S. trying to restrict them to Iran’s mainstay IR-1 model instead of more advanced machines.

While in theory this could mean that Iran would be prevented from building a bomb during the next decade, it more or less puts in place a Western acquiescence to future plans for a bomb.

But there are two clear problems with this idea.

One is that like past concessions giving Iran the right to enrich uranium, albeit at low levels and then the one authorizing the regime to hold onto thousands of centrifuges and the option to keep its nuclear stockpile in a non-active state, this latest retreat isn’t the last one Iran will expect the West to make on its way to an agreement. The dynamic of the negotiations that President Obama has authorized is clear. Whenever Iran says no to a Western demand, the U.S. simply says OK and gives in. At this stage, and with no sign that the Americans will ever walk away from talks that have already been extended three times, the Iranians clearly think they can keep negotiating indefinitely until the U.S. eventually agrees to a deal that would give Iran everything it wants, seriously endangering the security of the West but also that of Israel and moderate Arab nations.

The second problem is that, as last week’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency stated, Iran is still stonewalling the UN body’s efforts to discover the facts about their progress toward weaponization of their nuclear research. The West simply has no idea how close the Iranians have gotten to a bomb. They also have no idea how much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is unknown to them. While Israeli and Western intelligence have openly speculated about the likelihood that much of the country’s nuclear work is being conducted at secret facilities, without a rigorous inspection regime that would give the IAEA access there is not a ghost of a chance that any regulation scheme could possibly work to restrain Iran, no matter how many carrots President Obama is offering his Islamist negotiating partners.

Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that the Israeli government is upset. While the administration is intent on using the nuclear talks as a wedge by which it can create a new détente with Iran that will ensure cooperation on a host of issues such as the fight against ISIS, in practice what it is doing is acquiescing to Tehran’s push for regional hegemony. Even in the unlikely event that Iran observes the proposed agreement, giving it this much capacity will make it a threshold nuclear power and a clear threat to the future of Israel (which it again threatened with destruction last week) as well as moderate Arab regimes.

Though the president’s apologists will, as they have with past concessions, defend this proposal as the best deal that can be made, Washington’s zeal for a deal is again the undoing of Western resolve. Kicking the can down the road for ten years may make sense to a president that has less than two more years in office. But the security of the West and its allies must be viewed with a longer perspective.

Yet what has to be most frustrating for observers who care about stopping the Iranian nuclear threat is the willingness of the administration to publicize concessions in such a way as to make them the starting point for future talks. With this ten-year pledge in their pocket, you can bet the next round of negotiations will begin with Iranian demands to lower the amount of time they will have to operate under restrictions. At this rate by 2016, Obama will have given away any shred of a deterrent to Iranian cheating or its future nuclear ambitions.

Though the administration thinks this leak will bolster its position, members of Congress who take this issue seriously should regard it as an even greater incentive for them to pass more sanctions on Iran that will attempt to restrain the desire of this president to accept any deal, even a disastrous one, rather than ever admit that his outreach to a tyrannical, anti-Semitic, terror-sponsoring Iranian regime has failed.

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An IAEA Report and Obama’s Zeal for a Deal

The decision by the Obama administration to cut Israel out of the loop when it comes to information about the secret nuclear negotiations with Iran has once again put the feud between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back into the spotlight. The decision was based on White House allegations that the Israelis were distorting the facts about the generous U.S. offer to the Islamist regime. But a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to find out what’s really going on in their nuclear facilities puts this dispute in a very different light. With the Americans seeking to allow Iran the right to keep several thousand centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile, the stonewalling of the IAEA should cause observers to think carefully about the secrets the U.S. is keeping and whether they reflect the president’s zeal for a deal with Iran more than his past promises to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

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The decision by the Obama administration to cut Israel out of the loop when it comes to information about the secret nuclear negotiations with Iran has once again put the feud between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back into the spotlight. The decision was based on White House allegations that the Israelis were distorting the facts about the generous U.S. offer to the Islamist regime. But a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to find out what’s really going on in their nuclear facilities puts this dispute in a very different light. With the Americans seeking to allow Iran the right to keep several thousand centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile, the stonewalling of the IAEA should cause observers to think carefully about the secrets the U.S. is keeping and whether they reflect the president’s zeal for a deal with Iran more than his past promises to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA reported yesterday that Iran was continuing to refuse to answer questions or allow inspections of sites that would reveal the extent of their military nuclear research. This is a crucial problem because without the UN body knowing what work Iran has done on nuclear weapons and designs, any accord based on incomplete Western intelligence or untrustworthy Iranian admissions would be meaningless. More to the point, if, as President Obama seems likely to do, the sanctions on Iran are lifted after a deal is signed, the gaps in Western knowledge of the Iranian program may allow the Islamist regime to simply proceed toward a weapon with facilities and research about which the U.S. is currently unaware.

As the New York Times notes:

The report said the agency “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Because Iran has not provided explanations for the agency’s questions about all nuclear-related work, the report said, “the agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

The problems with negotiating with Iran are well known.

On the one hand, their negotiating tactics have always revolved around delaying tactics that seek to draw out the talks in such a way that their Western interlocutors are enticed to make a series of concessions in the hope that the Iranians will finally agree. Running out the clock in this manner both sweetens a potential deal for them—as Obama’s shocking abandonment of his past principles illustrates—as well as allowing their program extra time in which to get closer to their nuclear goal.

These tactics have exploited President Obama’s open desire for détente with Iran. But in the absence of credible intelligence on their ability to “break out” to a bomb, Washington is negotiating in the dark.

The outline of a deal with Iran is already clear. As numerous reports have already established, the U.S. is prepared to allow Iran to keep most, if not all of its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for promises that it has no assurances will be kept. That will make Iran a threshold nuclear power even if it doesn’t violate the terms of the agreement. Once sanctions are lifted, it will be difficult, if not impossible to put them back in place. No matter how weak the deal or how unlikely Iran is to keep its word, President Obama will seize on it as a major foreign-policy achievement and not be inclined to question anything the Iranians do.

Thus, the Israeli alarm about this act of appeasement is more than justified. But even if you doubt Netanyahu’s judgment, the stonewalling of the IAEA should worry even the most ardent supporters of the president’s policy. Without firm knowledge of Iran’s capabilities and research—something that is unlikely to be obtained given the secretive nature of the regime and its extensive and widely dispersed nuclear facilities—U.S. guarantees about stopping Iran long before a bomb can be constructed seem like hollow promises. Put in this context, Netanyahu’s sniping about U.S. policy seems less like the pointless spat depicted in the U.S. press and more like reasonable complaints about a dangerous and secret initiative that deserve to be treated seriously.

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Elie Wiesel and the Defense of Jewish Life

Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

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Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

According to Beinart, this is just one more example of Wiesel being “blind to the harm that Jews cause.” Whatever your opinion about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to give the speech (and I’ve repeatedly questioned it), the notion that an Israeli leader speaking up to urge the world to stop Iran obtaining the ability to threaten or to carry out another Holocaust is causing “harm” is not only outrageous. It speaks volumes about the mindset of Beinart and others like him who view Jewish self-defense with more alarm than the continued efforts of those who seek to slaughter Jews.

I think Netanyahu made a terrible tactical mistake by choosing to inject himself into a debate over Iran sanctions that the side he supported was already winning. President Obama’s efforts to spike those sanctions was given a major boost when, fairly or not, Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol became the issue, diverting the nation from the administration’s indefensible efforts to promote détente with Iran. But since Netanyahu is determined to go ahead with the speech, his critics are not so much focused on his blunder as on their desire to silence all discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat so as to give more room for Obama’s push for appeasement.

Beinart claims Wiesel made two unsupported statements in his letter. The first is that the U.S. and Iran are on the verge of a “terrible” deal. The second is that an Iranian nuclear weapon could mean the “annihilation and destruction” of Israel. Yet there’s not much to Beinart’s objections here.

There’s not much dispute about the terms the U.S. is currently offering Iran. Discarding his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama has already put on the table an offer that would allow the Islamist regime to retain thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium as well as letting them keep control of their stockpile of nuclear fuel. Administration apologists claim that this is the best that the West can do in any bargain with Iran, but Beinart doesn’t even bother to make that weak argument but simply writes as if the much discussed terms of the negotiations are a mystery that will only be revealed at the signing ceremony. Such terms would not be much of a deterrent to stop Iran from building a bomb; the only question being whether a nuclear “breakout” would take a year or, as many intelligence sources insist, far less time. Nor does he deign to dispute that even if Iran initially abided by those terms, it would make Tehran a nuclear threshold state that would make this terrorist sponsoring government more powerful, aiding its drive for regional hegemony.

Even less convincing is Beinart’s claim that an Iranian nuke wouldn’t be an existential threat to Israel. Though he can quote some retired Israeli security officials downplaying the threat, he knows very well that the dispute in those circles is not so much about the danger but about the best way to counter it with many deprecating the possibility of an Israeli military strike.

Though Iran might not use such a weapon to destroy Israel, their possession of one does raise such a possibility for two reasons. One is that they are building ballistic missiles that could deliver such a bomb. The other is that leading figures of this unabashedly anti-Semitic regime have repeatedly stated their desire to annihilate Israel.

Put in that context, Wiesel’s assertions are unexceptionable. Indeed, if one goes back and reads many of President Obama’s statements about an Iranian weapon in his first term during which he pledged never to allow such a development to take place, Wiesel’s position actually seems in concert with that of the administration.

But Beinart’s real agenda here isn’t to make weak arguments in defense of the administration’s efforts to build a new entente with Tehran. Rather, it is to denounce Wiesel’s instinct to defend Israel’s government against efforts to delegitimize its attempts to defend the Jewish state. Because he thinks, or at least at one point thought, about the writer as a symbol of concern for human rights, Beinart is appalled that Wiesel thinks Israel shouldn’t be forced to make unilateral concessions or that Jerusalem should be divided. He thinks he should be in the forefront of those flaying Israel for its policies on the West Bank rather than defending its current government as he has its predecessors led by both Likud and Labor prime ministers.

But again, this tells us more about Wiesel’s grasp of the essence of the conflict than any alleged insensitivity to the sufferings of the Palestinians. To the contrary, Wiesel has always been outspoken about the need to respect the humanity and the rights of Palestinians. But at the same time he has celebrated Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem because that means for the first time in its history, all faiths have access to their holy places.

Moreover, Wiesel’s defense of Israeli efforts to defend its people against a continuing campaign of Palestinian terrorism isn’t insensitive to non-Jews. He grasps that it is the Palestinian national organizations that have perpetuated this conflict despite repeated Israeli offers of peace and independence that have been turned down flat by both Fatah and Hamas.

Beinart rightly senses that so long as an icon of humanity like Wiesel is willing to stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself and to not be forced into unilateral and suicidal concessions, non-Jews will understand that the Jewish state’s rights should be respected. Whatever one may think of the current government of Israel, the notion that its efforts to preserve the existence of the state and the security of its people “defile” Wiesel’s ideals is a monstrous distortion of the truth. For those who have wrongly come to view Israel as the villain in the Middle East conflict and who reflexively deny the Palestinians’ rejection of peace and coexistence, any defense of Israel is too much, even when it comes from someone whose bona fides as an authority on human rights dwarf those of a Peter Beinart.

In the context of the politics of either Israel or the United States, Wiesel is a not right-winger or an opponent of compromise, assuming that peace with the Palestinians were ever possible. He is, rather, a centrist who simply sticks to consensus issues like Iran and a united Jerusalem. But to the likes of Beinart, even those positions are anathema.

Beinart’s current niche in the secular media is as a Jewish writer who can be relied upon to denounce Israel’s government so it is little surprise that he would defend appeasement of Iran. But when he matches his puny stature as a critic of the Jewish state against Wiesel’s standing as an advocate of Jewish life, he is out of his depth. By bashing the famous survivor in this manner, he is doing more to damage his own tattered reputation than undermining that of Wiesel.

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Obama’s Secret Iran Talks Deserve Scrutiny

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

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Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

For the past few weeks, concerns about the details of the terms the U.S. is offering to Iran in the nuclear talks have been obscured by the controversy about Netanyahu’s determination to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about Iran. As I’ve pointed out, accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation was a tactical blunder on Netanyahu’s part since it allowed the president and his apologists to divert the discussion about Iran from his indefensible pursuit of an entente with a radical terror-sponsoring tyranny to one about the Israeli’s alleged breach of protocol. This was a no-win confrontation for Israel and its friends that may have made it harder for Congress to pass tougher sanctions on Iran with a veto-proof majority because of defections from Democrats concerned about not taking sides with a foreign leader against the president. But the Journal report reminds us that the stakes here involve a lot more than the personal animus between Obama and Netanyahu.

The decision of the U.S. to keep Israel out of the loop about the details of its talks with Iran makes sense only inside the White House bubble where Netanyahu—the democratically-elected leader of America’s ally—is perceived as an enemy and the theocrat tyrant Khamenei is viewed as the head of a nation that must be wooed and won over in an effort to forge an entente with Tehran. Diplomacy is always best practiced outside of public view, but the problem with the discussion about Iran is that the administration’s public stand about its desire to prevent the regime from getting a nuclear weapon is at odds with everything we know about the negotiations.

As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius pointed out yesterday, the White House continues to claim that its offers to let Iran keep much of its nuclear infrastructure are misunderstood. He writes that officials say granting Iran the right to keep several thousands centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel would actually be tougher than one that would give them only a few hundred newer machines and a larger stockpile. But this is a classic Obama false choice in which a straw man is set up for the administration to knock down. What the Israelis and concerned members of Congress who support the threat of more sanctions want is for the president to keep his 2012 campaign pledge that stated that any deal would involve the end of Iran’s nuclear program. The administration has abandoned that position in favor of one that gives Iran the ability to build a bomb but only under circumstances that would take more than a year for them to “break out” to a weapon.

The problem with the one-year breakout offer is that there is a good argument to be made by the Israelis and others that the breakout period would be much shorter. Moreover, the idea that U.S. intelligence in Iran is good enough to detect the breakout in time to do something to prevent is, to put it mildly, a dubious assumption.

American officials may be angry about the fact that the Israelis are doing their best to publicize the details about American offers to Iran that make it clear that, at best, the U.S. is prepared to acquiesce to Khamenei’s regime becoming a threshold nuclear power. But, like their much publicized hurt feelings about Netanyahu’s speech to Congress that they’ve used to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of supporters of more sanctions, their umbrage about the Israeli disclosures rings false. The more we know about Obama’s communications with Khamenei and the fine print in the Western offers in the nuclear negotiations, the more it seems certain that détente is the president’s goal, not putting an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Disputes with Israel are being used as a cover to shield a diplomatic offensive aimed at allowing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. If the president expects the country and Congress to follow his lead on Iran, it’s only fair to ask where he is leading us before, rather than after, he signs a nuclear deal that endangers U.S. allies and puts American security in the hands of the supreme leader and his terrorist auxiliaries.

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Can Iran Be Trusted On Nukes? Can Obama?

Though a vote won’t be held on a new Iran sanctions bill until late March, the question of what is exactly going on in the talks between the West and Tehran deserves more attention. The chattering classes have focused largely on a pointless dispute about whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to Congress in March about Iran. But the real issue is the substance of the current negotiations. As a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the clear intent of the Obama administration is to acquiesce to Iran’s demands to be allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure as well as treat the regime, as a legitimate regional power in the Middle East is no longer in much doubt. That leaves observers asking two very important questions. One is whether Iran can be trusted to keep the terms of any nuclear deal it signs. The other is whether the Obama administration can be trusted to hold the Iranians accountable.

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Though a vote won’t be held on a new Iran sanctions bill until late March, the question of what is exactly going on in the talks between the West and Tehran deserves more attention. The chattering classes have focused largely on a pointless dispute about whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to Congress in March about Iran. But the real issue is the substance of the current negotiations. As a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the clear intent of the Obama administration is to acquiesce to Iran’s demands to be allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure as well as treat the regime, as a legitimate regional power in the Middle East is no longer in much doubt. That leaves observers asking two very important questions. One is whether Iran can be trusted to keep the terms of any nuclear deal it signs. The other is whether the Obama administration can be trusted to hold the Iranians accountable.

As the Post points out, the danger inherent in the administration’s Iran policy is that by letting them keep thousands of centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile that could be quickly re-activated to allow it to build a weapon, the terms currently being discussed will, at the very least, allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power. Though he continues to insist, as he has since he first started running for president in 2007, that he won’t let Iran get a nuclear weapon, the president doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. Why? The answer is that Obama believes that the U.S. and Iran have common interests that will allow them to cooperate together in the region and that the ayatollahs have too much to gain from a reconciliation with the West in terms of their nation’s economy to want to risk it all by building a bomb.

But the problem with that formulation is that it is fundamentally mistaken. Iran has no interest in America’s need for regional stability and preserving moderate Arab regimes allied with the West, let alone protecting the existence of the state of Israel. To the contrary, it hopes to threaten both the Arab states and Israel via the threat of a nuclear weapon as well as keeping the pressure on them through the use of its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries and allied terror groups like Hamas. Yet Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon as well as its progress on ballistic missiles means that this is a problem that concerns the entire West and not just Israel and the Arabs.

That is why the bipartisan sanctions bill proposed by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez is so important. It provides at least a measure of accountability to the process since it raises the price for Iran for dragging out negotiations or for continuing to refuse to accept even another weak deal with the West like the interim agreement signed in November 2013.

Even more to the point, is the question of whether even a weak deal, such as the one Obama and Kerry embraced in 2013 can be enforced by this or subsequent administrations. To date, the administration has refused to take seriously charges that the Iranians are already cheating on the interim deal. The dynamic of the process is such that the president views any such questions or even threats of more sanctions with hostility because he sees them as a threat to his goal of a rapprochement with Iran.

This is problematic because so long as Iran believes that Washington won’t take violations of a nuclear deal seriously, it will feel free to push the envelope on more cheating. Since the president has already conceded that, as the Post wrote, “a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and restrict that capability,” it is difficult to believe the Islamist regime will think it need worry about the president abandoning a process to which he has become so devoted no matter what they do.

That brings us back to the question of the sanctions bill. Realists must understand that even if the bill is passed and then a threatened presidential veto is overridden, Congress can’t stop Obama from negotiating with Iran and coming up with a bad deal. Nor is it likely that it will be able to force him to put such a treaty to a vote as the Constitution demands since the president will seek to evade that requirement.

Indeed, even if the bill were to become law, the president could also use waivers in the legislation to prevent its enforcement. This is something of a poison pill that was forced on its sponsors by both political expediency (getting more Democratic votes) and legal technicalities (existing sanctions laws also have waivers that could be used by Obama to thwart this bill). But to the credit of both Kirk and Menendez, they have attempted to write their waivers in such a way as to constrict the president from wantonly ignoring the intent of Congress. Though this and other administrations have used waivers to flout the meaning of laws, doing so in this case will involve not merely a desire on the part of the president to ignore Congress but a willingness to lie about Iran’s conduct.

This is a president who has already demonstrated on a host of issues but most notably on immigration that he is not constrained by the normal Constitutional order or even the rule of law. That means that it is difficult to have confidence that any waiver, no matter how carefully it is drafted, will be able to force the president to hold Iran accountable.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Iran talks. It’s not just that given its record as well as its regional and nuclear ambitions, Iran is not to be trusted. It’s that President Obama can also not be trusted to pursue a policy that is aimed at stopping Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear power. Without such accountability, there is no reason for Congress or the American people to trust the outcome of the negotiations.

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Friedman Spreads Anti-Semitic Libels About Netanyahu Speech

The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

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The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

Supporters of the speech, such as Wall Street Journal columnist and COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens, argue that Congress needs an “unvarnished account of the choice to which Mr. Obama proposes to put Israel: either accede to continued diplomacy with Iran, and therefore its de facto nuclearization; or strike Iran militarily in defiance of the U.S. and Mr. Obama’s concordat with Tehran.” I don’t disagree, but as I have written in the last two weeks, I think the decision to give the speech was a grave tactical error on Netanyahu’s part. Congress was in no doubt about Israel’s position and the prime minister could have reached out to members in the same way that British Prime Minister David Cameron has used to back up the president. But by parachuting directly into the debate on Iran sanctions that is taking place in Congress, he ran the risk of being seen as trying to upstage the president in a way that was bound to ruffle the feathers of many pro-Israel Democrats, even those that agree with Netanyahu on the issue. The proposed speech also provided Obama with a heaven-sent chance to divert attention from the administration’s indefensible opposition to strengthening their hand in the nuclear talks with Iran. The prime minister’s alleged chutzpah became the focus of the discussion instead of the president’s clear desire for détente with the Islamist regime, dealing sanctions proponents a clear setback.

But Friedman, who is at least smart enough to seem to harbor some doubts about whether Obama’s diplomacy can succeed, isn’t satisfied with asserting that Netanyahu is making the mistake. Instead, he uses this controversy to return to one of his favorite hobbyhorses: the way pro-Israel political donors, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, are trying to buy Congress in a way that runs contrary to U.S. interests. Claiming, without backing the charge up with reporting, that Adelson hatched the idea is one thing. He even says someone should have told Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer “anti-Semites, who claim Israel controls Washington, will have a field day.” The fact that it is Friedman who has floated this charge in the Times when he complained about the ovations Netanyahu earned the last time he addressed Congress is unmentioned in the column.

Even worse, Friedman then goes on to write that if diplomacy fails and the U.S. is forced to use force to address the Iranian threat, the Netanyahu speech will serve as a smoking gun proving that it was Israel that manipulated America into what might prove to be another disastrous war.

Of course, Friedman frames this as helpful advice intended as advocacy for what is in Israel’s best interests. But by raising the specter of anti-Semitism as well as of what must be considered nothing short of a potential blood libel, Friedman is tipping his own hand.

One can agree with President Obama’s absurd belief that Iran must be appeased on the nuclear issue in order to help it “get right with the world” without raising the specious charge that opponents of this policy who think it will endanger the West as well as Israel are being bought by Jewish money. One can also envision what is at this late date a highly unlikely scenario in which Iran’s refusal to accept Obama’s offers—which would effectively give a Western seal of approval to the Islamist regime becoming a nuclear threshold state—might lead to armed conflict without dropping the hint that the Jews will be the ones who started it.

Yet Friedman can’t avoid those temptations and injects the virus of anti-Semitism into a debate about whether the president is really interested in carrying out his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. By writing of anti-Semitism when virtually no one outside of the fever swamps of the far left and far right are doing so, Friedman is, once again, seeking to tilt the discussion in ways that do exactly what he claims he wishes to avoid.

Though President Obama has sought to paint advocates of more sanctions as warmongers, the truth is just the opposite. More sanctions that would actually press Iran to give up its nuclear toys are, in fact, the only path to successful effort to halt the threat from Tehran by measures short of war. Though it is hard to imagine a president so intent on normalizing relations with Iran ever considering the use of force, if that ever happened in this administration or his successor, it would be the result of the Islamists courting such a conflict, not Israeli political maneuvering. Iran’s ballistic missile program also means stopping it from going nuclear is as much a matter of U.S. security as the safety of Israel.

Anti-Semites need no prompting from Tom Friedman to promote libels against the Jewish state. But by seeking to frame the argument about Netanyahu as one that would justify their ravings, Friedman has crossed a line that no responsible journalist should even approach. Neither Netanyahu nor the pro-Israel community should hesitate to speak up for fear of giving anti-Semites ammunition. The prime minister’s plan to speak may be a tactical blunder but it is the willingness of Friedman to engage in this sort of incitement that is the real disgrace.

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Will Obama Give In to Iran? He Already Has.

Almost all of the coverage about the ongoing controversy about plans for Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month about sanctions on Iran has focused on allegations regarding inappropriate behavior from an ally and breaches of protocol. But an exchange of anonymous quotes from administration and Netanyahu government sources in the Israeli press this weekend should serve as a reminder of what is really at stake in the dispute. Israeli sources said the problem was that the deal that President Obama was working to conclude with Iran would allow it to keep several thousand of its centrifuges and allow it to “breakout” to a nuclear weapon in a matter of months. Anonymous American government sources replied that this was nonsense. But anyone who has been closely following informed coverage of the negotiations knows that far from being misleading, the Israelis are doing nothing but stating the obvious about an American willingness to let Iran become a nuclear threshold state. Rather than discussing Netanyahu’s chutzpah, Americans should be asking some of the same questions as the Israelis.

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Almost all of the coverage about the ongoing controversy about plans for Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month about sanctions on Iran has focused on allegations regarding inappropriate behavior from an ally and breaches of protocol. But an exchange of anonymous quotes from administration and Netanyahu government sources in the Israeli press this weekend should serve as a reminder of what is really at stake in the dispute. Israeli sources said the problem was that the deal that President Obama was working to conclude with Iran would allow it to keep several thousand of its centrifuges and allow it to “breakout” to a nuclear weapon in a matter of months. Anonymous American government sources replied that this was nonsense. But anyone who has been closely following informed coverage of the negotiations knows that far from being misleading, the Israelis are doing nothing but stating the obvious about an American willingness to let Iran become a nuclear threshold state. Rather than discussing Netanyahu’s chutzpah, Americans should be asking some of the same questions as the Israelis.

Though Netanyahu’s fans in the United States and his supporters at home continue to engage in denial about the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, the longer this debate continues, the more it has become obvious that the prime minister blundered. With even reliably pro-Israel Democrats openly discussing boycotts of the speech and others backing away from support for sanctions, the speech has become a dangerous distraction that has served to rally members of the president’s party to back his position even if many are dubious about its merits.

That’s why it’s vital that we stop talking about protocol and return to the core question at the heart of the debate: whether the president’s efforts will redeem his campaign promise that any deal would result in the end of Iran’s nuclear program.

The answer is, unfortunately, that they won’t and that ought to put Netanyahu’s worries in perspective.

We know that this is no longer the objective of American diplomacy because the terms of the interim nuclear deal agreed to by the United States in November 2013 made it clear that Iran was going to be able to keep its infrastructure. That agreement tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium even though its terms slowed down their rate of progress. But as even administration defenders acknowledged, the restrictions on the Iranians’ efforts could be easily reversed in any breakout scenario.

The subsequent negotiations for a final deal were supposed to last only six months, but are now in their third overtime with administration sources acting as if a fourth such extension would not be unthinkable if a deal isn’t reached by July. That’s bad enough. But far worse are the terms currently under discussion. What is the Western offer on the table that the Iranians are rejecting? If you want to know, don’t take the word of official Israeli sources; try reading one of the most sympathetic forums for the administration, the AL Monitor website. Back in November when the Iranians wouldn’t accept President Obama’s proposed deal forcing the U.S. to accept another breach of the deadline, here’s what it reported:

The agreement allows Iran to continue researching its most advanced centrifuges. Israeli sources estimate that this research will be completed within two years. Then, within another six months, the Iranians will be able to install an enormous number of new enrichment centrifuges, which operate at six times the speed of the current batch. This capacity will seriously expedite the potential Iranian “breakout to a bomb.”

Under such circumstances, the Israelis explained to their colleagues, the West will be convinced that it stopped Iran one year before it can build a bomb, when the true amount of time needed will be just two months. Two months, the Israelis told anyone who was willing to listen, is not enough time for the world to respond and block Iran should it decide to proceed at full steam. In other words, the agreement that everyone is talking about is one that would turn Iran into a nuclear threshold state in a very brief amount of time, and immediately enable it to make the quick leap forward to nuclear capabilities, before the world can even respond.

As much as the interim deal had been a far cry from the positions that the president had articulated when running for reelection, this potential deal was even worse in that it would allow the Iranians to keep everything they would need to make a bomb but rely on their promises and the West’s shaky intelligence and restricted United Nations inspections to ensure that they wouldn’t do so. But, AL Monitor noted, that wasn’t the extent of the problem:

Iran is not obligated to dismantle its centrifuge infrastructure, but only to disable the centrifuges. Under those circumstances, in any situation in which the Iranians decide to withdraw from the agreement or violate it, they can get the centrifuge system that they ”neutralized” working again within two weeks. All of this proves that Iran will continue to maintain expansive enrichment capabilities, which can easily be restored to previous capacity and even beyond that within just a few weeks.

Seen from that perspective, the Israeli allegations about the direction of U.S. diplomacy seem very much to the point.

How do we explain the discrepancy between what Obama promised and the sort of agreement he seems to be aiming toward?

The first answer is that the Iranians are much tougher negotiators than the Western team that has been trying to get them to give the president a much-needed foreign-policy triumph. Whenever the Iranians have said no to a demand, the Americans have simply given up and moved on to other points. Secretary of State Kerry even defended this practice after the interim deal by saying that it was better to give in and keep talking than to ask for the impossible. But in practice that has meant that years of talks have now taken the U.S. to a point where they are actually disputing how many hundreds of centrifuges the Iranians will be able to keep, a stance that merely reduces the issue to how long it will take for the Islamists to get their bomb.

But even more to the point is the fact that, as President Obama’s comments about the negotiations have made clear, the goal is not so much to end the nuclear threat as it is to work toward a sort of reconciliation with Tehran without requiring it to halt their support for terrorist groups and cease working toward production of ballistic missiles, let alone give up their nuclear ambitions. Though the president wants to help Iran “get right with the world,” what his efforts are really doing is to advance their efforts toward regional hegemony. This position has influenced the U.S. to form an informal alliance with Iran in Iraq and Syria and frightened and alienated moderate Arab nations as well as the Israelis.

So far from being “nonsense,” Netanyahu’s concerns about the president’s diplomatic goals are very much to the point in the debate about sanctions. With the president showing no sign that he will ever admit that the negotiations have failed, the need to toughen the American position has now become imperative. Democrats might be forgiven for rallying around their leader when they perceive he is under attack. But those who care about nuclear proliferation and a potentially genocidal Iranian threat to both Israel and the West need to forget about protocol and start asking tough questions about what kind of a deal the administration is trying to conclude. Unless something drastic happens to change the American position, the problem isn’t that Obama might adopt a position that will let Iran become a nuclear threshold state. It’s that he has already done so.

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Is Iran Preparing for a Two-Front War Against Israel?

The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

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The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

The aftermath of the dustup along the Lebanese border has been characterized mostly by renewed Israeli efforts to search for evidence of tunnels being dug across the border to facilitate more terror attacks. The construction equipment that has been reported in the vicinity of this week’s assault was widely assumed to be a sign that Hezbollah is preparing for more attacks perhaps this time aimed at killing and kidnapping civilians as well as soldiers.

The context was not just the usual tensions with the terror group but signs that Iran was upping the ante with Israel as it continued to refuse to budge in nuclear talks with the United States and its Western allies. Far from being separate issues, the ability of Iran to deploy its Hezbollah auxiliaries to pressure Israel must be understood as integral to its overall goal of seeking regional hegemony via the chaos in Iraq and the survival of its ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

Tensions with Hamas along Israel’s southern border should be seen in the same light.

Hamas has recently begun moving to renew its alliance with Iran after their split because they backed rival sides in the Syrian civil war. Assad’s victory was achieved with Iranian and Hezbollah help and Hamas has now conceded it made a mistake when it threw in with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to back the rebels.

But it too, has been using the respite since last summer’s war to rebuild. But the rebuilding has not been of the homes of Palestinians who were used as human shields by Hamas. Rather it has been rebuilding its military infrastructure of tunnels and shelters designed to protect its leaders, fighters and arsenal. Talk about international donors being slow to pay their pledges for the costs of rebuilding Gaza should be understood in the context of Hamas using as much of the aid as it can for its own purposes rather than to help those who languish under their despotic rule.

As for the residents of Gaza, Hamas isn’t completely neglecting them. As the Times of Israel reports, the ruling Islamist group has been operating camps for children in recent months. But the kids aren’t learning sports, fitness or arts and crafts. Some 15,000 teenagers have been undergoing terrorist training by the Izaddin al-Qassam, Hamas’s “military wing.” Many of them graduated the course yesterday.

Drills included weapons training and exercises simulating kidnapping IDF soldiers and infiltration into Israel through tunnels. Portraits of Israeli leaders were used in target practice for sniper training.

In case, the International Criminal Court is interested in investigating a real war crime as opposed to compiling charges against Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against terrorist assault, using children in this manner is an atrocity.

But the point of these two stories is that Israel must brace itself for a two-front war if Iran thinks it is in its interest to start one. That should cause President Obama to rethink his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran in which he has already sacrificed his former goal of dismantling their nuclear program. Further appeasement of Tehran will not bring peace to the region. To the contrary, Iran seems bent on expanding its reach and terrorism is the way to do it. With more daylight opening up between Washington and Jerusalem these days, the temptation for Iran to use the leverage it has acquired on Israel’s northern and southern borders may prove irresistible. If the U.S. wants to prevent such an outcome, it needs to be more realistic about the nature of its negotiating partner and more supportive of an ally that remains under siege from Islamist terrorists on two fronts.

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U.S. Must Connect the Dots Between Iran Talks and Hezbollah Violence

The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

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The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

The border violence is generally being reported as part of a tit-for-tat exchange between Hezbollah and Israel. Today’s incident, in which anti-tank shells were fired at Israeli vehicles travelling on a civilian road from three miles away inside Lebanon, is seen by many as retaliation for Israel’s strike at a Hezbollah missile base inside Syria last week in which, among others, an Iranian general was killed. Iran has warned Israel that it would retaliate and it is thought that today is proof that they meant what they said.

But there is more to this than the need for Hezbollah to do the bidding of its Iranian paymasters or even for it to gain revenge for the death of the terrorists slain with Tehran’s ballistic missile expert, one of whom was the son of a slain commander of the group. The point of setting up that base in Syria, near the Golan Heights, was to create a launching pad to hit the Jewish state without bringing down the wrath of the Israel Defense Forces on Lebanon, as was the case during the 2006 war that was set off by similar cross-border raids. But the reason why Hezbollah and Iran were so interested in strengthening their ability to rain down destruction on Israeli civilian targets is that Tehran sees itself as being locked in a permanent war with Israel as well as with Arab states in the region.

This is more than obvious to anyone who pays the slightest attention to Iranian policy as well as its use of terrorists to advance its policy goals. Hezbollah is an arm of Iranian foreign policy as proved by its use as shock troops in the effort to preserve the rule of Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

This exposes the fallacy that lies at the heart of the current U.S. approach to Iran. President Obama is convinced that sooner or later he will be able to persuade the Islamist regime to accept a weak nuclear deal that will enable him to withdraw sanctions on the regime and start working toward an amicable relationship. The idea of such an entente is ludicrous since the ideology of the Iranian regime is implacably hostile to the United States. Moreover, their goal is not integration into the region but rather domination of it, something that will be facilitated once it becomes clear it is a threshold nuclear state (even if no bomb is actually constructed) as well as by its use of its Hezbollah auxiliaries and a renewed alliance with Hamas.

Seen from that perspective, the administration’s zeal for a deal with Iran is not merely misguided because Iran has no intention of abiding by any agreement and that it will use the nuclear infrastructure that the West seems poised to allow it to keep to continue a pursuit of a weapon. Rather, what makes it truly disastrous is that an embrace of Iran will encourage its adventurism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well as along Israel’s northern and southern borders. An Iran that is permitted to become a nuclear threshold state will not only be vastly more powerful than it is today but in a position to directly threaten Israeli security and that of Jordan and perhaps even Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The fighting along Israel’s northern border is just a tease of what may come once Hezbollah is protected by an Iran that believes the U.S. has granted it impunity to pursue its aggressive agenda.

Instead of dismissing the border fighting, the White House should be realizing that it is headed down a perilous path in its pursuit of friendship with Iran. If it doesn’t turn back soon, today’s violence may be just a foreshadowing of the atrocities that will follow.

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Obama Isn’t Worried About Iran Sanctions Vote Delay

Both sides of the debate about the nuclear talks with Iran are interpreting the letter from ten Senate Democrats sent to President Obama yesterday about holding back on a vote on increased sanctions as a victory for their position. Sanctions advocates believe the delay will enable wavering Democrats to join with Republicans and produce, once the March 24 deadline for an agreement with Iran stated in the letter passes, a veto-proof majority for a measure that will increase pressure on the Islamist regime to surrender its nuclear ambition. The administration, however, begs to differ. The president’s apologists think the willingness of Senator Robert Menendez to back off, even for only two months, on passing sanctions shows that the administration’s efforts to pressure members of Obama’s party into falling in line behind him are succeeding. We won’t know who is right until the end of March. But no one should scoff at the White House’s confidence that the stall will only strengthen their ability to find enough Democratic support to sustain a policy of Iran appeasement.

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Both sides of the debate about the nuclear talks with Iran are interpreting the letter from ten Senate Democrats sent to President Obama yesterday about holding back on a vote on increased sanctions as a victory for their position. Sanctions advocates believe the delay will enable wavering Democrats to join with Republicans and produce, once the March 24 deadline for an agreement with Iran stated in the letter passes, a veto-proof majority for a measure that will increase pressure on the Islamist regime to surrender its nuclear ambition. The administration, however, begs to differ. The president’s apologists think the willingness of Senator Robert Menendez to back off, even for only two months, on passing sanctions shows that the administration’s efforts to pressure members of Obama’s party into falling in line behind him are succeeding. We won’t know who is right until the end of March. But no one should scoff at the White House’s confidence that the stall will only strengthen their ability to find enough Democratic support to sustain a policy of Iran appeasement.

On the surface, sanctions advocates look to be in a strong position. The proposed legislation, dubbed the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, which was filed Tuesday night, is co-sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez and also has 14 other co-sponsors including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and six Democrats. The bill will close loopholes in existing sanctions as well as make it even more difficult for Iran to go on selling oil. It will require any deal with Tehran to be submitted to Congress for review before the president can waive sanctions. However, the increased sanctions would not go into effect until July 6, five days after the current deadline for the talks passes, allowing plenty of time for diplomacy. Even more importantly, it includes provisions for a presidential waiver of sanctions on Iran if the White House is willing to claim it is in the national-security interest of the nation or if it would make a resolution of the issue more likely.

The extra two months of debate gives the administration several weeks to prove that Iran is serious about negotiating a deal that would truly end the nuclear threat rather than merely using the talks to stall the West. Moreover, the extra time can allow Democrats to say that they have given the president the opportunity to prove his point that diplomacy must be allowed to continue undisturbed by the possibility of more sanctions. If, as is almost certainly the case, the Iranians continue to stonewall Western negotiators, advocates of increased sanctions will be able to assert that the only thing that will prompt them to budge from their positions is the threat of even tougher sanctions on their economy. That should, at least in theory, be enough to motivate a considerable portion of the Democratic caucus as well as what it expected to be a near-unanimous Republican majority to pass a bill that would have more than enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto.

But no one should think the president is intimidated by any of this.

First, the delay until late March gives the White House plenty of time to work on Democrats to defect from the sanctions camp. As he showed us last year when a similarly overwhelming pro-sanctions majority was defeated by both former Majority Leader Harry Reid’s tactics and an administration disinformation campaign, the president is quite adept at marginalizing his foes and branding them as warmongers. He may be a lame duck, but he remains someone that most Democratic senators, with the possible exception of Menendez, don’t want to tangle with. Given enough time, Obama may be able to amass enough votes to sustain his veto.

But for all the tough talk emanating from Congress, it must be conceded that Obama has already won even before the debate really starts.

By changing the topic from his indefensible position opposing more pressure on an obdurate Iran to whether it was appropriate for the House to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, the president subtly changed the dynamic of the debate in a way that gave him a clear advantage.

Moreover, by forcing sanctions advocates to include the presidential waiver in their bill, the White House has included a poison pill that will, even if it survives his veto, enable Obama to ensure that its provisions never go into effect. As we have seen with the issue of immigration where he resorted to executive orders unilaterally granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens to bypass the authority of Congress to change the law, this president has no compunction about governing on his own. Even if more than two-thirds of both the Senate and the House wish to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, the president is perfectly comfortably ignoring the will of Congress and allowing the nuclear talks to go on with Iran indefinitely.

The president’s unwillingness to countenance any additional pressure on Iran, even if such pressure is the only conceivable measure that might induce it to actually give up its nuclear infrastructure, has signaled again that his goal here is détente with Tehran, not an end to their nuclear program as he pledged in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney. As with other issues that he considers important, he will not listen to Congress. The delay might produce a veto-proof majority for sanctions. But President Obama isn’t wrong if he thinks that none of this will halt his push to appease Iran even if the talks continue to go on indefinitely without a resolution.

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Is Washington Encouraging Iran’s Threats?

The United States and Iran have been locked in dead-end negotiations over the Islamist regime’s nuclear program for over a year, but the lines of communication between Washington and Tehran appear to be open. According to Iran’s IRNA news agency, that country’s deputy foreign minister said that his country had sent a warning to Israel via their U.S. negotiating partners. The message was a threat that retaliation should be expected for the death of an Iranian general in an Israeli air strike on a Syrian site where Hezbollah terrorists were establishing a missile base. But according to the State Department, no such message was passed on to the Israelis. While the U.S. condemned the talk of threats, if the account is accurate, the omission shows that the Obama administration may find it easier to talk to a radical Iranian regime than it does to their democratic ally Israel.

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The United States and Iran have been locked in dead-end negotiations over the Islamist regime’s nuclear program for over a year, but the lines of communication between Washington and Tehran appear to be open. According to Iran’s IRNA news agency, that country’s deputy foreign minister said that his country had sent a warning to Israel via their U.S. negotiating partners. The message was a threat that retaliation should be expected for the death of an Iranian general in an Israeli air strike on a Syrian site where Hezbollah terrorists were establishing a missile base. But according to the State Department, no such message was passed on to the Israelis. While the U.S. condemned the talk of threats, if the account is accurate, the omission shows that the Obama administration may find it easier to talk to a radical Iranian regime than it does to their democratic ally Israel.

Of course, Israeli and American officials talk all the time about all sorts of things related to the alliance between the two democracies. But the dustup over the Israeli strike on the Syrian missile base may illustrate the curious nexus between U.S. efforts to make friends with Iran and the spat between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over sanctions on the Islamist regime.

The Iranians are clearly furious about the death of General Ali Allahdadi, a ballistic missile expert at a site near the town of Kunetra, along the border between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Allahdadi was supervising the creation of a new Hezbollah base in Syria. Iran and Hezbollah have backed the Assad government in Damascus with troops and arms in the Syrian civil war. In return, Assad has apparently given his OK for Hezbollah to set up a base from which it could potentially fire missiles into Israel. Having a Syrian launching pad would immeasurably strengthen Hezbollah because it would give them an option for hitting Israeli targets that would not invite retaliation on them in Lebanon. The widespread destruction caused by the 2006 war that was provoked by Hezbollah attacks on Israeli targets earned the terror group the ire of most Lebanese. But neither Hezbollah nor other Lebanese seem to care if attacks on Israel cause more destruction in war-torn Syria.

Since Hezbollah is under Iranian orders, the presence of one of Tehran’s missile experts at their Syrian base was no surprise. The destruction of the base and the death of their man there angered Iran perhaps to the point where it might seek to escalate the battle with Israel.

But the question is not why the Iranians sought to create the missile base. Rather it is what made them think the Israelis would sit back and wait to be hit rather than taking the facility out as it did Syria’s nuclear facility in 2007 and the various Iranian weapons convoys that have attempted to transfer some of Syria’s heavy weapons into Lebanon?

The Iranians have created a de facto alliance with the Obama administration against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq. But while the U.S. seems content to let the Iranians extend their hegemony over a crippled Syria, that entente does not extend to Israel, which rightly views Iranian activities in the vicinity of their border a deadly threat.

It’s not clear whether missiles fired today into the Golan from Syria were an opening salvo in an Iranian retaliation campaign or just stray fire from a civil war whose combatants are all too close to the Jewish state. But Israel is rightly now on alert and anticipating the possibility of more such attacks or an attempt by Hezbollah to carry out some sort of spectacular terrorist attack on Jewish or Israeli targets elsewhere in the world.

But what is most troubling about this story is not so much the Iranian threats but the possibility that the U.S. is not coordinating with Israeli efforts to defend against them. Can it be that the Obama administration is so besotted with the notion of détente with Iran via nuclear talks that it is distancing itself from Israeli acts of self-defense intended to warn Tehran to avoid escalating the conflict? One would hope not, but with U.S. foreign policy now almost obsessively focused on lessening tension with Iran, the administration’s unwillingness to confront Tehran about terrorism may be causing the Islamist regime to abandon caution.

This episode not only demonstrates the dangers of appeasing a state sponsor of terror; it also shows that Obama’s predilection for picking fights with Israel may be increasing the chances of violence. It is not too late for the White House to step back from the brink and send an even sterner warning to Iran to stand down. If it doesn’t, the blame for what follows will belong to both the Iranians and a president who fell in love with the idea of allowing Iran “to get right with the world.”

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Is Obama Winning the Fight Against More Iran Sanctions?

Yesterday, backers of increased sanctions on Iran scored an important victory when Senator Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate pledged that he would back the bill being circulated by Republican Mark Kirk. The bill, which would effectively shut down Iran’s oil trade if the current nuclear negotiations fail, already has enough votes to pass in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives. But it needs significant Democratic support in order to override President Obama’s threatened veto of the legislation. But, as Politico reports, the full-court press against the bill being carried out by the White House is having an impact on the Democratic caucus, even among those who backed the same bill last year. Though the GOP’s gain of nine seats last November should have improved the chances of success, it appears that pressure from Obama is causing even some stalwart friends of Israel to drop out or to express reluctance to vote against the administration. If this trend continues, the president may get the blank congressional check he needs to pursue a policy of détente with Tehran that will effectively allow it to become a threshold nuclear power.

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Yesterday, backers of increased sanctions on Iran scored an important victory when Senator Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate pledged that he would back the bill being circulated by Republican Mark Kirk. The bill, which would effectively shut down Iran’s oil trade if the current nuclear negotiations fail, already has enough votes to pass in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives. But it needs significant Democratic support in order to override President Obama’s threatened veto of the legislation. But, as Politico reports, the full-court press against the bill being carried out by the White House is having an impact on the Democratic caucus, even among those who backed the same bill last year. Though the GOP’s gain of nine seats last November should have improved the chances of success, it appears that pressure from Obama is causing even some stalwart friends of Israel to drop out or to express reluctance to vote against the administration. If this trend continues, the president may get the blank congressional check he needs to pursue a policy of détente with Tehran that will effectively allow it to become a threshold nuclear power.

Part of the problem that Kirk is encountering is a rival, much weaker Iran bill proposed by Senate Foreign Relations chair Bob Corker. The Tennessee Republican is actually far less eager for a confrontation with Obama than his Democratic predecessor, Robert Menendez, who challenged the president face to face on the issue two weeks ago. His bill would rightly demand that Congress be allowed a vote on any nuclear deal with Iran. But it would do nothing to increase sanctions, as the Kirk bill would, if the talks collapsed. The Kirk bill would increase pressure on the Iranians to make a deal rather than letting them continue to prevaricate and wait out the West while it moved closer to its nuclear goal.

The overwhelming majority of both Houses back the concept of tougher sanctions, but a bill sponsored by Kirk and Menendez died last year because of procedural tactics by former Majority Leader Harry Reid and efforts by Obama to label its advocates as warmongers. Reid can no longer bury bills the president doesn’t like, but his efforts to persuade Democrats to stick with him seem to be working. As Politico notes, former supporters like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin are backing away from the Kirk bill. Others, like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, who has always promoted himself as an ardent backer of Israel—whose existence is threatened by an Iranian nuke—is making noises about his need to think about it rather than jumping in to support the bill. Indeed, even Schumer says his backing for Kirk is contingent on other Democrats joining him to provide cover for his stand. Menendez, though he said earlier this week that administration arguments against sanctions sounded like they were “talking points” from Iran, is also reportedly not yet committed to co-sponsoring the Kirk bill.

Nevertheless, there was some encouraging news today when it was learned that ten Democrats, including Schumer, Casey and Manchin, sent a letter to the president stating they would vote for Kirk’s sanctions if a satisfactory nuclear isn’t reached by March 24. Since the odds of that happening are slim, that will set the stage for a climactic fight the outcome of which is hard to predict.

But while most Democrats are trying to avoid being pinned down on the question of sanctions, the stakes involved in this question couldn’t be higher.

President Obama was able to fend off more sanctions a year ago by claiming that he needed time to follow up on the interim deal he had signed in November 2013 and persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. That negotiating period was supposed to be limited to six months to prevent the Iranians from playing their usual delaying games. But instead of pressuring Tehran to give up its nukes, the president allowed that deadline to pass without consequences to the Islamist regime. Two extensions have been granted for the talks to continue and it appears that the White House is on track to ask for a third after the current period expires in June. Indeed, it is not clear if even another year of fruitless negotiations passed without result that Obama would concede that the process had failed.

The Iranians are being obdurate because the president has clearly signaled in the interim agreement and the subsequent talks that he won’t insist on them giving up their nuclear infrastructure. Thus emboldened, they feel free to stand their ground and to insist on a Western surrender. Since Obama’s purpose is more to bring about a doubtful reconciliation between Washington and Tehran rather than a halt to their nuclear work, the Islamists think they can stall until he gives up or they arrive at a point where it is clear that they can build a bomb if they want one.

That’s why Obama is so worried about spooking the Iranians by threats of future sanctions that would only strengthen his hands in the talks. His opposition to more sanctions is illogical unless you realize that his purpose is very different from that of sanctions advocates. Though he and his apologists in the media claim sanctions advocates want diplomacy to fail, in fact it is just the opposite. His Senate opponents want diplomacy to succeed in ending the Iranian nuclear threat. The president wants diplomacy to effectively table Western and Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear goal as well as its role as a state sponsor of terrorism in order to bring about an entente which will relieve Obama of the obligation to resist Tehran’s drive for regional hegemony.

Thus, the analogy drawn between sanctions opponents and Iranian hardliners who are opposing the talks because they don’t want any limitations on their nuclear program—as a New York Times article falsely attempts to assert—is as absurd as it is misleading.

This crisis in the push for sanctions may motivate some to think that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress in March is even more necessary than many thought. But diverting the discussion from Iran’s nuclear threat to Netanyahu’s personal challenge to Obama has only made it easier for the president to pick off wavering Democrats who don’t want to be caught between the two world leaders.

But whatever Netanyahu decides to do, this is the moment when pro-Israel Democrats need to step up and show members of the Senate that more sanctions are not an issue on which they will be given a pass. Neither the Corker bill nor the president’s calls for party loyalty should be allowed to divert the Senate from its duty to increase pressure on Iran before it is too late to save the diplomatic option. If the Kirk bill stalls or it fails to receive enough Democratic support to override Obama’s veto threat, the only winners will be in Tehran.

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Obama’s Hollow Threats of Revenge on Bibi

The latest twist in the long-running feud between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a new stage. After days of ill-concealed umbrage about the prime minister accepting an invitation to speech to a joint session of Congress about Iran sanctions without so much as a by your leave from the administration, the White House decided to fire its own shot across the bow of Israel’s government. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that the president and his staff think Netanyahu “spat” in the president’s face with his actions and vowed “there would be a price” to be paid for his effrontery. But whatever one may think about the decision to accept the invitation — and I think it was a mistake — Obama’s threats shouldn’t impress anyone in either country. After six years of insults, provocations and staged spats aimed at Israel by the Obama administration that did nothing to advance U.S. interests or the cause of Middle East peace, it’s not clear that they can do much to hurt Netanyahu that would not hurt the president more.

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The latest twist in the long-running feud between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a new stage. After days of ill-concealed umbrage about the prime minister accepting an invitation to speech to a joint session of Congress about Iran sanctions without so much as a by your leave from the administration, the White House decided to fire its own shot across the bow of Israel’s government. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that the president and his staff think Netanyahu “spat” in the president’s face with his actions and vowed “there would be a price” to be paid for his effrontery. But whatever one may think about the decision to accept the invitation — and I think it was a mistake — Obama’s threats shouldn’t impress anyone in either country. After six years of insults, provocations and staged spats aimed at Israel by the Obama administration that did nothing to advance U.S. interests or the cause of Middle East peace, it’s not clear that they can do much to hurt Netanyahu that would not hurt the president more.

Though his American fans are thrilled with the idea of Netanyahu addressing Congress and rallying it to the cause of stopping Iran, the prime minister did the White House a favor by accepting Boehner’s invitation without going through the normal protocol of consulting with the State Department and/or the White House. Instead of the focus being on Obama’s illogical opposition to any pressure on an Iranian regime that has been stonewalling him and running out the clock in nuclear negotiations, attention has been focused on the prime minister’s chutzpah. There is already a strong majority in both Houses of Congress for more sanctions on Iran, a step that would strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations, and the controversy over Netanyahu’s appearance gives some weak-willed Democrats an excuse to do the president’s bidding and sink the proposed legislation.

Obama’s claim that he is willing to impose more sanctions if diplomacy fails, as he supposedly told Netanyahu, rings false. This administration opposed every major piece of sanctions legislation against Iran including the ones that it now boasts of having brought Iran to the table. Nor is there much chance that Obama would ever admit failure. The rumors that the current talks will be extended for a third time in June, despite the president’s promises a year ago that the negotiations would be finite in length so as to prevent the Iranians from playing their favorite delaying games, gives the lie to the administration’s credibility on this issue. Obama’s goal in the talks is not so much preventing the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power — an objective that went out the window with the signing of the interim pact in November 2013 — as it is to create an entente with Tehran that would give a U.S. seal of approval to Iran’s ambition for regional hegemony while ending 35 years of confrontation between the two countries.

But Obama’s dire threats of revenge on Israel are just as insubstantial as his promises about Iran.

The talk of Netanyahu and his country paying a “price” is mere administration bluster whose purpose is to cover up their own agenda of détente with a nation that has repeatedly threatened Israel with annihilation. As he has shown over the last six years, the White House has the power to poison relations with its sole democratic ally in the Middle East if it so chooses. This is the same White House, after all, that just a couple of months ago used journalist Jeffrey Goldberg to hurt insults like “coward” and “chickenshit” at Netanyahu. Obama has consistently tilted the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians (though without it being enough to get them to actually negotiate in good faith, let alone make peace), undermined Israel’s position in Jerusalem in a way no predecessor had dared, wrongly blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of peace talks although it was the Palestinian Authority that torpedoed them and even cut off the flow of ammunition resupply during the war with Hamas last summer.

It is true that the U.S. could do far worse than that. Obama could seek to hold up all military aid despite Congressional protests. It could also cease opposing Palestinian attempts to use the United Nations to make an end run around the peace process, further isolating the Israelis. Administration sources speak of Secretary of State John Kerry’s hurt feelings after doing so much to protect Israel’s interests around the world leaving open the possibility that he won’t be so eager to play that role in the future.

But as Obama has already concluded prior to the current Palestinian campaign at the United Nations, any abandonment of Israel in international forums will hurt the U.S. as much as the Jewish state. Obama and Kerry aren’t opposing the Palestinian attempt to gain UN recognition without first making with Israel to be nice to the Israelis. They’re doing it because they rightly concluded that ending the peace process would damage U.S. interests and prestige and lead to further instability and violence in the region. Obama would, in effect, be cutting off his nose to spite his face if he were to allow his feud with Netanyahu to go that far. Although his antipathy for Israel and its government is no secret, he has already shown that he’s not interested in going down that path.

So what can we expect over the next two years if Netanyahu is re-elected? It was already a given that there would be plenty of tension and conflict between the two allies. If, as is almost certain, Obama signs a weak nuclear deal with Iran or allows the talks to go on indefinitely, they were bound to be worse anyway. There will be more insults lobbed at Jerusalem and attempts will be made to squeeze the Israelis at every turn. But any revenge from Obama over Netanyahu’s speech will do more to create the impression that his foreign policy is a failure than real damage to Israel’s strategic position. The prime minister would do well to stay home and to lobby quietly and effectively for Congress to raise the pressure on Iran. But even if he does give the speech, the U.S.-Israel alliance is sufficiently strong to withstand Obama’s assault on it. Blowing smoke about revenge is as close to a real rupture in relations with Israel as Obama and his staff will get.

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