Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear talks

Who Benefits From Endless Iran Negotiations?

In the hands of a president that was tough enough to mean what he said when he threatened to walk away from nuclear talks with Iran if it didn’t get what it wanted, a negotiating deadline would be an effective tool to obtain the West’s objectives. But over the course of the last two years, the Obama administration has realized that when a deadline loomed they were the only players in the diplomatic standoff that started to sweat. The Iranians quickly learned that faced with the prospect of President Obama’s cherished dream of a new détente with their regime, the West preferred concessions to walkouts and accordingly stiffened their stands on outstanding issues. That’s why the U.S. has treated every such recent deadline as a flexible rather than a rigid concept, a decision that was repeated when first the June 30 date for an end to the talks and then the July 7th date that was regarded as the true end point passed without either an agreement or the U.S. team packing their bags and leaving Vienna. Even many of the administration’s critics see this as not an altogether bad thing since more talking is to be preferred to another Western collapse. But with their hotel reservations now extended until Saturday, the question arises as to who will benefit from the seemingly endless Iran negotiations?

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In the hands of a president that was tough enough to mean what he said when he threatened to walk away from nuclear talks with Iran if it didn’t get what it wanted, a negotiating deadline would be an effective tool to obtain the West’s objectives. But over the course of the last two years, the Obama administration has realized that when a deadline loomed they were the only players in the diplomatic standoff that started to sweat. The Iranians quickly learned that faced with the prospect of President Obama’s cherished dream of a new détente with their regime, the West preferred concessions to walkouts and accordingly stiffened their stands on outstanding issues. That’s why the U.S. has treated every such recent deadline as a flexible rather than a rigid concept, a decision that was repeated when first the June 30 date for an end to the talks and then the July 7th date that was regarded as the true end point passed without either an agreement or the U.S. team packing their bags and leaving Vienna. Even many of the administration’s critics see this as not an altogether bad thing since more talking is to be preferred to another Western collapse. But with their hotel reservations now extended until Saturday, the question arises as to who will benefit from the seemingly endless Iran negotiations?

There are good reasons why everyone from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker to many Israelis seem unperturbed by the latest extension of the talks. They are sure that if President Obama thought either the June 30 or the July 7 dates were his last chance for signing an agreement with Iran, Tehran’s intransigence on a number of key points would have been rewarded with American surrenders. They think that because the last two years of negotiations with Iran have been largely characterized by a series of U.S. retreats on uranium enrichment, the retention of the regime’s nuclear infrastructure in the form of thousands of centrifuges, and the drafting of a deal that expired after ten years rather than one that created permanent restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program were largely the result of the administration’s panic. Faced with the choice between no deal and one that favored Iran, the president has always chosen the latter.

So it’s no surprise that critics prefer that the Americans stay in Vienna and stick to their demands for an agreement that would provide a rigorous inspection process, full access to Iran’s past military nuclear research, as well as provisions for sanctions to be lifted gradually and to be able to be snapped back immediately in the event of a violation.

But as we learned from the New York Times today, a “senior administration official” that briefed reporters in Vienna on the talks made it clear that plenty of “progress” was being made to justify the continued discussions. But in this case, the meaning of “progress” ought not to encourage those hoping that the administration is actually digging in its heels and insisting that any deal live up to the promises the president made about the nuclear framework when it was first announced in April. According to the official, the U.S. is negotiating a system of “managed access” to Iranian nuclear sites that will allow Iran to “shield conventional, secret military facilities” from inspections. According to the Americans, that’s reasonable since the right of all nations to protect their military secrets must be respected.

But such a formulation speaks more to the administration’s belief in the future of an entente with Iran more than a devotion to ferreting out the truth about its nuclear activities. In this case, “managed access” seems to allow Iran the ability to keep the West guessing rather than the achievement of genuine transparency. Once certain places become off-limits to United Nations inspectors, what’s to stop Tehran from conducting illicit research or other nuclear activity at these facilities? More to the point, no matter you define it, “managed access” falls far short of the anywhere, anytime standard that the administration seemed to promise when it announced the framework.

The official also seemed to indicate that discussions that would also deal with the problem of Iran’s ongoing nuclear research might not be made public making it impossible to gauge whether Iran would be in a position to race to a bomb once the deal expired. That’s a sure sign that the result of the negotiations would embarrass the administration and please Iran.

Similarly, Iran’s latest demands about lifting the embargo on their ability to import arms were also on the table instead of being kept in place.

So while it is true that the administration has acquitted itself of the charge of “rushing” to conclude an agreement because of its willing to keep the negotiations going into overtime, the results of their continued stay in Vienna is hardly encouraging.

Thanks to the intrepid reporters on the scene, we know how many Twizzlers and Rice Krispie Treats the diplomats have consumed in the course of their discussions. We also know that they are suffering from the heat because the air conditioning in their Viennese hotel is failing due to the unusual heat in Austria this summer. But we also know that, despite the consensus that the U.S. staying at the table was preferable to a collapse at the end of last month, their intake of snacks hasn’t stiffened the spines of Secretary of State John Kerry or top negotiator Wendy Sherman.

If this administration were truly willing to walk away from a bad deal, their tactics wouldn’t be a matter of concern. But the relief about their flexibility about deadlines has been entirely premature. Whether they stay another two days, a week or a month, Iran knows that the Americans will cave in sooner or later. Whether the deadlines are respected or the talks are allowed to drag out endlessly, the Iranians seem to benefit either way. Congress, which will apparently be given an extra month to consider the deal due to the extended deadline, should be paying attention to this depressing spectacle and draw the right conclusions about their duty to vote it down.

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Overtime Iran Talks Make Congressional Action Necessary

A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

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A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

It should be recalled that after the West signed an interim accord with Iran in November 2013, President Obama promised that subsequent negotiations for a final accord would be finite in nature and not allow the Islamist regime to spin them out indefinitely. But now as the talks were extended yet again, the pattern of Iranian intransigence followed by American concessions appears ready to repeat itself. Having invested so heavily in the notion that the talks must succeed, the U.S. is unwilling to walk away from them leading the Iranian negotiators to understandably come to the conclusion that all they need to do is to keep saying no in order to compel Kerry to agree to their demands.

From the start of the negotiations earlier in 2013, any “progress” toward an agreement has always been a function of President Obama’s willingness to discard the principles about the Iranian nuclear threat that he articulated during his 2012 campaign for reelection. Instead of sticking to his demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear program if it wanted sanctions lifted, the U.S. has, piece by piece, dismantled its initial position that would have permanently blocked any possibility that the Islamist regime could build a bomb.

In order to get the interim accord in 2013, the administration tacitly conceded Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium. In the last year, it has gone further, consenting to the regime retaining thousands of centrifuges and allowing it to stonewall United Nations inspectors seeking to discover the extent of their military research. Then the Americans agreed to include a “sunset” clause that would end restrictions on Iran after a period of as little as ten years, meaning Tehran could pursue a bomb unhindered by Western interference after the agreement expired. At every point, wherever Iran said “no,” Kerry and Obama gave in and defended the concession as inevitable and preferable to breaking off the talks.

In the last weeks as negotiations become more urgent, this pattern also intensified. Kerry and the rest of the P5+1 team agreed to let Iran keep hundreds of centrifuges in its fortified mountainside redoubt at Fordow where it would be immune to attack. And then the Iranians had the bad manners to let slip that, contrary to the impression given by the West, they have never agreed to have their stockpile of enriched uranium shipped out of the country. Instead, they are insisting they must hold onto it, meaning that even if it is reduced to a diluted form, it could be quickly converted back into nuclear fuel anytime the regime chose to do so.

This isn’t the only sticking point left to be resolved before Kerry can emerge waving a piece of paper and proclaiming that he has averted a potential conflict. But it is one that, along with the centrifuges, the lack of transparency about their military efforts, the sunset clause, and the ability to reimpose sanctions quickly, makes a mockery of any hope that the deal will fulfill Obama’s pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a weapon.

We already know that in their lust for détente with an Iranian regime whose sole goal is regional hegemony that is being advanced by their auxiliaries in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, the administration has refused to try and make the deal encompass even empty promises about an end to Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism or its ballistic-missile program that threatens the West as well as moderate Arab regimes and Israel.

But if Kerry agrees to a deal without getting Iran to agree to give up its nuclear fuel, its centrifuges, or reveal the truth about its military research, the deal will be worthless. And if he continues the negotiations indefinitely as Iran continues to sensibly hold out until the West gives in, the situation will be just as bad.

That’s why there are no longer any rational arguments for further delay on the Corker-Menendez bill requiring congressional approval of a deal or of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill. The Republican leadership should make their passage a priority once the Senate returns after its holiday recess. And Democrats who claim to be skeptical about Iran as well as friends of Israel must prepare to choose between the security of the West and its allies and defending an administration seeking to divide the country on party lines on these crucial questions. If Kerry can’t stand his ground on these issues or walk away from the talks, the Senate must vote.

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As Dem Leader, Schumer Can’t Protect Both Israel and Obama

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

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Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Schumer likes to tell Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word shomer, or guardian, and that he will always act to protect Israel. Though in recent years that promise has been tested, the senator’s impressive political skills have enabled him to hold onto that image while also being one of President Obama’s Senate foot soldiers. The same can be said of his close relationship with Wall Street figures whose fundraising help has been the foundation of his long and now apparently successful campaign to become the Democrats’ Senate leader.

As far as Israel or Iran was concerned, Schumer never took on the role of administration antagonist, as did his Democratic colleague Robert Menendez. Menendez repeatedly and publicly called out President Obama for his opposition to sanctions on Iran and for his unwillingness to support more pressure on a regime with which he was bent on fostering détente. Not so Schumer, who, despite his pledge to be Israel’s guardian, chose not to confront the president in public. Instead, we have heard tales, often recounted in friendly media coverage of the senator, about private conversations in which Schumer scolded administration figures or offered them advice in which he sought to persuade them to stop picking needless and counterproductive fights with Israel on Iran and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Schumer may well continue to play that role in private even as he assumes the status of the Prince of Wales of Senate Democrats. But in the last 22 months of the Obama presidency, as the White House steers the country away from the alliance with Israel and into a more neutral position on the Middle East conflict as well as one in which Iran is viewed as a partner, the senator’s balancing act is no longer viable.

Even if we set aside fears about Obama’s threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations or to engage in pressure tactics in future Middle East negotiations, the looming struggle in the Senate over Iran makes it impossible for Schumer to be in both camps.

Schumer has said that he supports the Corker-Menendez bill that will require that any Iran deal be put to a vote in the Senate. That’s a crucial blow to an administration that is desperate to persuade pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus on the issue and ensure that the bill doesn’t have a veto-proof majority. But the only way to do so is for Senate leaders like Schumer to ensure that enough of them fall into line. And there is every indication that, behind the scenes, he will do just that.

After all, it was Schumer who played a key role in organizing a letter from pro-Israel Senate Democrats making it clear that they would not support Corker-Menendez or the equally vital Kirk-Menendez bill that would increase sanctions in the admittedly unlikely event that the administration admitted failure in the Iran talks until after the administration received more time to negotiate.

So while a public break with Israel on Iran is probably as unthinkable for Schumer as a public breach with the administration, it’s likely that he will be behind efforts in the near future to further delay Senate action on Iran. In doing so, he will claim that he remains a stalwart opponent of appeasement but in practice he will be doing the president’s dirty work.

Nor would it be reasonable to think that he could avoid acting in this manner if he wants to hold onto the support of his party’s caucus. If Schumer were to place himself in opposition to the president on an issue where the White House is committed to doing everything to avoid a Senate vote, then the notion of his inevitability as Harry Reid’s successor may vanish. Since the Senate Democratic caucus has become more liberal, not less, in recent years, Schumer’s public apostasy, even on Israel issues, might cause the natives in the minority cloakroom to become restless. And after working tirelessly to win the leader position, it’s not likely he will do anything to scuttle his hopes.

Schumer will do all he can to still be perceived, in Politico’s words, as “a hawk” on Israel. But you don’t get to be majority leader by being an outlier within your party on a key issue when the president needs help. All the news stories about Schumer having “very, very heated” conversations with White House officials on Iran and Israel won’t mean a thing if, when the president requires him to produce the votes he needs on these issues, Schumer complies, as he almost certainly will do. Any Senate leader must watch the back of his president. Though he will claim he can go on dancing at two weddings, the odds of him choosing support for Israel over the political necessity to back Obama are slim.

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Deal or a Delay? Either Is a Triumph for Iran

With only hours to go before a self-imposed deadline on the Iran nuclear talks expires, the outcome of the current round of negotiations is still up in the air. The New York Times claimed that the negotiators were on the verge of a preliminary accord. But the purpose of such an announcement would be more to boost support for President Obama’s foreign policy than anything else since even the optimists are conceding that several key issues remain unresolved. Either way, the talks will continue until the supposedly hard deadline in June. But no matter what happens today, the willingness of the Obama administration to stick to their strategy of appeasement has made the Iranians the big winners of the talks. By sticking to their refusal to give ground, with or without another interim deal, they have talked the Americans into making a series of devastating concessions that ensure that Iran will be recognized as a threshold nuclear power with the likelihood that, whether by cheating or complying with an agreement, they will get their bomb.

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With only hours to go before a self-imposed deadline on the Iran nuclear talks expires, the outcome of the current round of negotiations is still up in the air. The New York Times claimed that the negotiators were on the verge of a preliminary accord. But the purpose of such an announcement would be more to boost support for President Obama’s foreign policy than anything else since even the optimists are conceding that several key issues remain unresolved. Either way, the talks will continue until the supposedly hard deadline in June. But no matter what happens today, the willingness of the Obama administration to stick to their strategy of appeasement has made the Iranians the big winners of the talks. By sticking to their refusal to give ground, with or without another interim deal, they have talked the Americans into making a series of devastating concessions that ensure that Iran will be recognized as a threshold nuclear power with the likelihood that, whether by cheating or complying with an agreement, they will get their bomb.

Though much was made of today’s deadline, the tension about the outcome is entirely artificial. There was never any doubt that the United States would walk away from the talks no matter what Iran did. By reneging on previous indications that they would allow their stockpile of enriched uranium to be shipped out of the country, the Iranians gambled that even something like this—which effectively dispels any hope they can be stopped from building a bomb if they wanted to—would not force the president to recognize that he was being taken to the cleaners. The same applies to their refusal to allow United Nations inspectors access to information about their military research, their successful efforts to force the West to allow the Islamist regime to keep hundreds of centrifuges operating inside their impregnable mountainside bunker at Fordow, and a sunset clause that will end all restrictions on their program in as soon as ten years. Any further delays in the negotiations will merely give more time for Iran to push the U.S. for even more concessions.

Yet as it has done since it began negotiating away its economic and political leverage over Iran in 2013, the United States simply backed down whenever it was challenged. Throughout this long process, the Iranians have never given in on any serious point that could actually put an end to their nuclear ambitions. Instead, the administration rationalized each concession it made as inevitable and necessary until we are now at the point where the president’s 2012 campaign promises about dismantling Iran’s nuclear program have been shoved down the memory hole. President Obama’s pursuit of Iran detente has reversed the dynamic in which sanctions had forced Iran’s economy to its knees and isolated a regime that is the leading state sponsor of terrorism on the planet. As the clock ticked down on the talks in Lausanne, it was the representatives of the ayatollahs who held the whip hand and they have not been shy about exercising that advantage.

An interim accord will be represented as a triumph for an administration that is desperate for good news from abroad. We will be told that cutbacks in the number of centrifuges and the supposed freeze on Iran’s nuclear program will make the U.S. and its allies safer than we are today. But any celebration of this as a victory for American diplomacy will be entirely misplaced. The deal on the table will not stop Iran from building a bomb if it wants to do so since it will retain its nuclear infrastructure. Nor is there any assurance that the so-called “breakout” period by which it could build a weapon is as long as one year and even less certainty that such activity could be detected or that action could be taken in time.

A deal or even a delay that will send the talks into yet another overtime period will be a function of Iran’s stubborn tactics and the Americans’ zeal for a deal at any price. Secure in the knowledge that nothing they demand will force an end to the negotiations and that there is no topic, no matter how crucial to monitoring their nuclear program, that Obama won’t concede, Tehran has emerged from this process with its nuclear dreams intact and the prospect of an end to sanctions that will inject new life into their economy.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry repeatedly said that no deal with Iran would be better than a bad deal. But their eagerness for an agreement at any price has made it obvious that their real goal in these negotiations was to initiate a new détente with the Iranian regime more than it was to limit its nuclear ambitions. The president may believe that cooperating with Iran is better for America than isolating it, but in practice that will mean that a stronger, more prosperous Islamist government is going to be an even greater danger to its Arab neighbors and Israel and the West will have no leverage at all to deter those threats.

That’s a colossal defeat for U.S. security. If, as some say, these talks are an attempt by President Obama to build his legacy, what he is doing is ensuring that along with his place in history as our first African-American president, he will also be remembered as the man who enabled an aggressive, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting Islamist state to become a regional superpower with an American seal of approval.

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Iran Tests Obama’s Desperation Again

As the last weekend before the deadline for its nuclear talks with Iran wound down, administration sources were talking as if a deal was a foregone conclusion. But as they have throughout this process, Tehran’s agents decided to test President Obama’s desperation one more time. On Sunday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi let slip that, contrary to the West’s expectations, the Islamist regime had no intention of agreeing to anything that would commit them to shipping their growing stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country. Reneging at the last minute on something they have previously committed to doing is a standard Iranian negotiating tactic. Though American officials are insisting that negotiations about this crucial point are continuing, the last-second switch was yet another telling moment in a dispiriting display of weak American diplomacy. Along with Iran’s ongoing refusal to reveal its military research program and reports about nuclear work in Syria and North Korea that may be conducted on behalf of the regime once sanctions are lifted, this news raises the question of just how much more will the U.S. have to concede to get Iran to sign on to anything?

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As the last weekend before the deadline for its nuclear talks with Iran wound down, administration sources were talking as if a deal was a foregone conclusion. But as they have throughout this process, Tehran’s agents decided to test President Obama’s desperation one more time. On Sunday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi let slip that, contrary to the West’s expectations, the Islamist regime had no intention of agreeing to anything that would commit them to shipping their growing stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country. Reneging at the last minute on something they have previously committed to doing is a standard Iranian negotiating tactic. Though American officials are insisting that negotiations about this crucial point are continuing, the last-second switch was yet another telling moment in a dispiriting display of weak American diplomacy. Along with Iran’s ongoing refusal to reveal its military research program and reports about nuclear work in Syria and North Korea that may be conducted on behalf of the regime once sanctions are lifted, this news raises the question of just how much more will the U.S. have to concede to get Iran to sign on to anything?

The official U.S. response to the New York Times report about Iran reneging on exporting its nuclear fuel was hardly encouraging. Virtually all observers were under the impression that the West had secured Iran’s agreement on this point. Though there would still be plenty of room to cheat on a deal with such a provision in place, without it, the entire shaky edifice of the negotiations would collapse. Thus, when a “senior State Department official” said that, “Contrary to the report in The New York Times, the issue of how Iran’s stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively,” that is hardly a sign that the situation is in hand. If Iran is still holding onto that crucial card with only hours before a deadline is supposed to expire, that’s a sign of enormous confidence on the part of Tehran’s negotiators that they have President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry just where they want them.

If Iran is planning on insisting on retaining their enriched uranium, all the confident talk coming out of the administration in recent months about a deal being the best way to ensure that the regime doesn’t get a bomb is exposed as patent falsehood. The Times hints, no doubt at the prompting of its helpful State Department sources, that a possible solution would be for the fuel remaining in Iran being kept in a diluted form. But we know that so long as it remains on Iranian soil and under its control, that stockpile could be easily converted back into material that can be used for a bomb.

As we noted last week, Iran’s refusal to fess up to its progress on possible military dimensions of its nuclear program is, in and of itself, a glaring weakness in any agreement since it means negotiators are operating in the blind about how close it may already be to a bomb. If that point is now apparently off the table as the West scrambles to try and persuade the Iranians not to gut what is left of an agreement that also doesn’t touch on their support for terror and missile program, there seems little hope that this agreement can be verified even in its weakened state. The West’s acquiescence to Iran continuing to operate centrifuges in its mountainside bunker at Fordow reduces even further the already slim chances that the deal can stand up to scrutiny.

It’s in that context that yesterday’s Washington Post article by Ali Alfoneh and Marc Ruel Gerecht about Iran hiding some of its nuclear work in North Korea and Syria must be viewed. Israel’s 2007 destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor that was designed in North Korea and almost certainly an Iranian project eliminated one threat, but it did not foreclose the possibility that Tehran would continue to use this tripartite alliance of rogue regimes to further its nuclear ambitions. With the Assad regime now totally dependent on Iranian aid to survive in the current civil war, the prospect that Iran will use its Syrian ally to hide or store some of its nuclear work can’t be ignored. That’s especially true since U.S. intelligence—a vital aspect of compliance with any nuclear agreement—in both countries appears to be so poor.

But these obvious holes in the arguments buttressing support for the proposed deal are even more important when set beside Iran’s confidence that it can force Obama and Kerry to make even more concessions in the last hours of the talks rather than be forced to walk away with nothing. Indeed, the Islamist regime seems to be certain that there is almost nothing it could do or threaten that would be enough to scare off a U.S. negotiating team that cannot go home empty-handed.

If the Americans are not going to be tough about verification measures or the location of Iran’s nuclear stockpile now while the sanctions are still in place and there is yet a chance that the West might realize the current deal won’t actually stop Iran from getting a bomb, how much less likely will it be that the U.S. or its European allies will reimpose those economic restrictions once a nuclear pact is signed?

Iran knows this is the moment to pressure Obama to give up even more than the staggering concessions he has already made in the last two years. Having already failed to stand up to call Iran’s bluffs when all the leverage was on his side, what possible hope is there that he will do so when it is the ayatollahs that have him at a disadvantage?

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GOP Doesn’t Play Fair. They Back Israel.

New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

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New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

As the Times points out, it used to be the Democrats who were the pro-Israel party and Republicans were the ones who were divided on the issue. That changed in the last quarter of the 20th century as GOP leaders like Ronald Reagan (who, despite clashes with Prime Minister Menachem Begin early in his tenure, was rightly seen as a warm supporter of Israel) and the influence of evangelical voters made life difficult for Republicans who were opposed or even merely unenthusiastic about the Jewish state. By the time of George W. Bush, whose closeness to Israel was something Obama set out on his first day in office to change, the GOP was unified behind the Jewish state. Even an outlier on foreign policy like Senator Rand Paul, whose father was hostile to it, has made a concerted effort to at least appear to be pro-Israel as he attempts to make a serious bid for the party’s presidential nomination.

What the Times leaves out of their story is that the opposite trend has been happening among Democrats as polls have consistently shown lower support for Israel among them for more than 20 years.

To some on the left, like J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami, strong support for Israel and opposition to efforts to pressure it to make suicidal concessions to its foes is a sign of growing radicalism among Republicans. But, unsurprisingly, he has that backwards. By embracing Israel, Republicans have moved into the mainstream on a key foreign policy issue since most Americans feel a tremendous sense of kinship with it for a variety of reasons, including religious motivations as well as its status as America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East.

The change among Republicans distresses the J Street crowd and those even farther on the left who eschew mere pressure tactics on the Israelis and prefer to isolate it or support the efforts of those who wish to destroy it.

Other more mainstream Democrats think there’s something fishy about it since it puts them in the position of having to compete with a rival party where backing for Israel is universal while they are forced to admit that many Democrats, including the president of the United States, are not exactly fans of the Jewish state and its democratically-elected government. But their claims that Republicans are making Israel a partisan issue are false. It is the Obama administration that has sought to break up the bipartisan consensus in Congress in favor of more sanctions against Iran or support for the Netanyahu government by appealing to the partisan loyalties of Democrats.

Whereas the president is seeking to convince Democrats to be less supportive of Israel and its security, Republicans understand that putting yourself on the wrong side of the issue is politically dangerous. That’s why Jeb Bush was quick to disassociate himself from James Baker’s attacks on Israel in front of J Street, in spite of the fact that the former secretary is a faithful Bush family retainer.

This doesn’t mean that there still aren’t Democrats who back Israel though they have been awfully quiet about the way the president has been bashing Netanyahu and the Israeli electorate in the last week. But what it does mean is that there is no use pretending that the bulk of the two parties are united on the issue. As the Times reports, there’s no longer much room in the GOP for opponents of Israel. At the same time, President Obama has transformed the Democrats from a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment to the home of most of its most vicious critics. Supporters of Israel, no matter their partisan affiliation, should be delighted about the former and deeply worried abou the latter. If voters are noticing the difference it isn’t because the GOP is acting unfairly. It’s because some of the most important Democrats in the country have abandoned Israel.

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Fordow and Obama’s Iran March of Folly

As the deadline for the end of the Iran nuclear talks grows closer, the remaining gaps between the positions of the two parties are starting to be closed up. And as everyone expected, Iran is winning on every point. As the Associated Press first reported last night, the United States has now agreed to allow Iran to keep several hundred centrifuges operating at Fordow, the fortified mountainside bunker. In exchange, the Iranians have promised not to use these machines for nuclear work and have agreed to other limitations on their activities. But this is no equal tradeoff. Letting Fordow remain in operation with sophisticated machinery is an open invitation for Iran to cheat and to do so in a place where its operations are virtually invulnerable to attack. Once again, as it has been doing since it began negotiating with Iran in secret in 2013, the Obama administration has traded away a key Western demand in exchange for easily evaded promises. The negotiations have become a march of folly in which the president’s zeal for a deal is watering down an already weak agreement that is a gift to the Islamist regime.

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As the deadline for the end of the Iran nuclear talks grows closer, the remaining gaps between the positions of the two parties are starting to be closed up. And as everyone expected, Iran is winning on every point. As the Associated Press first reported last night, the United States has now agreed to allow Iran to keep several hundred centrifuges operating at Fordow, the fortified mountainside bunker. In exchange, the Iranians have promised not to use these machines for nuclear work and have agreed to other limitations on their activities. But this is no equal tradeoff. Letting Fordow remain in operation with sophisticated machinery is an open invitation for Iran to cheat and to do so in a place where its operations are virtually invulnerable to attack. Once again, as it has been doing since it began negotiating with Iran in secret in 2013, the Obama administration has traded away a key Western demand in exchange for easily evaded promises. The negotiations have become a march of folly in which the president’s zeal for a deal is watering down an already weak agreement that is a gift to the Islamist regime.

Heading into the final days of talks, Iran knew it was in a strong position vis-à-vis an Obama administration that is desperate for anything that it can call a foreign-policy triumph as the chaos in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen have rendered the president’s claims about having defeated Islamist terror a sad joke. So it was no surprise that, as I wrote yesterday, they have stood their ground in refusing to open up their military research facilities to United Nations inspections, a stand that makes it impossible for the West to know just how close they are to having the technology to make a useable weapon. Now with Fordow, Iran has managed to manipulate Western negotiators to give in on another matter that fatally undermines any hope that this agreement will do much to prevent the regime from getting a weapon if it chooses to try to evade its commitments.

It should be noted that the reported concession would not allow the Fordow centrifuges to enrich uranium. In so doing, the machines can’t be technically considered nuclear centrifuges. But it wouldn’t take much effort to repurpose them for uranium should Iran ever decide it needed to race to a weapon. Moreover, allowing the centrifuges to remain in place lets Iran continue to work on technology that can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Additionally, the placement of these machines at Fordow is crucial. The West wanted all nuclear technology taken out of that facility specifically because it is so invulnerable to attack. If the centrifuges were, as can easily be done, repurposed for uranium, what then could anyone do about it once sanctions on Iran were lifted and few in the West were eager to reimpose them or to take any action at all on an issue that we will be reassured is over and done with?

These concessions reflect two key elements of the administration’s negotiating strategy.

The first is that they will clearly do anything to preserve the chance of an agreement. There is no single point, no matter how crucial to the hopes of using a deal to foreclose the possibility of an Iranian bomb that President Obama won’t give up in order to keep Iran at the table. The Iranians know that and have acted accordingly.

Second, the administration’s belief in these compromises is not cynical. The president, Secretary of State Kerry, and the rest of the negotiating team truly believe they can trust Iran to keep its word. Given Iran’s behavior over the last 35 years since the Islamic Revolution, it is hard to believe that anyone would believe such a thing. But President Obama still believes in engagement with Iran and thinks that by allowing it to “get right with the world,” he can usher in a new era of understanding between the United States and the Islamist regime.

That is why it is a mistake to think of the nuclear talks as an end in and of themselves, as those who view their nuclear program as a danger to U.S. security and that of our moderate Arab allies, as well as an existential threat to the State of Israel, necessarily do. For Obama, it is just one piece of a puzzle by which he seeks to create détente with Iran. That is why he will do nothing to risk offending the ayatollahs even if it means agreeing to something that will allow them to get a bomb by easily evading such a deal or even through abiding by it. Appeasement isn’t so much a method for Obama as an end in itself.

That is the only way to understand these latest concessions to Iran and those that will inevitably follow them both before and after a deal is signed in the president’s march of folly.

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Who Turned Israel Into a Political Football?

In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

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In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

Rep. Israel is a member of the Democrats’ House leadership team and a fervent partisan so it is to be expected that his instincts always seek to put the president and his party in the best possible light. But what he is doing here is more than just following White House talking points. This is a diversionary effort intended to distract otherwise pro-Israel Democrats from the fact that their party has been hijacked by an administration that has, from its first moments in office, sought to distance the U.S. from its Israeli ally.

In our COMMENTARY editorial on the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations that President Obama has precipitated we discuss at length the history of the administration’s behavior toward the Jewish state. Suffice it to say the quarrel between the two governments didn’t begin when Netanyahu decided to accept an invitation to address Congress on the nuclear threat form Iran. The prime minister’s choice to give an address criticizing the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran gave the White House a chance to divert attention from their indefensible policy. For weeks, the issue because Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol and not a decision by the president to offer Iran a deal that will enable it to keep its nuclear program, breaking his 2012 reelection campaign promise.

The purpose of this tactic was not so much to encourage Democrats to boycott Netanyahu’s speech (something only a few dozen of them wound up doing) but to persuade some of them to abandon their support for increased sanctions on Iran. Up until this January, backing for more Iran sanctions that are intended to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear talks was overwhelming and bipartisan in nature. But the president sought to use party loyalty as leverage to get Democrats to break up that bipartisan consensus and oppose a strong stand on Iran.

If that was not bad enough, Netanyahu’s win last week set off an administration temper tantrum that seemed aimed at downgrading the alliance with America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

Yet the response from congressional Democrats was, with few exceptions, silence.

In his Politico article, Rep. Israel rightly cites instances in the past when Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush took stands that were opposed by the pro-Israel community. But what happened in response to those lamentable events puts the current position of most Democrats in a very unflattering light. At those times, pro-Israel Republicans did not hesitate to publicly criticize the head of their party. In the case of the elder Bush, his clash with AIPAC over loan guarantees to the state of Israel prompted a crisis among Jewish Republicans, causing them to abandon him in the 1992 presidential election as he received the lowest vote total for a GOP candidate since Barry Goldwater.

But, with a few notable exceptions, Democrats have reacted to Obama’s verbal assaults and whitewashing of Palestinian intransigence (the true obstacle to peace in the Middle East) by either keeping quiet or actually taking sides with the administration against the pro-Israel community. When faced with the demands of partisanship or their principles, most Democrats have done as Rep. Israel did and stood with Obama even as he fecklessly pursued a weak and dangerous nuclear deal with Iran and engaged in a personal vendetta against the democratically elected government of the Jewish state.

Rep. Israel’s response to this discouraging spectacle is not some much needed introspection about the failure of his party to stand up to the president but an attempt to blame it all on Republicans. To his way of thinking, the problem isn’t that a Democratic president is abandoning Israel and embracing Iran, but that some Republicans have noticed that many rank and file Democrats don’t seem to have a problem with any of this.

The congressman is right that no one ought to question his personal love for the Jewish state with which he shares a name. Nor should anyone on the right jump to the conclusion that all Democrats no longer care about Israel. Though polls have shown far greater levels of support for Israel among Republicans than Democrats for the last two decades (a trend that long predated the Obama-Netanyahu feud), a clear majority of those who identify with the party of Jefferson and Jackson still back the Jewish state.

The problem here is partisanship, but not one caused by the Republicans. The unwillingness of most Democrats to tell the president that they won’t tolerate his attacks and threats being aimed at Israel may mark a turning point in the history of their party. Faced with a choice between an Obama administration that has gone off the tracks on Israel and Iran, Democrats are not speaking up, as they should. When partisans like Rep. Israel demand that loyal Democrats back the president on Iran and the peace process, he is the one that is turning the Jewish state into a political football, not his Republican opponents who haven’t hesitated to oppose the administration. If he wants to prove his pro-Israel bona fides, Rep. Israel needs to start criticizing the president, not the GOP.

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The Conversation About Iran Obama Wants

Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton makes a strong case today on the New York Times op-ed page for the need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to ensure that the regime doesn’t get a bomb. He’s right that those who dismiss the use of force are underestimating the damage air strikes can inflict and overestimating Tehran’s ability to recoup its losses in quick order after it has taken them decades to get this close. But before you give too much credit to the editors of the Times for, in what is an increasingly rare gesture for them, giving space to opposing views, take a moment and think about whether this is the debate about Iran we should be having. For the past year and a half President Obama has attempted to portray opponents of his appeasement of Iran as warmongers when, in fact, most have rightly advocated sticking to the tough sanctions he has discarded in hope of forcing the regime to accept an agreement that, unlike the one currently being negotiated, would actually stop them from building a bomb. Whatever its virtues, the Bolton article merely serves to bolster Obama’s disingenuous arguments.

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Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton makes a strong case today on the New York Times op-ed page for the need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to ensure that the regime doesn’t get a bomb. He’s right that those who dismiss the use of force are underestimating the damage air strikes can inflict and overestimating Tehran’s ability to recoup its losses in quick order after it has taken them decades to get this close. But before you give too much credit to the editors of the Times for, in what is an increasingly rare gesture for them, giving space to opposing views, take a moment and think about whether this is the debate about Iran we should be having. For the past year and a half President Obama has attempted to portray opponents of his appeasement of Iran as warmongers when, in fact, most have rightly advocated sticking to the tough sanctions he has discarded in hope of forcing the regime to accept an agreement that, unlike the one currently being negotiated, would actually stop them from building a bomb. Whatever its virtues, the Bolton article merely serves to bolster Obama’s disingenuous arguments.

One of the hallmarks of the Times opinion pages in recent years is the way its editors have discarded any notion of providing space to contrary views except in rare instances. With respect to the drumbeat of criticism aimed at Israel, the avalanche of columns attacking the government of the Jewish state or bolstering the propaganda assault of the Palestinians and their allies has further tarnished the paper’s reputation as the prime example of media bias. The same is true of virtually any position taken by the Times editorial page including support for the president’s policy toward Iran. In that context, Bolton’s column is a breath of fresh air because it outlines the danger of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon and the certainty that Obama’s offer to Tehran will set off a dangerous arms race in the region.

But by publishing Bolton’s article, the Times is attempting to couch the debate about Iran according to the president’s preferred talking point in which the choice is between his policy and war. That is a prime example of the president setting up straw men to knock down rather than actually engaging the arguments of his critics in a serious way.

The president’s steady retreat from his past promises about ending Iran’s nuclear program has been part of a strategy in which the regime is embraced as a tacit ally against ISIS. He is acquiescing to Iran’s quest for hegemony in the Middle East so as to enable the president to essentially withdraw from the region. To facilitate this rapprochement, Obama discarded the enormous economic and military leverage over Iran and given in whenever the Iranians stood their ground in the talks. The result is a flimsy agreement that could allow Iran to cheat their way to a bomb during the course of a deal that will eventually expire and let them get one anyway. Worse than that, because of that weakness and Washington’s unwillingness to support International Atomic Energy Agency demands for information about their military research, the administration could let them get one even while abiding by the deal.

But the real alternative to the president’s feckless pursuit of détente with Iran is not war. What is needed is a return to the sanctions that the president opposed when Congress first passed them and measures toughening them that, when combined with the collapse in oil prices, bring Iran’s economy to its knees. All it would have taken in 2013 for this to work would have been patience, courage, and leadership on Obama’s part. Instead, he abandoned the isolation of Iran at the first opportunity he got. Were the president to concede that appeasement is failing to stop Iran, he could go back to the path of strength and, with strict enforcement of U.S. sanctions that would make it difficult for other nations to do business with Iran, force America’s allies to follow suit.

Even at the 11th hour, as we may be days away from the signing of a bad deal with Iran, it is not too late for the U.S. to step back from the brink of folly. A demonstration of strength and principle on Obama’s part, however unlikely it may seem today, would be a devastating blow to Iran and perhaps actually compel them to start making concessions that might enable the president to keep his campaign promises about the nuclear threat.

That is the choice that America still has on Iran. That is the debate we should be having, not one of appeasement versus war.

Once the Iran deal is signed, it may well be that the West will no longer have either a diplomatic or a military option for stopping Iran. But until then, opponents of Obama’s retreat must continue to advocate for sanctions and tough diplomacy rather than for the use of force that Obama would never choose under virtually any circumstances. However correct Bolton’s points might be, his article merely strengthens the president’s disingenuous arguments about false choices that are leading us down the primrose path to Iran appeasement.

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Obama’s Latest Concession Guts What’s Left of the Iran Nuclear Deal

You don’t have to be an Israeli spy to know what’s going on at the nuclear talks between Iran and the West at Lausanne, Switzerland. As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, the Iranians were holding their ground on yet another key point in the negotiations and, to no one’s surprise, the Obama administration is preparing to give in to them again. This time the issue is Iran’s refusal to open its facilities up to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors eager to see how much progress they’ve made on military research for the nuclear program. But instead of threatening to walk away from a process that appears on track to ending sanctions on the Islamist regime over this key point, the administration is preparing to amend the current draft of the deal to allow the Iranians several years’ leeway before they’d be required to give a full reckoning about how close they are to a bomb. What this amounts to is the West waving the white flag on effective verification of Iran’s nuclear activities. And that means that not only will Iran be able to cheat their way to a bomb, but they may very well get there even while observing the agreement that is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

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You don’t have to be an Israeli spy to know what’s going on at the nuclear talks between Iran and the West at Lausanne, Switzerland. As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, the Iranians were holding their ground on yet another key point in the negotiations and, to no one’s surprise, the Obama administration is preparing to give in to them again. This time the issue is Iran’s refusal to open its facilities up to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors eager to see how much progress they’ve made on military research for the nuclear program. But instead of threatening to walk away from a process that appears on track to ending sanctions on the Islamist regime over this key point, the administration is preparing to amend the current draft of the deal to allow the Iranians several years’ leeway before they’d be required to give a full reckoning about how close they are to a bomb. What this amounts to is the West waving the white flag on effective verification of Iran’s nuclear activities. And that means that not only will Iran be able to cheat their way to a bomb, but they may very well get there even while observing the agreement that is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

As the Journal reports:

Iran’s refusal to implement the IAEA work plan threatens to undermine the prospects for this comprehensive agreement, say diplomats involved in the talks. The ability of the IAEA and global powers to verify whether Iran is abiding by any future deal to prevent it from racing to develop a nuclear weapon depends, in part, on an understanding of its past work, according to these officials.

But rather than press the Iranians to comply with IAEA demands, American negotiators came up with what they are calling a compromise that falls far short of providing complete accountability about their work to build a bomb:

Under the new plan, Tehran wouldn’t be expected to immediately clarify all the outstanding questions raised by the IAEA in a 2011 report on Iran’s alleged secretive work. A full reckoning of Iran’s past activities would be demanded in later years as part of a nuclear deal that is expected to last at least 15 years.

The delay will be sold by the administration as a clever strategy to bridge one more seemingly intractable difference between the parties enabling the president to claim a foreign-policy triumph. But this is no minor detail. While most of the attention in the nuclear talks has always been on Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium and therefore build a stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West’s lack of knowledge about Iran’s military research is key to any understanding of how close they might or might not be to building a weapon. Without a grasp of where they are in that process, all attempts at verification will be without an effective baseline.

Moreover, a delay of this sort makes any effort to get the information meaningless because by the time that the Iranians will be required, at least in theory, to open up their facilities to the IAEA, it will be years after sanctions will have been lifted. So even if they don’t comply on time, it will be difficult, if not impossible to call off the deal or re-impose sanctions on what the Europeans or perhaps a Hillary Clinton administration (if the Democrats hold onto the White House next year) will consider a technicality.

IAEA head Yukio Amano has made it clear that he has made “no progress” in his efforts to find out more about the Iranian program. But that has not stopped American negotiators from plowing ahead as if this was irrelevant to their quest. According to the Journal, the French, who have showed a bit more backbone in the process than the Americans, have also raised questions and put more demands on the Iranians. In response, President Obama has let the French play a larger role in the discussion about the weaponization issue. But his purpose there appears to be to be to ensure that Paris will buy into the final deal–no matter how weak it turns out to be–not to allow their concerns to become a roadblock to an agreement.

The president’s goal here is détente with Iran, not stopping them from getting a nuclear weapon. It involves a tacit alliance with the Islamist regime in Iraq and Syria as well as a U.S. determination to retreat from the region and to allow Iran a free hand to defend its interests, a strategy that both moderate Arab nations and the Israelis believe is really acquiescence to Iran’s ambition for regional hegemony.

What’s happened with the issue of military research is merely a repetition of the same pattern of Iranian stonewalling followed by American concessions that has marked the entire process. Since the U.S. opened up a secret negotiating track with Iran in 2013, President Obama has gradually retreated from a position demanding an end to Iran’s nuclear program to one in which it will be allowed to keep several thousand centrifuges while also refusing to tell the truth about their work toward a bomb and safe in the knowledge that a sunset clause will eventually enable them to build one after the deal expires. With days left to go before the deadline for the talks to end, anyone who expects the administration to walk away from a deal over any detail, no matter how crucial it might be, has not been paying attention.

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Are the Iran Nuclear Talks a Hostage Negotiation?

With one week left before the current deadline for the end of the nuclear talks with Iran, the administration’s desperation to cut a deal with Tehran is fairly obvious. The reason why the Iranians have stood their ground on the last sticking points stems from President Obama’s history of retreating on every issue when pressed to do so, leading the Iranians to believe they can count on him making a few more concessions in order to secure the agreement. But according to Politico, they have another motive for expecting the West to give way again on measures that might conceivably limit their ability to cheat their way to a bomb. Instead of just taking advantage of Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s zeal for a deal, they also have the ability to threaten mayhem throughout the Middle East if they don’t get their way. Possible Iranian threats against U.S. personnel in Iraq may be turning the nuclear talks into as much of a hostage negotiation as anything else.

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With one week left before the current deadline for the end of the nuclear talks with Iran, the administration’s desperation to cut a deal with Tehran is fairly obvious. The reason why the Iranians have stood their ground on the last sticking points stems from President Obama’s history of retreating on every issue when pressed to do so, leading the Iranians to believe they can count on him making a few more concessions in order to secure the agreement. But according to Politico, they have another motive for expecting the West to give way again on measures that might conceivably limit their ability to cheat their way to a bomb. Instead of just taking advantage of Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s zeal for a deal, they also have the ability to threaten mayhem throughout the Middle East if they don’t get their way. Possible Iranian threats against U.S. personnel in Iraq may be turning the nuclear talks into as much of a hostage negotiation as anything else.

As Politico’s sources within the administration make clear, U.S. officials are worried that a breakdown in the nuclear talks could lead to attacks against Americans in Iraq from Shiite militias or others doing Iran’s bidding. Iran has become a de facto ally of the United States in the battle against ISIS. But as problematic as relying on an Islamist regime that sponsors terrorism to fight Islamist terrorists may be, this arrangement also leaves the 3,000 U.S. personnel sent to Iraq as advisers and trainers for the forces fighting ISIS vulnerable to Iranian revenge if the president doesn’t do as they demand in the nuclear talks.

The reason why President Obama has given Iran little reason to worry about his willingness to pressure them in the nuclear talks is a function of his weak negotiating style, but it is also rooted in his objectives. Though he has consistently said he will never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, he has proven that he is just as interested, if not more so, in détente with the Islamist regime. But while Obama conceives of this as a way for Iran to “get right with the world,” the Iranians have other intentions. They welcome the president’s effort to find an excuse to end their economic and diplomatic isolation but intend to use it as a cover to proceed toward their own goal of regional hegemony.

With their allies winning the Syrian civil war and keeping Bashar Assad in power, Tehran views the fighting in Iraq as a way to consolidate their influence over a Baghdad government that no longer can count on U.S. forces. With the Iranians directing operations against ISIS in Tikrit and elsewhere in the country, a tacit alliance with the United States has now become an open one. Though that aids the fight against ISIS, it also puts Iran in a position to exact revenge on the U.S. if the administration finds its backbone in the nuclear talks.

Washington may argue that Iran’s stake in Iraq and Syria gives it an incentive to play ball in the nuclear talks since they have a lot to lose if the West were to try to oust Assad or to toss them out of Iraq. But the facts on the ground argue in the other direction. It is the administration that needs Iran, or thinks it does. Iran has made itself both indispensible to the fight against ISIS and created a situation in which the U.S. may think it has no choice but to tread carefully whenever Tehran’s interests are placed in jeopardy. That’s not so much an unavoidable tradeoff that is a standard part of diplomacy as it is an occupational hazard for nations that try to do business with terrorists and their state sponsors.

By abandoning Iraq after the surge had secured the victory that U.S. troops fought so hard to achieve, President Obama set a series of events in motion that led to both the rise of ISIS and an unholy alliance with Iran. It has also created a situation where Americans and U.S. interests throughout the region are now hostages that can be threatened if Iran wants to squeeze Obama. Given the president’s eagerness to be fleeced at the nuclear talks by Iran, that may not be necessary. But if the Islamist regime were ever worried about President Obama meaning what he says about not signing a bad nuclear deal, their potential for mayhem in Iraq makes it unlikely that the U.S. will surprise us and stand its ground over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

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If Iran’s ‘Hard-Liners’ Are Happy, Americans Should Be Worried

According to the New York Times’ man in Tehran, Iran’s “hard-liners” are being unusually quiet these days. Bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink reports that what one of his sources among the regime’s Revolutionary Guards calls their “remarkably quiet” behavior is significant. Rather than orchestrating demonstrations or otherwise showing their displeasure with the nuclear talks with the West, as they have at times in the past, this faction is doing nothing. This reflects, he writes, “a general satisfaction with the direction of the talks and the successes Iran is enjoying, extending and deepening its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.” One can’t blame them for thinking so but the apt question here isn’t about what the Times considers the surprising support for the negotiations from the country’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his followers but why those tasked with protecting America’s security shouldn’t be worried about Iran’s contentment?

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According to the New York Times’ man in Tehran, Iran’s “hard-liners” are being unusually quiet these days. Bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink reports that what one of his sources among the regime’s Revolutionary Guards calls their “remarkably quiet” behavior is significant. Rather than orchestrating demonstrations or otherwise showing their displeasure with the nuclear talks with the West, as they have at times in the past, this faction is doing nothing. This reflects, he writes, “a general satisfaction with the direction of the talks and the successes Iran is enjoying, extending and deepening its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.” One can’t blame them for thinking so but the apt question here isn’t about what the Times considers the surprising support for the negotiations from the country’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his followers but why those tasked with protecting America’s security shouldn’t be worried about Iran’s contentment?

While Iran’s political system is complex, the Times article reflects a basic misconception about the Islamist regime that is widespread in the West. There are various competing factions within Iran’s government, security forces and religious institutions, the assumption that a group “hard-liners” is fighting against supposed moderates over the future of the country is something of a misnomer. Iran is not one big happy family of Islamists but the division has a lot to do with personalities, institutional loyalties and shades of fanaticism and not much to do with Western beliefs and hopes that Iranian society will become a more liberal place. Just as many American analyses of the politics of the former Soviet Union were driven by misinformed speculation about an ongoing battle between so-called hawks and doves within the Kremlin, so, too, is much of the talk about Iran rendered useless by similar talk about hard-liners and moderates, who are allegedly led by President Hassan Rouhani.

On the issues that matter, be it the theocratic nature of the state, support for international terrorism, the regime’s ambition for regional hegemony and nuclear weapons or the destruction of Israel, there are no real moderates or hard-liners in Tehran as these goals are shared by all the factions. The only differences are about nuances or how much they think they can get away with in pushing the West. If even those identified by the New York Times are pleased with the nuclear talks as well as by their country’s success in spreading their influence around the region via terrorism and support of allied despotic regimes such as that of Bashar Assad in Syria, that is not a sign that Khamenei and his followers are softening up but that they are realizing their objectives.

They have, after all, good reason to be happy.

By merely standing their ground in the negotiations the Iranians have been able to persuade President Obama to abandon his 2012 campaign promises about forcing Iran to give up its nuclear program as well as the United Nations Security Council resolutions forbidding them to enrich uranium. Instead of increasing sanctions until the tottering Iranian economy, undermined by the crash in oil prices, forced a shaky regime to start making concessions, it was the Americans who cracked and gave up all of their considerable economic and political leverage in the talks. Now, 16 months after the interim agreement signed by the U.S. gave a Western seal of approval to the survival of Iran’s nuclear program, the Americans have gone further, agreeing that Tehran can keep thousands of centrifuges and even putting in a sunset clause in the offer put on the table that will eventually end all restrictions on their behavior. The Iranians know the one year “break out” period President Obama thinks gives him enough leeway to stop a bomb is meaningless since Western intelligence there is poor and the decision-making process to re-impose sanctions or take other action will take too long and will be unable to prevent them from cheating. But even if they abide by the deal, the sunset clause will ensure that eventually they will move from the status of threshold nuclear power to one with a bomb if they choose.

Even more important, Khamenei understands that President Obama’s belief in a détente with Iran that will enable it “to get right with the world” is also giving his nation the ability to extend its influence over the region in a way that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. With victories in Syria and Yemen and alliances with terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza, they are now able to credibly threaten every moderate Arab regime as well as Israel. Iranian hard-liners may well say, as one of Erdbrink’s sources puts it, that their movement is “at new peaks of our power.”

But what is missing from this story and much of the mainstream media’s uncritical coverage of administration policy, is any explanation as to why it would be in America’s strategic interests to be so accommodating to forces that hate the West and whose dearest wish is to inflict great harm on the “Great Satan” — America or its partner, “Little Satan” Israel.

The administration may answer that any negotiation cannot be a zero-sum game in which Iran will get nothing. But what President Obama has done is to conduct talks in which Iran gets everything it asks for and the West receives next to nothing. The glee of the “hard-liners” is proof that what Secretary of State John Kerry has negotiated isn’t so much a “bad deal” but a one-sided and shameful appeasement, the details of which the administration has worked hard to conceal from both Congress and its Israeli and Arab allies. The happier the “hard-liners” are, the more worried Americans and those who rely on U.S. strength should be.

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Spies Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

The Wall Street Journal rattled some teacups with its article today claiming that Israel is spying on the American team negotiating with Iran and sharing the results with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It should be noted that in the article itself Israeli officials deny that they were spying on the U.S.; they say they got their information from spying on the Iranians and from information freely shared with them by the French, who are more interested in keeping the Israelis informed than the Americans are. Whether the Israeli defense is true or not I don’t know. But either way there is nothing particularly shocking going on here.

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The Wall Street Journal rattled some teacups with its article today claiming that Israel is spying on the American team negotiating with Iran and sharing the results with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It should be noted that in the article itself Israeli officials deny that they were spying on the U.S.; they say they got their information from spying on the Iranians and from information freely shared with them by the French, who are more interested in keeping the Israelis informed than the Americans are. Whether the Israeli defense is true or not I don’t know. But either way there is nothing particularly shocking going on here.

As a general matter, let us stipulate that allies should minimize the extent to which they spy on each other, if only because such revelations can be embarrassing and damaging. But the reality is that almost everyone does it. The only notable exception I’m aware of is the “Five Eyes”—the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada—which have been closely cooperating in intelligence matters since World War II. The U.S. certainly spies on allies such as France and Germany, as we discovered from Edward Snowden’s leaks.  And they spy on us.

For that matter the U.S. also spies on Israel. In fact it was through such spying that Israel discovered the alleged Israeli spying. As the Journal notes: “The White House discovered the [Israeli] operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.”

So U.S. officials are in no position to be pointing fingers at Israel. If the Journal account is to be believed, the administration is less upset by the Israeli espionage than by the Israelis sharing what they discovered with legislators: “The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.”

Let me get this straight: The administration believes that it must at all costs keep not only close allies such as Israel in the dark about the negotiations but also lawmakers who have a duty to ratify treaties. The only grounds I can see for the administration stance is that Obama is preparing to reach a generous deal with Iran that he knows will upset lawmakers and allies, and he is trying to keep the terms a secret until it is a fait accompli in the hopes of ramming it through using executive prerogative alone. This is well within the president’s power to do but it is hardly a wise way to proceed with such a momentous agreement.

One suspects that the Israeli espionage may have leaked out now for the same reason that the administration insists on pummeling Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly in public: as a way to delegitimize the Israeli position (which also happens to be the majority position of both houses of Congress) in the Iran debate. This is a dangerous game that Obama is playing. At stake is nothing less than Israel’s security as well as that of other American allies located near Iran—to say nothing of US interests in the region.

Is Israel supposed to sit blind, deaf, and dumb while this is going on? While it would be better if Israel didn’t feel compelled to spy on the U.S. (just as it would be better if the US didn’t feel compelled to spy on Israel), this is not an instance such as the Jonathan Pollard case, which was just stupid spying, disrupting the alliance for no good reason. (Pollard was providing “nice to have” information not “must have” information.) This is a matter of survival for the Jewish State. So, while Netanyahu has made some missteps in his dealing with Obama, such as challenging his negotiating position before Congress, this is an instance where Israeli actions are understandable: If the U.S. refuses to share what could be life or death information with Israel, the Jewish State will get its information however it can. If it were put in a similar position, the U.S. or any other nation would act in the same way.

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Worry About Iran, Not Israeli Democracy

The White House temper tantrum about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive re-election win isn’t quite over. Though the president finally forced himself to call to congratulate the prime minister, the conversation appears to have been more of a lecture from the president about peace process and the supposed threat to Israeli democracy. In doing so, Obama, who discussed the call with the Huffington Post, is attempting to set the tone for U.S.-Israel relations until he leaves office. His threats about abandoning Israel at the United Nations and exerting brutal pressure on it to make concessions to the Palestinians are going to be presented as an attempt to save Israel from itself and in so doing preserve its democracy. That’s a clever tactic meant to disarm his critics, but the president’s assumptions about Israeli society are not only incorrect, they are a diversionary tactic meant to distract us from Obama’s real foreign policy priority these days: détente with Iran. Far from defending Israeli democracy, his goal is to overturn its verdict.

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The White House temper tantrum about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive re-election win isn’t quite over. Though the president finally forced himself to call to congratulate the prime minister, the conversation appears to have been more of a lecture from the president about peace process and the supposed threat to Israeli democracy. In doing so, Obama, who discussed the call with the Huffington Post, is attempting to set the tone for U.S.-Israel relations until he leaves office. His threats about abandoning Israel at the United Nations and exerting brutal pressure on it to make concessions to the Palestinians are going to be presented as an attempt to save Israel from itself and in so doing preserve its democracy. That’s a clever tactic meant to disarm his critics, but the president’s assumptions about Israeli society are not only incorrect, they are a diversionary tactic meant to distract us from Obama’s real foreign policy priority these days: détente with Iran. Far from defending Israeli democracy, his goal is to overturn its verdict.

The president’s concerns about Netanyahu’s pre-election vow about not allowing the creation of a Palestinian state on his watch are presentable as a reasonable defense of what even most Israelis think is the ideal solution to their country’s conflict with the Arab world. But the reason why a clear majority of Israelis supported Netanyahu and parties likely to back him was that few of them outside of the far left believe there is any reasonable hope for a two-state solution in the foreseeable future. They weren’t convinced of the danger of further territorial concessions by Netanyahu’s rhetoric but by the actions of the Palestinians and the culture of hatred for Israel and Jews that pervades their society.

The president treats the repeated rejections of Israeli offers of statehood by the Palestinians and the support for terrorism even by the supposedly moderate leaders of the Palestinian Authority as irrelevant. Israelis do not. Nor are they interested in replicating what happened in Gaza after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal — which now constitutes an independent Palestinian state in all but name and a massive base for terrorism — in the more strategic West Bank. That’s an opinion shared even by many of those who supported Netanyahu’s opponents. Until a sea change in Palestinian politics that will allow its leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn occurs, Israelis will reject two states in practice rather than in principle and no amount of White House bullying will change that.

But Obama’s concerns for Israeli democracy have more resonance than his promotion of a peace process that everyone knows is dead in the water. Netanyahu’s foolish remarks about wanting his base to turn out to balance the votes of Israeli Arabs is being used to present him as not only a racist but a threat to his country’s survival. But the huffing and puffing, especially from liberal Jews, many of whom, like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who generally only trot out their religious credentials to bash Israel, tells us less about Israel than about the ignorance about the Jewish state that prevails among much of the American chattering classes that are following the president’s lead.

Whatever one may think about Netanyahu and his overheated campaign rhetoric, his comments about Arab votes simply reflected the reality of a democratic system that remains under assault from both within and without. No one in the government attempted to obstruct the efforts of Israeli Arabs to vote. Nor were their votes stolen. The rights of those Arab voters who backed the Joint Arab List that won 13 seats last week (many Arabs vote for mainstream Israeli parties, some of whom including the Likud have Arab Knesset members) were not violated. If they are marginalized, as some claim, it is not because Netanyahu and his voters are racist but because they support the Palestinian war on the Jewish state. The goals of those elected on that list have somehow not penetrated to the consciousness of many Americans that are so concerned about them. The list is an alliance of three parties, one Communist, one Islamist and radical Arab nationalist, that differ on just about everything but not the destruction of Israel. That is something they all support. The Islamists and the nationalists also support terrorism against the state they are elected to serve in the Knesset. Is it any wonder that Israelis worry about the rise of such a list or that Netanyahu would urge them not to let it determine the outcome of the elections by themselves turning out in big numbers as they did?

What Obama and other critics of Netanyahu want is not to preserve Israel’s democratic system that is not under attack from the Likud but to punish the voters for choosing a party and a candidate that contradicts their ignorant assumptions about the Middle East. Israel’s leftists can’t seem to persuade voters to back them but they have convinced some Americans that the right of the majority of Israelis to determine their nation’s fate should be superseded by a U.S. president that has little affection for them.

More to the point, the more Obama and his liberal cheering section in the press pour on the opprobrium on Netanyahu, the less attention we’re paying to the Iran talks that are reportedly moving toward a conclusion in Switzerland. Almost by default, Netanyahu has become the most articulate opponent of the administration’s embrace of détente with an Iranian regime that even Obama concedes continues to spew anti-Semitism and threats about Israel’s destruction. Selling an Iran deal that, at best, grants the Islamist regime the status of threshold nuclear power now seems to require Netanyahu’s delegitimization rather more than desultory efforts to justify an indefensible surrender of U.S. principles and Obama’s campaign promise. Those who play along with this ruse out of a misguided belief that Israeli democracy is in danger are helping the president isolate the Jewish state, not defending it.

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What South Africa Teaches Us About Suspect Nuclear Programs

Just as two decades ago in the run-up to the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, enthusiasm for a nuclear deal has trumped good sense and careful consideration about the implications of some of the concessions the White House was willing to make. Back in 1994, President Bill Clinton and his aides gave the South Korean president what might today be called “the Netanyahu treatment,” demonizing the leader of a democratic and pro-American country for having the temerity of raising concerns regarding how a rushed and ill-conceived diplomatic bargain cold undercut his own country’s security. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—which had just been burned when it emerged that Iraq had had a covert nuclear program despite 11 IAEA clean bills of health—began raising concerns that concessions which the Clinton administration negotiators had made with Pyongyang would make it impossible for the IAEA to do its job. Hindsight shows both the Seoul and the IAEA were right. The irony today is, of course, that Kerry has appointed to be his Iran negotiators some of the same individuals who brought us the Agreed Framework and, by extension, a North Korean nuclear arsenal.

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Just as two decades ago in the run-up to the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, enthusiasm for a nuclear deal has trumped good sense and careful consideration about the implications of some of the concessions the White House was willing to make. Back in 1994, President Bill Clinton and his aides gave the South Korean president what might today be called “the Netanyahu treatment,” demonizing the leader of a democratic and pro-American country for having the temerity of raising concerns regarding how a rushed and ill-conceived diplomatic bargain cold undercut his own country’s security. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—which had just been burned when it emerged that Iraq had had a covert nuclear program despite 11 IAEA clean bills of health—began raising concerns that concessions which the Clinton administration negotiators had made with Pyongyang would make it impossible for the IAEA to do its job. Hindsight shows both the Seoul and the IAEA were right. The irony today is, of course, that Kerry has appointed to be his Iran negotiators some of the same individuals who brought us the Agreed Framework and, by extension, a North Korean nuclear arsenal.

It is useful, however, to consider successful examples in which countries have abandoned their military nuclear programs. Libya is one example, of course. The late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi agreed to abandon his nuclear program in 2003 against the backdrop first of the invasion of Iraq, and then Saddam’s capture. But, even then, American and international experts rushed around the clock to remove nuclear equipment and records in case the famously mercurial Qaddafi changed his mind. Obama has effectively voided six United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding a complete cessation of Iranian enrichment, and he has acceded to Iranian demands that enrichment occur inside Iran, rather than abroad, with a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel for Iran’s plants.

South Africa is another example. After years of suspicion with regard to its nuclear intentions and, indeed, a weapons program, in 1991 South Africa agreed to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA moved in to assess South Africa’s compliance. In order to verify the completeness of South Africa’s declaration of inventory of nuclear material and facilities, the IAEA required more than two decades of past records into South Africa’s nuclear program. Ultimately, the organization was able to then trace and account for all nuclear material and verify that South Africa was in compliance.

Alas, Obama and Kerry have in effect acceded to Iran’s demand that transparency and accountability start only when a framework agreement is signed, and that there will be no requirement that Iran come clean about its past. In reality, however, the IAEA will need full and complete records going back to the mid-1980s when the Islamic Republic restarted its nuclear program. The IAEA is right to complain that it is being put in an impossible position because Kerry’s team is prioritizing imagery over substance. Rather than uphold South Africa’s nuclear negotiations as a model, Kerry is effectively allowing Iran to replicate the North Korea model, a model that Iranian nuclear negotiators have embraced. Alas, North Korea has already shown the world where that leads.

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The Last Time Iran Lied

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry put a great deal of faith in their Iranian interlocutors, chief among them Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. After all, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decreed that the negotiations should occur between foreign ministers, and if there has been one consistent pattern in the current negotiations, it is that Obama is unnervingly deferential to the Supreme Leader’s red lines.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry put a great deal of faith in their Iranian interlocutors, chief among them Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. After all, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decreed that the negotiations should occur between foreign ministers, and if there has been one consistent pattern in the current negotiations, it is that Obama is unnervingly deferential to the Supreme Leader’s red lines.

Too often, presidents enter the Oval Office convinced that the failure of diplomacy rests more with their predecessors than with their adversaries. Obama is no exception. The State Department meanwhile has not, in the last half century at least, conducted a lessons-learned exercise to determine why its high-profile engagement diplomacy with rogue regimes—North Korea, Saddam’s Iraq, the PLO, the Taliban, or Iran—never seems to work. All too often, it seems history repeats.

It’s worth considering, then, what happened the last time the United States negotiated in earnest with Zarif. In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, both Zalmay Khalilzad (at the time a senior National Security Council official) and Ryan Crocker (then a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State), traveled to Geneva to meet secretly with Zarif. Their goal was to come to an understanding with Iran ahead of the start of hostilities commencing with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: Basically, the U.S. side sought not interference and non-intervention with Iran. Zarif readily agreed that Iran would not interfere with any American pilots who strayed into Iraqi airspace, nor would Iran interfere in Iraq by inserting Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Iranian-backed militias into the country.

Just days later, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced and almost immediately, more than 2,000 Revolutionary Guardsmen and militiamen infiltrated into Iraq. The Iranian movement was reported first by an Iranian journalist close to former President Mohammad Khatami. In other words, Zarif gave his firm commitment that Iran would not conduct an action, and then Iran subsequently and blatantly violated that agreement.

There are two possible explanations: The first is that Zarif lied. The second is that the then-UN Ambassador was sincere, but he had no power to force groups like the Revolutionary Guards to abide by his negotiated commitments. Either way, the result was the same: Hundreds of Americans died because senior diplomats and the Bush administration chose to trust the Iranians.

The stakes with Iran are even higher today; perhaps it’s time for Kerry to explain in precise detail how it is that a man whose word was without meaning a decade ago has become a trusted intermediary. No one should hold their breath, however, because there is no good answer.

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Iran Knows Obama Won’t Walk Away

The latest round of talks between the West and Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland broke up today with both sides saying differences still remain between the parties. Though the basic principles of the agreement allowing Iran to hold onto a vast nuclear infrastructure are already set, reportedly there are gaps between the sides on the amount of centrifuges it will keep as well as on the timing of the suspension of sanctions that have been imposed on the Islamist regime. The White House is claiming that President Obama is standing firm on his insistence that sanctions remain in place after the deal is signed. But if Iran is confident that he will eventually give in, it’s hard to blame them. The president has already made so many important concessions to Tehran and been willing to expend so much political capital in battles with both Congress and Israel that it’s hard to believe him when he says he will walk away from the negotiations if Iran doesn’t give in to his demands.

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The latest round of talks between the West and Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland broke up today with both sides saying differences still remain between the parties. Though the basic principles of the agreement allowing Iran to hold onto a vast nuclear infrastructure are already set, reportedly there are gaps between the sides on the amount of centrifuges it will keep as well as on the timing of the suspension of sanctions that have been imposed on the Islamist regime. The White House is claiming that President Obama is standing firm on his insistence that sanctions remain in place after the deal is signed. But if Iran is confident that he will eventually give in, it’s hard to blame them. The president has already made so many important concessions to Tehran and been willing to expend so much political capital in battles with both Congress and Israel that it’s hard to believe him when he says he will walk away from the negotiations if Iran doesn’t give in to his demands.

Talks will resume in Switzerland next week with what appears to be a still long list of differences to work out. But in spite of the president’s tough talk about not backing down, Iran knows that the administration has gone too far to give up. That’s been their strategy since the president opened up a secret talks with the regime in 2013. On point after point, the U.S. has abandoned the principles upon which the international coalition against Iran was formed and upon which President Obama campaigned for re-election in 2012.

In the interim deal signed in November 2013, the administration gave their tacit approval to an Iranian “right” to enrich uranium and started the process of loosening sanctions. That was supposed to be followed by a finite period of six months during which a subsequent agreement was to be negotiated. But that deadline has been extended three times since then as the Western powers became hostages to the process they had initiated. Having already discarded the impressive economic and military leverage it possessed over Iran, the P5+1 group felt it had no choice but to continue along the same path. Just as Secretary of State John Kerry defended the interim deal on the grounds that the minimal restrictions imposed and the concessions granted to Iran was better than no deal at all, so, too, have the current talks continued because the West was committed to a deal at all costs, no matter the terms.

In this way, the Iranians have wrung permission to keep thousands of centrifuges and a “sunset” clause that will eventually end restrictions on their nuclear program out of President Obama. Any such agreement will, at the very least, make Iran a threshold nuclear power, a development that rightly frightens moderate Arab nations as well as posing a potential existential threat to Israel.

The administration defends these concessions as being insignificant because the deal would make it impossible for Iran to “break out” to build a weapon in less than a year. Given the lack of inspections and the paucity of Western intelligence about Iran and the near certainty that there are nuclear facilities that aren’t currently under scrutiny such promises ring hollow. But even in the unlikely event that Iran keeps its promises the sunset clause ensures that they can eventually build a bomb even by following its terms.

That said, it is not too late for the United States to walk away from the negotiations if Iran refuses to agree that sanctions must be only gradually removed or abide by restrictions on their nuclear and military research (a point on which the lack of inspections has made it difficult to know just how much progress they’ve made in the past). But having stood their ground on every important facet of this negotiation up until now, why should the Iranians think the president will hold his ground on these points?

The president has already committed himself to signing a deal that will not be submitted to Congress but has already started talks at the United Nations to rescind international sanctions. He has publicly feuded with the prime minister of Israel and demanded that Democrats stay loyal to him rather than support bipartisan legislation calling for any agreement to be voted upon by Congress or for toughened sanctions to strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. To give up now when he has gambled so heavily on what his staff has termed the ObamaCare of his second term, the notion that he would throw it all away now isn’t credible.

It should also be remembered that there is more here at stake for the president than the question of an Iranian bomb. The president has already committed himself to détente with Iran as his overall strategy for the Middle East. To back away from the talks and increase sanctions or even threaten force, as he has always claimed he would if a good deal couldn’t be obtained, would require him to rethink his approach to the conflict with ISIS where he has embraced Iran as a partner or to the civil war in Syria where the U.S. has acquiesced to the survival of Iran’s ally Bashar Assad. The nuclear deal is merely the excuse that he has used to justify an entente with Tehran that has been his goal all along.

So, as they have for the last two years, the Iranians are banking on the president’s zeal for a deal to allow them to get their way on these final points of disagreement. Since watering down the already desperately weak U.S. offer to Iran on the table isn’t going to be any less disgraceful than what he has already conceded, there’s really no reason for the administration to take a stand now. No matter how the White House and its media cheering section spin the outcome of the talks, no one should expect anything other than another Western surrender at Lausanne.

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On Iran, Senate Democrats Must Choose Between Obama and Constitution

With a week to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration is hopeful but by no means certain it can get a deal. The president has offered the Islamist regime generous terms that will allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and reportedly will include a sunset clause that will end restrictions on its nuclear activity at some point in the not-too-distant future. But the administration’s main concern right now is ensuring that Congress doesn’t pass legislation that would allow it a a say on any agreement. As Politico reports, the White House is orchestrating a lobbying blitz on Senate Democrats in an effort to convince enough of them to prevent the bipartisan coalition supporting a bill that will require a Congressional vote on any agreement from prevailing. That leaves those wavering Democrats with an interesting choice: obey the president’s demand for party line loyalty or defend the legislative branch’s constitutional rights on an issue where most of them are unhappy with the direction of administration policy.

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With a week to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration is hopeful but by no means certain it can get a deal. The president has offered the Islamist regime generous terms that will allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and reportedly will include a sunset clause that will end restrictions on its nuclear activity at some point in the not-too-distant future. But the administration’s main concern right now is ensuring that Congress doesn’t pass legislation that would allow it a a say on any agreement. As Politico reports, the White House is orchestrating a lobbying blitz on Senate Democrats in an effort to convince enough of them to prevent the bipartisan coalition supporting a bill that will require a Congressional vote on any agreement from prevailing. That leaves those wavering Democrats with an interesting choice: obey the president’s demand for party line loyalty or defend the legislative branch’s constitutional rights on an issue where most of them are unhappy with the direction of administration policy.

At stake in this battle is the fate of the bill co-sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker and ranking member Robert Menendez that would require a Congressional vote on any Iran deal. This is separate from the bill put forward by Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk that would impose new and tougher sanctions on Iran. Both have large majorities already on record as supporting them but last month 11 Senate Democrats, including Menendez, signed a letter to the White House saying that despite eagerness on the part of the GOP to press ahead with passing the two bills, they would withhold their support until March 24.

However, that courtesy extended to the president by members of his party has not weakened the president’s determination to allow nothing to stand in the way of a deal with Iran, no matter the terms given Tehran or how long it will take. Not satisfied with being given until March 24, the White House is now using all the muscle it can muster to force the Democratic caucus to extend the delay on Corker-Menendez until the end of June when the third extension granted of the negotiations with Iran (that President Obama had promised Congress would not go past the summer of 2014) will end.

The outcome of this effort is by no means certain. At the moment, every one of the 54 Republicans in the Senate has said they will vote for the bill. If the 11 Democrats who said they would hold off until March 24 stick to their promise to support the measure that will leave them two short of a veto-proof majority. That leaves the White House scrambling to pick off some members of the group of 11 as well as hoping that no other Democrat joins the GOP in support of the bill.

There are two important elements of the administration lobbying effort.

One is that although they accused House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of injecting partisanship into the debate about Iran, it is actually only the White House that is brandishing party loyalty as a weapon in this effort. Coming into 2015, there appeared to be broad bipartisan majorities in both Houses of Congress behind more sanctions on Iran. Nor was there much opposition to the notion of requiring a vote on an Iran deal as would seem to be required by the Constitution as well as the fact that the sanctions that would have to be lifted in order for a nuclear accord to go forward were passed by Congress and would need to be rescinded by the same bodies that enacted them.

The White House turned the Netanyahu invitation into a partisan spat by ginning up arguments claiming that the speech was an insult to the president. Though the effort to promote a Democratic boycott of the speech failed as badly as the president’s maneuvers intended to help Netanyahu’s opponents defeat him in this week’s election, the administration did succeed in persuading some Democrats to view the issue as a partisan matter rather than a consensus issue. The White House is now doubling down on this approach as March 24 approaches with an all-out lobbying effort aimed exclusively at Democrats led by senior cabinet officials.

Yet what is most interesting about this campaign is that the White House is not only refusing to defend its Iran stand on its merits. It is also expecting members of Congress to undermine the Constitution’s separation of powers in order to allow the president to negotiate and implement an Iran deal without being held to account by any scrutiny.

Reportedly, White House Chief of Staff James McDonough wrote to the Senate on Sunday night telling them in no uncertain terms that the president expected them to stay mum on the issue until the end of June. That means it not only wants no debate on the issue prior to the conclusion of negotiations but also no vote after a potential deal is signed. As I wrote last week, though the administration is already preparing to go the United Nations Security Council to lift economic sanctions on Iran, it is preparing to simply order non-enforcement of U.S. measures rather than ask Congress to vote to rescind laws that it has passed.

Just as important, the administration is doing its best to shut down discussion on the terms it has offered Iran. Their plan is to wait until Iran agrees to measures that amount to nothing short of appeasement of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions — and a clear violation of the president’s 2012 re-election campaign pledges about any deal requiring the end of Iran’s nuclear program — and then hope that the stage managed celebration of what it will spin as a foreign policy triumph will obscure any debate about the issue.

It’s a smart strategy because the terms being offered Iran aren’t so much a “bad deal” as Netanyahu has rightly called it, as they are utterly indefensible. The proposed agreement that Iran has bludgeoned Obama into handing them is the product of a series of retreats from U.S. stands that will grant Western approval for Iran being left in possession of its nuclear infrastructure. The deal hinges on the notion that inspections will be stringent even though Iran has always evaded such measures previously. Just as ominous is the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western intelligence agencies all think the Iranians have other secret nuclear facilities that won’t be seen. With such flimsy intelligence about Iran it’s hard to accept the president’s assurances that the U.S. will have at least year to head off an Iranian nuclear breakout. Even worse, the sunset provisions in the deal may allow Iran to eventually gain a weapon even if it does abide by the agreement.

Added together with the Constitutional arguments, the terms offered Iran make it imperative for Congress to at least defend its right to vote on such a treaty even if the president is pretending it is just an executive agreement. But it will be up to Senate Democrats to show us whether they value their partisan loyalty to the president more than their devotion to their Constitutional responsibilities or the need to stop Iran.

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What Obama’s Rush to Iran Détente Means

The nuclear talks between the Iran and the United States and its allies continue in Lausanne, Switzerland this week with both parties expressing both optimism that they are close to an agreement and demands that the other side make concessions. Given Iran’s history of delaying tactics it is impossible to know for sure whether they will eventually agree to the deal or a framework of one being offered them by President Obama by the March 24 deadline. Given the series of retreats that the president has made on this issue in the last two years, it’s hard to blame the Iranians for believing that they can ultimately prevail and get their way in the talks. But as Jackson Diehl noted earlier this week in the Washington Post, these negotiations are about a lot more than the effort to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. While almost all of the attention on nuclear diplomacy has been on the details of the offer made by the United States as well as on efforts by both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or Senate Republicans to derail what they consider American appeasement of Iran, the real issue is one that the president has done all he can to avoid: the U.S. attempt to create a new entente with Tehran that will allow the two country to cooperate on a host of issues in the Middle East.

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The nuclear talks between the Iran and the United States and its allies continue in Lausanne, Switzerland this week with both parties expressing both optimism that they are close to an agreement and demands that the other side make concessions. Given Iran’s history of delaying tactics it is impossible to know for sure whether they will eventually agree to the deal or a framework of one being offered them by President Obama by the March 24 deadline. Given the series of retreats that the president has made on this issue in the last two years, it’s hard to blame the Iranians for believing that they can ultimately prevail and get their way in the talks. But as Jackson Diehl noted earlier this week in the Washington Post, these negotiations are about a lot more than the effort to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. While almost all of the attention on nuclear diplomacy has been on the details of the offer made by the United States as well as on efforts by both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or Senate Republicans to derail what they consider American appeasement of Iran, the real issue is one that the president has done all he can to avoid: the U.S. attempt to create a new entente with Tehran that will allow the two country to cooperate on a host of issues in the Middle East.

As Diehl rightly put it, the U.S. strategy in the talks isn’t really so much about a nuclear issue on which the Americans have essentially punted on efforts to stop the Islamist regime from obtaining nuclear capability. During his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama pledged that any deal with Iran would ensure that it gave up its nuclear program. Yet the U.S. offer to Iran will allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure in the form of thousands of centrifuges, a nuclear fuel stockpile that could easily be reactivated and a sunset clause that will end any restrictions on Iranian activity after an unspecified period. This will allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear power with Western approval and to easily evade restrictions to build a bomb if they want. Even worse, once sanctions are eventually lifted and the West moves on from this confrontation, Iran might well be able to build a bomb by actually observing the agreement.

Any sort of agreement, no matter how weak or unlikely to achieve the goal of preventing an Iranian weapon, will be portrayed by the White House as a great achievement. But as Diehl noted, those who are concentrating solely on the back-and-forth in the talks or the anger about the letter from Senate Republicans warning that a deal won’t be binding if Congress doesn’t ratify it, misses the real objective of the administration to find a partner to help resolve problems in Iraq and Syria.

The administration seems to view Iranian actions in those two countries as being helpful since its forces are fighting ISIS in Iraq and have helped prop up its ally Bashar Assad against Islamist rebels. That helps explain why Obama dithered for years about taking action in Syria even as he continued to call for Assad’s ouster or spoke about its atrocity crossing “red lines.” It also explains why, despite the fact that U.S. officials have rightly labeled Tehran as the leading state sponsor of terror in the world, both Iran and Hezbollah were left off a list of terror threats prepared by Director of National Intelligence James Klapper.

What the president seems to want is to create an era of cooperation in which Iran will have a free hand to protect its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries dominate, will ensure that ISIS doesn’t get too strong. But this scares both Israel and moderate Arab regimes that rightly sees Iran as every bit as dangerous as ISIS.

The result of such an alliance will not only be détente with Iran that will undermine resistance to Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also allow it to achieve the regional hegemony that it has wanted since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Thus, while we do well to try and point out the terrible consequences of the nuclear deal, its real implications go farther than just the question of how quickly Iran can get to a bomb. If this deal goes through without being checked by Congress, future administrations will not just have to deal with an Iran that is closer to a bomb but the fact that President Obama is giving a Western seal of approval to Iran’s regional ambitions.

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If Bibi Loses, the Next Defense Minister Still Wants to Bomb Iran

Most American coverage of the Israeli election continues to center on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his possible replacement by a Labor-led coalition that will steer the Jewish state away from confrontation with the United States. If Netanyahu loses tomorrow, there’s no doubt that it will greatly please the Obama administration. The president and his foreign-policy team regard the Israeli leader as public enemy No. 1 both because of their personal antipathy for him and his willingness to challenge their desire to create détente with Iran. But just as the White House’s expectations for a more pliable Israeli negotiating partner with the Palestinians may be unrealistic, so, too, is their confidence about Labor’s attitude about Iran. As a Times of Israel interview makes clear, the opposition’s designated candidate for defense minister, former general Amos Yadlin, is every bit the hawk about stopping and, if necessary, bombing Iran, as Netanyahu has been.

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Most American coverage of the Israeli election continues to center on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his possible replacement by a Labor-led coalition that will steer the Jewish state away from confrontation with the United States. If Netanyahu loses tomorrow, there’s no doubt that it will greatly please the Obama administration. The president and his foreign-policy team regard the Israeli leader as public enemy No. 1 both because of their personal antipathy for him and his willingness to challenge their desire to create détente with Iran. But just as the White House’s expectations for a more pliable Israeli negotiating partner with the Palestinians may be unrealistic, so, too, is their confidence about Labor’s attitude about Iran. As a Times of Israel interview makes clear, the opposition’s designated candidate for defense minister, former general Amos Yadlin, is every bit the hawk about stopping and, if necessary, bombing Iran, as Netanyahu has been.

It bears repeating that the image of Netanyahu as an extremist that is often the keynote of American press coverage betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the realities of Israeli politics. Though after three terms and nine years as prime minister Netanyahu may have outlasted his expiration date for the Israeli public, the general dissatisfaction with him should not be mistaken for disagreement with this policies on either the Palestinians or Iran. To the contrary, polls show that there is little support for more concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has repeatedly rejected chances for peace, let alone to the even more implacable Hamas in Gaza. Nor is there much of a constituency for complacency about the peril about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Netanyahu’s problems in the election stem from anger about his foolish decision to call an election when he didn’t need to do so and the fact that many voters want more attention paid to economic and domestic issues that the prime minister has sidelined while highlighting security threats.

Though his Zionist Union opponents have criticized Netanyahu’s confrontational tactics with the Obama administration, they have been falling over themselves to make the public think there isn’t much difference between them on security issues. That is largely the case since it is unlikely that either Isaac Herzog or Tzipi Livni (who represented Netanyahu in the peace talks the past two years) will be able to offer the Palestinians any more than the prime minister. Indeed, Herzog has been eager to declare that he wouldn’t divide Jerusalem, as Obama wants him to do.

Assuring the Israeli public that his government wouldn’t be any less tough than that of Netanyahu was the reason Herzog brought Amos Yadlin onto his ticket and designated him as the likely defense minister in the next government. Yadlin, a former head of intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces, is, like many in the old left-dominated army establishment, a stern critic of Netanyahu. But if Obama and his team are reading what Yadlin is saying they might be a little less enthusiastic about the prospect of a new Israeli government. That is especially true of his rhetoric on Iran:

“Are we at the juncture where [all options have failed and] we have to choose between two very problematic alternatives: to accept an Iranian bomb, or to do what it takes so they don’t have a bomb? In English, ‘the bomb or the bombing?’ We have to ask ourselves constantly if we have reached this juncture? Have we exhausted all the other options to stop Iran?”

Many in Washington — “in the ‘belt,’” as Yadlin calls it from his days as military attaché to the US — “are at this juncture and are willing to accept a nuclear Iran. They believe in containment and deterrence.”

Do “they” include President Obama or his cabinet?

Yadlin skirts the question. “You’ll find them among the strategists and among the government officials. I still belong to those who believe that President Obama won’t let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon.” …

Readers who discern distinctively Netanyahu-esque rhetoric in this list of US-Israeli differences on Iran are not mistaken. When it comes to the scale of the danger, the precariousness of trusting in American assurances, and the intentions of the ruling ayatollahs in Tehran, one might be forgiven for labeling Yadlin something slightly more hawkish than the catch-all “centrist.”

And that’s only natural, Yadlin explains.

“The goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and the desire to reach an agreement that will push Iran back as much as possible is not an issue of disagreement between Israel’s [political] parties.”

This is a key point. There really isn’t any genuine disagreement between Israel’s mainstream parties (Labor and Likud) on the basic issues of war and peace. Neither can offer a Palestinian leadership that is not interested in peace anything that will tempt them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. And both are adamantly opposed to appeasement of Iran. Labor may speak kindly about the administration whereas Netanyahu is no longer bothering with pretending that he trusts the president. But when it comes to opposing the sort of concessions the U.S. is making to Iran, Yadlin is every bit the hawk that Netanyahu has been.

All of which means that no matter who wins tomorrow, tension between an American government determined to embrace Iran and to push for territorial concessions to the Palestinians and Israel’s government will continue.

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