The rift in U.S.-Israeli relations is growing every day.
It’s doubtless the agreement reached in Switzerland on Iran’s nuclear program will make a significant impact on the situation in the Middle East. The negotiations between the “P5+1” international mediators — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany — and Tehran have already deeply dissatisfied the Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly condemned “this kind of deal.” Israel worked actively in the United States to hinder negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue. The biggest bet was placed on Republicans in Congress.
A huge scandal erupted in the relationship between the U.S. and its close ally Israel at the end of February and the beginning of March. Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, in a move circumventing the White House, invited Netanyahu to appear before Congress. Most of all, the Republicans were hoping to pressure the Democrats. Barack Obama reacted harshly, refusing to meet with Netanyahu.
Aides to the president announced that such tactics, if the Israelis continued to use them, would damage relations between the two countries. Nevertheless, Netanyahu appeared before Congress, noting that Iran is the greatest threat to the Middle East, and therefore, an agreement on its nuclear program could harm security interests — most importantly, those of the U.S. itself.
On March 23, The Wall Street Journal published an article in which it claimed that the Israelis were spying on participants of the Iranian nuclear negotiations. With information gathered by their intelligence services, the Israelis were attempting to disrupt the agreement between Iran and “P5+1,” the paper reported. The paper, citing sources within the Obama administration, claims that Israel used wiretaps on members of the nuclear negotiations, then used classified details of conversations in their lobbying campaign among members of Congress.
According to the author of the article, the White House isn’t as angry about Israel’s spying activities as it is about the attempt by Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to stir up anti-Iranian sentiment in Congress. It should be said that on some level they succeeded. Forty-seven senators sent a letter to Iran’s supreme leadership, claiming that the Iranian nuclear deal could be cancelled by a new U.S. president.
As Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Middle East peace negotiator, stated in a recent interview with USA Today: “What’s new is what’s political. This is an effort to show Congress, particularly the Democrats, that Netanyahu has done wrong.”
Accordingly, disagreements between the U.S. and Israel have become quite substantial. The rift in relations between Washington and Tel Aviv is growing every day.
March 17 saw parliamentary elections in Israel, which Netanyahu won largely thanks to the fact that he secured the support of more than half a million settlers. His statement on the eve of the vote that he did not support the creation of an independent Palestinian state earned him the sympathy of many right-wing groups.
Washington took Netanyahu’s words poorly, and the U.S. president stressed several times that the Israeli prime minister’s statements obscure hope for the success of peace negotiations based on a two-state solution. Obama also noted that he has given an order to review America’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
David Ignatius, a political columnist in the know when it comes to Washington politics, noted on March 21 that the White House is considering a number of possible steps, particularly preparing a draft Security Council resolution outlining the framework of a Palestinian state, as well as including in a report to Congress a point on limiting loan guarantees to Israel due to the expansion of its settlement policy in the West Bank. In 1991, George H.W. Bush cut off these guarantees for a period for the same reason.
Furthermore, options are being considered for phasing out objections to the Palestinians’ attempts to lodge a complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, for no longer pressuring European allies in support of placing sanctions on Israel, and lastly, for abstaining from vetoing Security Council resolutions condemning Israel. (Washington has previously used its right to veto more than 40 times to block resolutions condemning Tel Aviv’s actions.) It’s noteworthy that after Netanyahu’s victory, Obama repeatedly voiced his deep skepticism about the Israeli leader’s willingness to enter into serious negotiations with the Palestinians. It’s clear that the Americans are making major adjustments to their policy in the region.
Many Arab observers believe that the U.S. will continue to demonstrate to Israel that its interests in the Middle East do not always coincide with the policies of the Netanyahu government. The time of close cooperation between Washington and Tel Aviv is essentially over. And this, of course, will seriously impact the balance of power in the Middle East.