Israeli media this week was warning of a looming schism in relations with the United States over upcoming Iran nuclear talks.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was widely criticized for loudly pushing Israel’s interests in this regard, even as Washington was trying (under former President Barack Obama) to promote a diplomatic solution. Bibi was accused by many of causing unnecessary tension with the Americans.
Ironically, many of those same voices now seem to be lining up behind current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as he does much the same, shouting from the rooftops, as it were, that Israel will not be bound by any detrimental deal reached by the world powers in Vienna next week.
According to Channel 12 News, Bennett has realized that the differences in opinion between Israel and the US regarding how to deal with Iran can’t be resolved in private, and so he’s taking to the airwaves.
In short, Israel maintains that the Iranian nuclear arms program cannot be stopped without a viable threat of military intervention on the table. Washington wants to stick to the diplomatic track, and while it has hinted at “other options,” the Biden Administration has very notably avoided making an explicit threat of force.
Israel sees Washington’s approach as weak, and there is concern that the Iranians will exploit this. Tehran knows that the Americans are wary of getting involved in another Middle East confrontation.
For that reason, both Bennett and Defense Ministry Benny Gantz are stressing that Israel can rely only on itself for its defense.
Bennett told reporters during a review of military exercises in northern Israel this week: “No matter what happens between Iran and the world powers, we are concerned that there is not enough toughness in the face of Iranian violations. Israel will defend itself on its own.”
Gantz added: “The world must act against Iran, and Israel must continue to do what it needs to do.”
Iran is scheduled to resume negotiations with world powers in Vienna next week. The negotiations are aimed at renewing the previous Iran nuclear deal that Israel’s previous government vehemently opposed.
Speaking at the Reichman University in Herzliya on Tuesday, Bennett went a step further, indirectly warning Washington that the Jewish state is “not bound by” any agreement reached in Vienna.
In fact, the Israeli leader said his government would be an even bigger thorn in the West’s side than its predecessor. Bennett accused Netanyahu of initially making a lot of noise against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but then doing nothing about it once the document was signed.
“The mistake we made after the first nuclear deal in 2015 will not repeat itself,” Bennett insisted. “With all the noise beforehand, from the moment the deal was signed, it affected us like a sleeping pill. Israel simply fell asleep on duty. We occupied ourselves with other things.”
“We will learn from this mistake,” he added. “We will maintain our freedom of action.”
Sensing the mounting tension, a US State Department official spoke with Channel 12 News this week and tried to calm the situation: “We are continuing in consultations with our primary partner in this matter – Israel. Our goals are aligned, that Iran will never attain a nuclear weapon.”
But earlier this week, former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, explained that the problem isn’t the overall shared view of the Iran threat. It’s what both the US and Israel are willing to accept as a successful outcome. And on this, they do not align.
“While the United States can live with an Iran that has the ability to make a bomb but doesn’t do so, Israel simply cannot,” Oren wrote in an op-ed for The Times of Israel.
In his recent visit to Washington, Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid stressed the danger of allowing Iran to become a nuclear threshold state, a development that even without the use of nuclear weapons would several upset regional stability.