Will Bibi Cool It?

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry

by Jim Lobe

After listening to the various statements, press conferences, and background briefings by “senior administration officials,” and initial reactions that followed tonight’s announcement about the interim accord between the P5+1 and Iran, it occurred to me that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may alter his recent course of repeatedly and quite publicly denouncing the agreement as a “bad” or “very bad deal.” Bibi certainly has shown a pragmatic side in the past, and I suspect we may see it again, particularly because the deal appears to be somewhat tougher than had been expected.

After all, when Jeff Goldberg tweets that “The Israeli government position that any Iran agreement is a bad agreement simply isn’t credible,” even Bibi’s new, hard-line ambassador here, Ron Dermer, has to assess seriously the implications.

So it would not surprise me, at this point at least, if Bibi says that this is not as bad a deal as he had expected and then tries to take credit for the tougher-than-exected terms that it appears to include. That’s the only way he can hope to get a serious hearing at the White House at this point. Moreover, Hollande’s endorsement of the deal has really painted him into a very tight corner. After all, he can’t claim so soon after giving the French president a hero’s welcome in Tel Aviv for Paris’s rejection of the proposed agreement two weeks ago that his “sincere” friend has just signed on to a “sucker’s deal.” And, as has been shown in recent months regarding his fears about the hardening of European opposition to — and increasing exasperation at —  Jewish settlements on the West Bank, he has to be careful about giving offense to the EU3, as well as to the White House, however politically weak he may perceive Obama to be at the moment. Indeed, I suspect he may come under pressure from the Euros,  Israel’s most important trading partners by far, to keep his mouth shut. Finally, this deal was made, as Wolf Blitzer put it tonight, between Iran and the “international community” in whose name Bibi often purports to speak. To continue to vehemently denounce the deal is to put himself outside that “community,” thus further exposing Israel’s international isolation. With Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain as virtually his only “allies” on this question, his position is not an enviable one.

Of course, none of this means that he won’t try to derail the deal by working with the Israel lobby (which must be very concerned about its own vulnerabilities given both the degree of public support for an Iran deal that the recent Washington Post and CNN polls have shown and comments like Goldberg’s) to get new sanctions legislation through Congress or by resorting to some kind of provocation (short of attacking Iran as he and his ministers have so often threatened to do). And, of course, even faint praise for the agreement by Bibi would surely strengthen the position of his “sincerest friends” in Tehran — the hard-liners who oppose any rapprochement with Washington. But, assuming Iranian compliance with the deal, including the significantly enhanced inspections provisions,  I think he’s going to have to be much more discreet than he has been, at least for the time being.

On the other hand, he’s never been a particularly subtle guy.

We’ll see soon enough.

UPDATE: It seems my somewhat hopeful speculation in the early-morning hours was incorrect.

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

6 Comments

  1. Israel still has its nuclear weapons and chemical weapons. The utter hypocrisy of Israel’s position should be clear to everyone, but of course this will never be discussed on our mainstream media. We live in a strange world where money and might count far more than justice and fairness.

  2. Wake up on this Sunday morning, I did, and see there’s hope yet for Peace in the M.E. Good points you make in this post, the last 4 words says it all.

    Wearing the shoe on the other foot, fantasy speaking, perhaps this was all some sort of subterfuge on the participants part, as all wanted this, but had to deal with “Bibi” as well as others, like giving them enough rope.

  3. This deal really is Bibi’s worst nightmare come true. If the the P5 + 1 framework proves successful with it’s Iran objectives, the countries involved may well see it as a good format for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations too.

  4. Yes, the Prime Minister of Israel is going to allow his country to be nuked just because pansy liberals won’t stand up to Iran. This will end in a massive air strike followed by months of intense liberal whining.

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