Jerusalem and Washington must put internal politics aside to move forward on finding a way to make Iran nuclear-free.
The firestorm that has erupted over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to address Congress on the Iranian sanctions issue in March is threatening to overshadow the real issue at hand: What is the most prudent way to proceed with Iran at this juncture?
There clearly are two distinct schools of thought, and the usual left-right/hawk-dove/Democrat-Republican split that often characterizes such debates breaks down in this case.
On one hand is the Obama administration’s insistence that legislating further sanctions against Iran now would jeopardize the already fragile negotiations between Tehran and the world powers, which are seeking to curb its nuclear capacity. This position, while long held by the administration, burst into a very public and nasty fight over the past few weeks with word that Netanyahu had accepted an invitation from the Republican-led Congress to address a joint session to lobby for just such sanctions.
Netanyahu, along with some key congressional leaders — including some prominent Democrats — has long advocated harsher sanctions. They posit that the threat of additional sanctions if a deal is not signed would pressure the Iranians to come to an agreement rather than send them scurrying from the negotiating table, as Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have argued.
Netanyahu has further argued — and rightly so — that no deal is better than a bad deal if a bad deal would intensify the likelihood of an Iran capable of nuclear arms. There is justifiable concern that the world leaders, in their zeal to conclude an agreement, could create a situation where Iran could develop “breakout capability” to quickly develop nuclear weapons that would threaten not just Israel but world stability on many fronts.
At the same time, as the talks continue, Iran has halted some key aspects of its program as part of an interim agreement. Of course, Iran would now like to see a further rollback of sanctions without having to make the ultimate commitment to give up its nuclear aims.
At this delicate juncture, a very public spat with the Obama administration does no one good, least of all Israel. President Barack Obama will remain in office for the next two years, and Israel needs his continued support.
Despite the distrust that has emerged between the two leaders, relations between Israel and the United States cannot afford to be strained to the point that personality clashes and mistrust begin to affect policy and strategy.
We call on both Jerusalem and Washington to put their internal politics aside and find a way to resolve these issues so the real work — making Iran nuclear-free — can move forward.