The nuclear accord the U.S. and other world powers reached with Iran on Tuesday presents Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an agonizing dilemma.
Throughout his political career, Netanyahu has fought any accommodation with terrorists and the states that sponsor them — chiefly Iran, in the view of most Israelis — even risking his relationship with the White House earlier this year in an effort to block a deal.
Now that an agreement has been reached, some analysts here are saying the Israeli leader should accept it as a fait accompli and try to repair his relationship with President Obama, which is more tense and troubled than any between an Israeli and American leader in more than 30 years.
But the analysts believe — and Netanyahu’s remarks about the deal so far seem to bear them out — that the Israeli leader will opt instead for more confrontation, pressing his allies in the U.S. Congress to derail the accord.
“I think it’s too late to fight it and I believe another confrontation with the administration now would be counterproductive,” said Giora Eiland, a retired major general who headed Israel’s National Security Council a decade ago. “Israel needs the help of the U.S. in other areas.”
“But I’m not sure Netanyahu would listen to my recommendation on this matter,” he told Yahoo News.
The deal, negotiated in Vienna over the past 18 days, imposes significant curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. If Iran honors the agreement, it could go down as Obama’s most significant diplomatic achievement.
But Israeli officials said it leaves much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, potentially allowing the regime to reconstitute a secret military program when the accord expires in stages beginning a decade from now.
In remarks to reporters hours after negotiators in Vienna announced the deal, Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake.” He said the Obama administration had caved to Iranian demands and even hinted that Israeli military options against Tehran remained on the table.
“When you’re willing to pay any price in order to reach a deal, this is what you get,” he said. “Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran because Iran continues to seek our destruction.”
Eiland, who spent several years at one of Israel’s leading academic institutes after leaving his posts in the military and in government — he’s now in private business — said Israel and the U.S. held dramatically divergent views on the benefits of any engagement with Iran.
While Obama believes the agreement could moderate Iran and bring it closer to the international community, Netanyahu feels the opposite is true. Iran would use the wealth it gains from oil once sanctions are lifted to prop up its radical allies, Syria and Hezbollah, and further destabilize the region.
Eiland also said the U.S. was ready to believe Iran would approach the deal in good faith, while most Israelis were sure the regime will try to cheat at every turn.
“These are very different assessments based on very different outlooks,” he said.