When nuclear talks with Iran went sour last week, TCF fellow Michael Cohen described the impasse between the U.S. and Israel as “a genuine sunburst.” Rhetoric from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stoked the fires of a conflict burning at one million degrees.
An accord with Iran was reached Sunday, paving the way, in President Obama’s words, “toward a world that is more secure.”
But as Obama himself acknowledges, our new path is grounded in those bitter arguments which plagued talks only days ago. “Huge challenges remain ahead,” said the president on Saturday.
As the New York Times suggests, those challenges stem from the differing priorities of America and Israel. Though the allies support each other in principle, their bottom-line interests frequently diverge. As Cohen put it, they’re “frenemies.”
While the U.S. approached last week’s negotiations with small victories as the short-term goal, Prime Minister Netanyahu loudly disapproved of that approach. Freezing Iran’s nuclear program, in his view, is not merely a misstep but “a historic mistake.” Meanwhile, top members of the U.S. foreign policy team have continuously viewed the deal as more of a “historic opportunity.”
That gulf between U.S. and Israeli perspectives doesn’t seem likely to close, maintained as it is by geographical and political concerns.
Israel, facing some truly terrifying rhetoric, will always be more hawkish than the U.S. when it comes to Iran.
The U.S., meanwhile, will be more inclined to scale back Iran’s nuclear program at a steady pace. Further, John Kerry insists the deal “will make our partners in the region safer. It will make our ally Israel safer.”
Going forward, the deal is likely to impact the Israel-Palestine peace process. “Now that they have an Iran deal, over the strong objections of Israel, it’s going to be very hard to persuade Netanyahu to do something on the Palestinian front,” said Bruce O. Reidel of the Brookings Institute.
Further, Obama will need to decide how large of an undertaking dealings with Iran should be: the nuclear program could be viewed “as a discrete problem to be solved, freeing him up to focus more on Asia, or as the opening act in a more ambitious engagement with Iran.”
Former national security advisor Tom Donilon points out the accord results from “a multifaceted, multiyear process.”
The deal should not be seen as a culmination of that process, but rather as a landmark moment. The nature of the Israel-U.S. relationship is sure to morph in coming months, as these “frenemies” choose how best to reconcile their imperfectly matched goals.
Read fellow Michael Cohen’s latest thoughts on these issues at The Guardian.