Israel’s PM Can Do Nothing But Fume — As U.S. Advances Toward a Deal with Iran?

Netanyahu has Talks Scheduled with French and Russian Leaders

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Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

After coming very close to a nuclear deal with Iran, it seems that the Obama Administration would like to avoid a ton of questions — and harsh criticism, whether well based or otherwise — from “friends of Israel” in Washington.

Thus, just before embarking for Geneva last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry dropped in on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one last strategizing chat.  After coming close but failing — or declining — to finalize a deal with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Kerry flew from Switzerland to brief some of America’s Arab friends.

In the United Arab Emirates, Kerry was quoted as saying that he’s in no great rush to reach a deal with Iran. But he has been saying that a partial, first-stage deal would be better than the current situation — because Iran’s nuclear progress would be halted, at least for a while, as negotiations continue for a wider agreement.

Wendy Sherman (

Wendy Sherman (

Kerry sent his chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, to brief the Israelis after the Geneva talks. Quite promptly, off-the-record accounts quoting an American official close to the talks presented the U.S. version of why Geneva failed. The “new” truth contends that the Western countries (the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany) were completely united — and it was Iran that refused to sign the deal.

The U.S. source, whoever she might be, apparently wanted to smash the impression of dissension in the Western ranks. The first story out of Geneva — somewhat encouraged by France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius — was that he refused to go aong with the proposed deal, because it wasn’t harsh enough on Iran.

Specifically, according to the first truth coming from the great Swiss city of diplomacy and espionage, Fabius was insisting that Iran had to stop construction of a heavy water reactor — which could produce plutonium, a wholly separate route to a nuclear bomb — at a site called Arak.

Israelis, especially, on Sunday were stunned to be asking: “France is our great pro-Zionist hero? The French are protecting us — and Mr. Kerry, with all his professed concern for Israel and the Jewish people, was selling us out in Geneva?”

The dramatic reactions were, almost certainly, exaggerated. But after years of hearing the Islamic Republic of Iran thunder that Israel needs to be wiped off the map, while Iran maintained a secret nuclear weapons program, who will blame the Israelis for being worried?  Deeply worried, in a life-or-death sort of way.

The New York Times suggested that Prime Minister Netanyahu can do nothing but “fume.”  But, by the incredible coincidence of long scheduled diplomacy and travels, he’ll have a chance to pursue his points with France’s President Francois Hollande, when Hollande visits Israel this week.

And, before the negotiations with Iran resume in Geneva next week (Nov. 20), Netanyahu has a trip to Moscow scheduled — to apply pressure on President Vladimir Putin.

In the world of clandestine diplomacy, as odd as it might seem, tiny Israel can make promises, threats, and deals that could command Putin’s attention.

November 11, 2013

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