There is a distinct chill in the air. Contrary to what you may be thinking, it has nothing to do with the unseasonably cold temperatures that we are experiencing in the greater New York area. The chill to which I am referring has to do with the current state of the relationship between the United States and Israel.
With the news that an interim agreement was reached between the P5+1 and the Iranian government concerning Iran’s seemingly unquenchable desire to produce nuclear weaponry, the U.S.-Israel relationship, which has seemed somewhat tenuous at times over the past several years, took a nosedive.
As the United States chose to engage with Iran in a diplomatic effort to curtail its nuclear capability, Israel did whatever it could to present its case to the world as to why such an agreement is not just counterproductive; it is downright dangerous.
Calling it a “historic mistake,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unbridled in his criticism of the accord after it was announced.
“Today the world has become a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Israel’s opposition to the agreement is understandable. Iran will reap the benefits of sanctions relief totaling nearly $7 billion dollars, yet they will essentially give up very little of substance in return. As a result of the apparent lopsided nature of the agreement, it would not surprise me if President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are laughing all the way to the bank with this sudden infusion of “free money.”
Despite the protestation of the Israeli government, Iran can continue to enrich uranium pursuant to the agreement, although they do have to limit the enrichment to five percent. In addition, Iran is not required to dismantle its centrifuges or its plutonium reactor, which ensures that whatever progress they have made thus far in their nuclear pursuit will remain intact.
In a television address to the Iranian people today, President Rouhani spoke about Iran’s continued uranium enrichment under the agreement as an entitlement. “Enrichment, which is one part of our nuclear right, will continue, it is continuing today and it will continue tomorrow and our enrichment will never stop and this is our red line,” said a defiant Rouhani.
What will happen at the expiration of the six-month interim agreement remains to be seen. There is doubt on the part of many whether Iran will honor the terms of the deal or whether a final agreement can be reached prior to the end of the six-month period.
One of the most telling parts of this situation is that Israel and its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, have united in expressing their skepticism and unease about the Iranian nuclear deal.
In the United States, the reaction to news of the agreement created new headaches for the White House.
Many Jewish groups, including those who have a tendency to tread lightly when it comes to critiquing the White House, publicly expressed concern about the agreement, including the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the World Jewish Congress, and the American Jewish Committee, among others.
On Capitol Hill, in addition to the Republican lawmakers who condemned the agreement, a number of prominent Democratic leaders took the unusual step of breaking ranks with the White House to voice their displeasure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who serves as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made their opposition public. Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was one of a number of congressional representatives to question the terms of the interim agreement.
There is no question that Israel has strong and supportive allies in Congress who have demonstrated time and time again that they will look out for Israel’s best interests. The issue is whether the White House will do the same.
The general sentiment amongst those in the pro-Israel community is that this was a bad deal not just for Israel, but for the world. By agreeing to provide a respite from some of the sanctions that many believe caused Iran to come to the table in the first place, it is widely believed that the leverage that the United States had over Iran has now dissipated.
Although the White House is going to great lengths to defend the agreement and to reassure Israel, its only democratic ally in the Middle East, the damage was done when the U.S. signed on the dotted line and threw Iran a lifeline.
Let us not forget that as the parties were negotiating the terms of the agreement in Geneva, the Iranian Supreme Leader reminded the whole world of how much Iran detests the Jewish State when he referred to Israel as a “rabid dog,” a “threat to the world,” and a “fake regime.”
The Iranian regime’s longstanding desire to annihilate the State of Israel just makes the interim nuclear deal all the more perplexing. By extending a hand to Iran and providing them with a reprieve that they clearly desired but did not deserve, the White House drove a further wedge between the Administration and the Israeli government.
While some are cautiously optimistic that the interim agreement will ultimately lead to a permanent agreement that puts an end to Iran’s quest to obtain a nuclear weapon once and for all, many others, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, believe that it will further exacerbate what was already a very perilous situation.
It is not unusual for good friends to feud now and again. Having a disagreement does not necessarily signal the end of a relationship. Like any friendship, the relationship between the United States and Israel inevitably has its ups and downs. It is important to remember that friends can agree to disagree at times.
We will have to wait and see over the coming weeks and months if the chill that has descended upon the U.S.-Israel relationship will thaw. For both Israel’s sake and the United States’ benefit, let us hope that it does.