Netanyahu Prepares to Fight World Over Iran Deal

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting on June 28, 2015.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing for a world war. The reason, what else, is Iran's nuclear program. This offensive will not involve jet fighters descending on the nuclear facilities in Natanz or Fordo, but rather a frontal charge on Capitol Hill. Netanyahu's goal was and remains to enlist enough members from both houses of Congress to vote against the nuclear deal with Iran when President Obama puts it on the docket.

An Israeli source noted that Netanyahu seems optimistic about his chances. According to the source, Netanyahu recently told Jewish-American leaders that the battle is not lost. Those who heard the prime minister's remarks say that it is hard to tell if he actually believes his own words or is only using the rhetoric to try and rally the troops. Either way, Netanyahu conveyed to his interlocutors that he believes that with the right steps, enough Democratic lawmakers with enough political clout can be swayed to stop the deal in its tracks.

The question remains of when the opening shot of this war will be fired. The assessment among Netanyahu and the Israeli establishment is that a comprehensive deal with Iran is a matter of days to a few weeks away. The issues that remain to be resolved between Iran and world powers cast in a doubtful shadow the chances of reaching a deal by the July 9 deadline – the final date Obama can submit the agreement to Congress before it takes its summer recess a month later.

If no deal emerges by July 9 there is a possibility that the White House will choose to continue negotiations without presenting any deal until Congress reconvenes on September 9. The rationale for this is the White House's desire to give Congress the minimum 30 day oversight period stipulated by law to examine the deal's wording. Should it be presented before Congress returns from recess, the deal's detractors will have double the time to plan for its demise in Congress.

Israel is not completely in the dark about the talks in Vienna, but it has relatively limited information regarding the developments from recent weeks. On occasion a French or British diplomat will pass on a snippet of information, and once every few days National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen receives a succinct briefing from U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman or from EU representative Helga Schmidt, but Israeli officials closely involved in the Iranian issue admit that Israel does not have the full picture and that uncertainty in Jerusalem is amassing.

One of the main reasons Israel finds itself in such a bind stems from the fact that communications between Netanyahu and Obama administration officials have been almost non-existent over the last three weeks. The last time the two sides spoke in-depth about the issue was during Yossi Cohen's mid-June visit to Washington D.C. Cohen met with his counterpart, Susan Rice, as well as Sherman, who heads the U.S. negotiation team, but besides reiterating the regular disagreement between the two nations, no progress was made on the issue. Cohen returned much the same as he had left.

Communications between Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have also been all but severed in recent weeks. Since arriving in Vienna 10 days ago for the latest round of talks with Iran, Kerry has not spoken with Netanyahu even once. Netanyahu for his part made little to no effort to get Kerry on the phone either.

Both sides have come to understand that at this point of the talks they have little to talk about. The positons are known and both sides have abandoned the pretense of trying to convince each other. All that is left for Obama and Netanyahu to do now is gear up with helmets and flak jackets, and prepare for the political and media battle that will take Washington by storm the moment a deal is announced.

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