By Aping Bibi on Iran, Herzog Positions Himself as Netanyahu's Next FM

Going out of its way not to directly criticize the prime minister, Zionist Union says in position paper that on issue of Iran's nuclear program, there's no 'coalition or opposition.'

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Isaac Herzog, Tel Aviv, April 17, 2015.
Isaac Herzog, Tel Aviv, April 17, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

In a position paper issued on Sunday on the framework agreement between Iran and the six world powers on restricting Tehran’s nuclear program, Zionist Union refrained from criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach, calling it an issue “on which there is no coalition or opposition.”

The three-page document, published nearly two weeks after the deal was announced in Lausanne, Switzerland, comes in the midst of the stalled coalition negotiations between Likud and the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties. Given the impasse, some in Likud have recently raised the possibility of forming a unity government with Zionist Union.

Although Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog and senior party officials have not met with Likud negotiators and continue to deny any intention of forming a unity coalition, the document on the Iranian nuclear deal does not challenge Netanyahu’s policy in any significant way. Moreover, it seems as if Zionist Union went out of its way not to directly criticize Netanyahu and his approach to the Iranian nuclear issue.

“Some of the parameters as they appear in the joint communiqué [of Iran and the six powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany] are problematic and pose real potential risks in the long term,” the document states. “Instead of a policy that leaves Israel with no significant influence on the powers’ decision-making process, we suggest working now to make sure that essential changes are inserted into the agreements.”

The documents were distributed to journalists by Herzog’s spokesman, who said it was a product of Herzog’s consultations with party members and Iran experts. But the person responsible for a large part of the content is Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, a former head of Military Intelligence who had been the party’s candidate for defense minister. Entire lines of the document were lifted verbatim from an essay Yadlin published last week on the website of the Institute for National Security Studies, which he heads.

In the document, sections of the agreement with Iran are presented as limiting the Iranian nuclear program and even rolling it back. Despite this, the senior Zionist Union officials refrain from explicitly saying that these are positive elements that serve Israeli interests; instead, like Netanyahu, they present the framework agreement as a negative development.

“It’s important to understand that, even now, Iran is only a few months away from a nuclear bomb,” the position paper says. “This means that the agreement postpones the timetable for reaching a bomb if it should decide to break through to it, rolls it back in terms of breakout time to a bomb, and imposes oversight. But these agreements are not sufficient.”

Herzog, Yadlin and their colleagues are prepared to resign themselves to the idea of an agreement between Iran and the six powers if its content is improved. But all the improvements they suggest are similar, or even identical, to a list of changes issued to the foreign press last week by Netanyahu and Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who claimed they would make the deal more palatable to Israel.

Zionist Union leaders stressed the need to cooperate with the U.S. administration, but did not criticize Netanyahu’s conduct toward the White House on the Iranian issue.

“Israel must conduct a strategic, intimate and in-depth discussion with the United States and complete it before the completion of a final agreement with Iran,” the document states.

The party suggests reaching understandings with the United States on Israel’s security needs the day after a comprehensive agreement is signed with Iran, but sets impossible-to-achieve objectives like obtaining America’s assurance of an automatic “green light” for any future Israeli military operation against Iran or its proxies in Lebanon or Gaza.

The primary differences between the Zionist Union’s stance and that of Netanyahu are more of style than substance. In some parts of the document, even the style resembles that of the prime minister, as when the government in Tehran is referred to as the “dark Iranian regime.”

The 838 words in the document do not include a single action plan or alternative policy that would befit an opposition. Rather, it looks more like a work plan for “Foreign Minister” Isaac Herzog and “Ambassador to Washington” Amos Yadlin in a future unity government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

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