Obama Officials Tell Haaretz: Netanyahu Would Reject Any Iran Deal - Except Capitulation

Congressional override of a presidential veto would make it harder for U.S. to defend Israel, senior administration officials tell Haaretz.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Obama meets Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, 2012.
Obama meets Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, 2012.Credit: Bloomberg
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Senior administration officials in Washington said on Wednesday they had reached the conclusion that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not interested in any nuclear arrangement with Iran – except for one in which Tehran completely capitulates but is denied sanctions relief in return.

“That is the logic of Israel’s criticism,” they said in a briefing with Haaretz.

The officials also warned that the consequences of a decision by Congress to veto the Iran nuclear deal could be “potentially catastrophic,” strengthening Iran, weakening the United States and limiting its ability to defend Israel “in a number of ways.”

They claimed they heard of Israeli demands that the deal address Iran’s support for terrorism or its regional ambitions for the first time in the prime minister’s address to Congress in March. “These issues had not been raised before that in the context of a nuclear deal,” they said.

Subsequently, however, Netanyahu rebuffed an American offer to discuss his own demands in bilateral contacts, just as he has refused to consider U.S. offers before and after the conclusion of the deal to upgrade Israeli defense capabilities. “He fears that that would be acquiescing,” they said.

The officials expressed both dismay and disappointment at the fact that Netanyahu and other Israeli opponents of the Iran deal did not find anything positive in the Vienna agreement – even though many Israeli positions had been incorporated in the final document. The officials noted that the agreement also met the “red lines” that Netanyahu himself had drawn during the past few years – “and then some.”

Under such circumstances, they added, “It’s hard to have reasoned discussions” with Israel.

The officials were confident, however, that Congress would ultimately approve the deal or at least be unable to muster the votes to override a presidential veto. They painted a dark scenario, however, if their confidence turns out to be misplaced. A Congressional vote against the deal would most certainly lead to its complete unraveling, allowing Iran to slip away from its own commitments. Tehran would then be free to pursue its nuclear program, as the international sanctions regime inevitably collapses. Washington, in the meantime, would be roundly condemned by its allies and isolated on the international stage.

“It’s hard to see how that is good for either the United States or Israel,” the officials said.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to enhance Israel's "security assurances" at a press conference in the White House, but rejected Netanyahu's objections.

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