Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s refusal to meet with U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, who is visiting the region as part of the Biden administration’s effort to renew the nuclear talks with Iran, is insolent and damaging to Israel. Bennett purports to be waving the banner of change, but where Iran is concerned, he is behaving like a pale imitation of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Unlike former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden believes in diplomacy, in coordination with America’s allies. Biden has declared that the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, but he also believes that “a mutual return to the nuclear deal will lead to achievements in halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Members of the Israeli intelligence community are no longer hesitant to criticize Netanyahu’s policy on the nuclear deal either. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy said it best of all: “Pushing the U.S. to withdraw from the deal was one of the worst diplomatic disasters of the current century” (Haaretz podcast, October 5, 2021). Halevy continued, “There is a wall-to-wall consensus in the Israeli intelligence community that we absolutely must not do anything to trip up the Americans when they are about to conduct negotiations. Rather, we must talk with them, so they will include the things that we feel are important in their positions.”
Bennett is doing just the opposite. He is brushing off the Americans and in so doing he is undermining Israel's interest in shaping the eventual deal that is made with Iran, and damaging relations with the Biden administration too. In acting this way, he is using his “no more apologizing” approach on the Americans. But rather than showing leadership, this ostracism is reminiscent of junior high-type behavior.
A source close to Bennett insists that this was merely a decision not to hold a meeting that would deviate from the rules of protocol and not a boycott related to the positions Malley is promoting regarding the nuclear deal with Iran. The source acknowledged that “Bennett believes the return to the talks is not the right thing and Malley is the leading advocate of this approach in the American administration.” But, bottom line, this is exactly what this is: a petty and quite obnoxious boycott of the American envoy.
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It’s time to stop misleading the public with the illusion that realistic plans exist for attacking Iran or for bringing about regime change there by remote control. The nuclear deal is the only option for halting the Iranian nuclear program. Instead of trying to thwart it by absurd posturing, Israel would do better to strengthen its ties with the Biden administration, and with the international community, in order to ensure that the deal will be to Israel’s liking.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.