Netanyahu's Harsh Criticism of U.S. on Iran Is a Political Boomerang

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There is an obstacle in the path of the relations between Israel and the United States; one that could crack, if not smash, those relations.

The harshest manifestation of the deep dispute between the two governments was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unbridled response to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts vis-à-vis Iran on the nuclear issue. With the parties on the threshold of signing a groundbreaking agreement in Geneva, which could pave the way to a reduction of Iran’s nuclear threat, Netanyahu continues to view the very diplomatic move itself as an existential threat, because it will leave Iran with a nuclear capability that could be transformed within a short period into bomb-making capability. “Israel is not obliged by this agreement” Netanyahu said, nudging Israel toward the status of a country that is threatening the international consensus.

This consensus could indeed be mistaken. There is still no assurance that Iran does not seek to attain a nuclear weapon; it is possible that agreements achieved in Geneva, at least in the first phase, will leave Iran quite a bit of room to continue enriching uranium, while weakening the sanctions against it.

And yet, it would be a historic mistake to seal the diplomatic channel in a way that does not allow full exploration of an end to the crisis without resorting to a military option, the chances and implications of which are impossible to predict.

Netanyahu can chalk up an impressive and important achievement in that he has placed the Iranian threat at the top of the world’s agenda. The threats of attack by Israel were even lauded by the American administration, which saw them as one reason for Iran’s willingness to move forward on diplomatic negotiations.

However, Israel’s strength depends on American and international backing. Without it, Israel cannot deal with either the Iranian threat or the other, closer, regional threats, especially when the United States has Israel's back against the demand to examine and neutralize Israel’s nuclear potential.

Netanyahu can disagree with the American conception of how to best thwart Iran’s aspirations, but boasting of Israel’s ability to thumb its nose at the international diplomatic process is a dangerous threat in itself. It is a political boomerang, making its way directly back to Israel’s head.

Netanyahu should grit his teeth, curb statements that only widen the rift between Israel and the United States and let the talks with Iran pass the experimental phase. Meanwhile, he should harness his rhetorical abilities and his concerns in progressing the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.Credit: AP

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