Published in Athens Views (print – no longer in circulation) on 26 March 2014
Following Benjamin Netanyahu’s win in the recent Israeli elections, a new report comes to shake the relations between Israel and the USA. The Wall Street Journal, citing officials, reported on Monday that Israel spied on the US-led negotiations between Iran and western powers regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Moreover the report claims that Israel informed members of the US Congress on the progress of the negotiations. US House speaker John Boehner as well as other republican congressmen denied that they received any sort of information regarding the nuclear negotiations from anyone other than the US government. In turn, Israeli officials have denied the claims made by the report with Israel’s Foreign Minister claiming the report to be ‘incorrect and inaccurate.’
A potential nuclear deal with Iran will probably be the one thing that will determine whether Obama’s foreign policy will be successful and noteworthy, and one that will provide opportunities for future co-operation with the Islamic Republic. Israel, as well as the Republican Party, however, have been more than outspoken regarding a deal. Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent anti-Iranian rant at the US Congress as well as the letter signed by Republican members and posted to Iranian officials prove that both Israel and the US opposition try to put more and more hurdles on the road as the already difficult negotiations take place. In addition to that, Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israel ‘will nonetheless continue to act to prevent the unfolding deal with Iran, an agreement which puts in danger us, our neighbours, the world.’
Behind Netanyahu’s polemic against Iran is the fear that Israel will no longer be able to control the developments in the Middle East and determine foreign policies – and especially US policies – in the region.
But what does Netanyahu want really? The answer to this is very simple. Netanyahu wants to be in control; he wants to be in control of the Palestinian peace negotiations; he wants to be in control of the nuclear negotiations; he wants to be in control of the geopolitical developments in the Middle East. Yet he understands that Israel’s reign in the area is reaching a deadlock; not only because Iran seems willing to open a door to the West but also because the current US administration is not very fond of Netanyahu and especially his pre-electoral games.
As far as Iran is concerned Israel worries for two reasons; first of all because of the nuclear negotiations and additionally because of Iran’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). If a final nuclear deal is reached by June – when the deadline is – the West will gradually ease its sanctions. If Western sanctions end, Iran will have the opportunity to enter the global financial market and ship oil, which will give the Islamic Republic more opportunities of involvements in the region. However, this freedom will mean that a greater rift and antagonism will be created with Israel. Netanyahu’s main argument against the nuclear deal is that Iran will not keep its part of the deal because it had kept nuclear sites secret in the past; consequently it will seek to obtain nuclear weapons which will make it a threat to the world. Moreover, if Iran gains more power and starts co-operating with the West, its pro-Palestinian stance will be regarded differently which – although exaggerated – might make the West put more pressure to Israel regarding the Palestinian issue. Iran has always been outspoken regarding its support to the Palestinian cause, including continuous support to Hezbollah. Finally, if Iran manages to acquire the bomb it will end Israel’s leading role in military power in the region, and eventually Israel’s worst kept secret – its acquisition of nuclear weapons – might finally come to fore.
On top of that, Iran is a key player in the fight against the ISIS as it has been involved in it since almost its beginning. Recent reports say that the USA is now backing-up Iranian attacks and what seemed to be two different camps in the same fight– the US-led western coalition and Iran – is now becoming a larger coalition. Iran has been fighting Tikrit – ISIS’s biggest stronghold in Iraq – since the beginning of March, however, after an Iraqi request the US has started airstrikes which is aiding Iraqi and Iranian ground troops. Both Iran and Iraq know that the war against ISIS is difficult to be won without American airstrikes, and on the other hand despite conflicting views, the USA should realise that without Iran the fight against the islamist organisation will be difficult. With the fight in Iraq escalating, and with Iran’s involvement in it, Israeli affairs come second.
Taking into consideration the above overview the newly elected – for the fourth time – Israeli Prime Minister has every right to be worried. Netanyahu’s arrogance and optimism that it can draw the Middle Eastern political map as it wishes might come to an end, simply because it rest assured too much on its influence in the United States. However, he disregarded the USA’s interests and priorities in the Middle East. The Israeli administration’s direct involvement in the USA’s foreign policy and its stubbornness concerning crucial issues such as the nuclear negotiations, seem to be leading to the conclusion that Israel will soon no longer be the USA’s sacred cow.