Critical Of Nuclear Deal, Israel Wonders What May Come Next | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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Critical Of Nuclear Deal, Israel Wonders What May Come Next

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Many Israelis are critical of the interim deal on Iran's nuclear program, and some are even more worried about what could follow.

"What's important here is that both sides decided: We have to start consulting. Right now," says Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, now head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Gold says consultations need to cover not only Iran's nuclear program, but also something Israel and other Mideast countries such as Saudi Arabia are wondering: how the U.S. will now manage Iran's support for militant groups fighting in countries around the region.

"Israel faces [Iranian supported groups] in Gaza, in Lebanon, and there's a whole Revolutionary Guard contingent in Syria," Gold says. "That behavior hasn't changed. And America's partners in the region are concerned that that behavior will either continue or become magnified."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly called the agreement with Iran a "bad deal." But on Monday, he acknowledged it turned out "better" than he anticipated, crediting Israel's efforts to influence the world powers at the negotiating table with Iran.

With that slight shift, Netanyahu may be keeping himself in line with a significant segment of Israeli public opinion. Many Israelis feel Iran is the biggest threat the Jewish state faces, and over half say they have been happy with Netanyahu's stance.

However, it's not hard to find security experts and opinion writers who say the agreement is an improvement over the past years of slow standoff with Iran, and ordinary people who figure this is worth a try.

Strong Cooperation

Many Israeli analysts expect that the U.S. and Israel can work out most policy conflicts, if not personality differences. Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says the tension between Israel and the U.S. seems to be centered on top leadership.

"But below that, when you look at the military, the intelligence, the strategic cooperation between these two countries, it has never been as good as it is today," he says.

As an example, Hazan cited a major joint air force exercise this week in the Israeli desert. U.S. and European pilots are participating; Israel is hosting the exercise for the first time.

But some analysts wonder if, with the Iran deal, the Obama administration lost its leverage over Israel in other U.S. priorities, particularly peace talks with the Palestinians. One Israeli commentator wrote that Israel may be able to influence the U.S. position on Iran by threatening to derail the Palestinian talks.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi says tension between Israel and the U.S. doesn't help negotiations, but she suggests there may be a different lesson to learn from Iran.

"If the international community, the Americans, the Europeans work together and put sufficient pressure, they can achieve a peaceful solution," she says. "And we were hoping this modus operandi would apply when it comes to the Israeli occupation."

Calls For A Nuanced Approach

Secretary of State John Kerry is due back in Israel to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation. He and Netanyahu traded barbs recently, including over the deal with Iran.

Left-leaning analyst Yossi Beilin says Netanyahu should now take a less harsh tone on negotiations with Iran.

"I hope that he understands today that he went too far," Beilin says, "and that his role now is to be serious and to work with the Americans in order to have an agreement, a permanent agreement closer to his view."

One difference that may prove particularly difficult to bridge — the timeline considered in relations with Iran. Obama is in his last term in office; Netanyahu could keep his position much longer. And as the Israeli leader makes clear in speeches and interviews, he sees his job as keeping Israel secure forever.

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