Some US and Israeli media have reported that the Obama administration reduced the exchange with Israel of sensitive information about its nuclear negotiations with Iran – because Binyamin Netanyahu has leaked “details of the US position to the media.”
This is a skewed account of the situation. The fact is that US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani have agreed on the final draft of a comprehensive nuclear accord. Its terms are therefore an open secret. The deal would be in the bag if Iran’s paramount leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be brought round to endorsing it.
For now, Washington and Tehran are using media spin tactics in an effort to persuade him. Those tactics were dismissed as “unprofessional media games,” by Iranian Foreign Minister spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham Sunday, Feb. 15, when she denied a Wall Street Journal report that Khamenei had answered a letter from the US president.
“There has been no new letter from Iran’s side,” she asserted in reference to a letter from Obama to Khamenei last October which, according to the US press, suggested cooperation with Iran in fighting the Islamic State.
No reference was made to the nuclear issue in her remarks. The Iranian leader preserves a sphinx-like silence, which has nothing to do with Binyamin Netanyahu, but does in fact refute Obama’s propaganda game that pins the blame on the Israeli prime minister.
For five years, Obama ran a back-channel dialogue with Iran. Then too he kept its content secret not just from Israel but from other closely affected allies, Saudi Arabia and certain Gulf emirates. Israel at times offered Washington relevant intelligence on Iran, but was rebuffed.
The Israeli opposition campaigning against Netanyahu and his Likud party for the March 17 election has seized on this dispute to accuse him of jeopardizing the country’s strong ties of friendship with the United States – when in fact it is a one-on-one brawl with the US president.
Relations would be seriously harmed only if Obama went all the way and cut off military and intelligence ties, a step that would hurt America’s strategic interests no less than Israel’s.
And indeed, Philip Gordon, the Middle East director for President Obama’s National Security Council, arrived in Israel Monday, Feb. 16 for meetings with Israeli national security adviser Yossi Cohen and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Only last week, Washington had to admit that US intelligence had been taken by surprise by the fall of the pro-American regime in Yemen and Sanaa’s takeover by the Iranian-backed rebel Houthis. While reluctant to admit as much, the administration was deeply disappointed by this act of deceit by Tehran, on which the White House counts heavily for military and intelligence cooperation as a trusted ally in the future war against the Islamic State.
Out of Obama’s intelligence loop on Iran, Israel may be equally reluctant to share its intelligence data on Yemen or even on the situation in Syria and Iraq.
Israel’s Netanyahu is not the only Middle East stand-out against Obama’s Iranian policy. Other leaders are in even worse relations with Washington. The Obama administration and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi are not even on talking terms, much like the late Saudi monarch Abdullah who died last month. His successor, King Salman has yet to make his intentions towards the United States known.