Thursday April 24, 2014
Israel Hayom
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Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi

Obama's Iran optimism will fade

The White House is currently enveloped in a holiday spirit, and not just because of Thanksgiving. The signing of the interim deal with Iran was viewed by the Obama administration as a necessary springboard for advancing the president's domestic plans without fear of a flare-up in the Persian Gulf.

However, it is likely that this wave of optimism will soon fade away and become etched into the collective memory as another Obama-created illusion that, like those that preceded it, crashed in the face of pesky reality. Let's bear in mind that the interim deal with Iran is open to various interpretations, which may make things more difficult for President Barack Obama as he tries to mobilize public and congressional support for his conciliatory policy toward Iran. For example, America's willingness to allow Iran to continue construction work at the Arak plutonium reactor site could enable Iran to nibble away at the prohibition that the interim deal imposed on the operation of the reactor.

If it becomes clear to the American public and its representatives on Capitol Hill that Iran is determined to exploit every loophole in the interim deal in order to circumvent the restrictions put in place, then the six-month grace period that the Senate is considering giving Obama could be shortened. The House of Representatives already approved, in July, a bill to impose new round of unprecedented, severe sanctions on Iran, with a focus on Iran's energy sector. If the Senate (where majorities in both parties feel that the interim deal was unbalanced in the nature and extent of the concessions made to Iran) decides to follow the path of the House of Representatives, this will affect Obama's maneuvering space. In such a scenario, the White House would have executive tools to thwart, or at least delay, new sanctions being put in place, but given Obama's low public approval ratings at the moment and his defensive position on a number of domestic issues, it is doubtful he could get away with supporting Iranian actions meant to drain a final agreement of any real substance.

In the face of growing domestic criticism and weakening public support for Obama, the president would be wise to calm Israel's fears and offer it a package of confidence-building measures in the defense sector, with the hope that this would help him quiet things down at home. In light of this, even if America puts forth a new bridging proposal vis-à-vis the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, it is unlikely that this initiative would threaten Israel with the specter of an agreement being forced on it from the outside. Past experience shows that any attempt to impose a one-sided agreement on Israel is doomed to end in failure and bitter disappointment.

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