Obama and Netanyahu in Public Diplomacy War

Despite wanting otherwise, President Obama will likely have to confer with Prime Minister Netanyahu on final Iran deal, says expert.

Gedalyah Reback ,

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

What is Israel’s next move against Iran? The question is a complex one to answer, and partly deals with the question of how Israel deals with its primary ally going forward – the United States. The agreement itself has already shown some cracks, with Russia exploiting its ambiguity to justify shipping S-300 surface-to-air missiles to the Iranians. The deal might have also had an impact on the region before it was announced, pushing Saudi Arabia toward full-scale military intervention against the Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The deal has and will likely continue to change the respective strategies of the America’s main Middle Eastern allies. It has already created a different dynamic in the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, as the Israeli Prime Minister has assertively staked out a foothold from which to wage a public diplomacy battle against the Obama Administration on its home turf in American media.

According to Professor Eytan Gilboa of Bar Ilan University, the United States will have to do some fence-mending with Israel and the Arab World in light of the bargain.

“I think there is high probability that the US will sign that [final] agreement with Iran,” opines Gilboa. “I’d say there is more than a 50/50 chance because Obama cannot allow himself to fail on this. Even though the Iranians are likely to press hard on Obama to make more concessions, he would make them even though they’re terrible because he is so eager to reach an agreement.”

Diplomatic Compensation

“If there is an agreement, the US will have to compensate Israel and their Arab allies, economically, militarily, etc. The main challenge will be to prevent a nuclear arms race; they will have to find a way to get them to refrain from racing to acquire a nuclear weapon. Therefore, there will be a lot of pressure on the US to make compensation.”

“Egypt is looking to Russia, but this is not a real replacement. Military aid from the US just got renewed, and I think this is the reason after so long a period of friction.”

“I think we might have to see new American initiatives after agreement with Iran is signed. If Obama doesn't do it then this would be a missed opportunity to create a counter-alliance to limit the hegemonic ambitions of Iran when Iran is seeing its economic power revived and it’s pursuing its regional goals.”

Delving deeper, Gilboa says Iran will have the opportunity to expand its economic clout once sanctions begin to be repealed.

“We are now seeing a lot of companies in Asia who are just waiting” to invest in Iran, says Gilboa. If those economies do go all in on Iran investment – never mind the potential power of Western companies also – then an economic boom “will strengthen Iran's hegemonic activity,” according to Gilboa.

He also points to Operation Decisive Storm, launched by Saudi Arabia at the beginning of April, as so critical to the region’s strategic outlook. The Saudi-led war effort has to send a strong message to the Iranians, who will be emboldened regardless of the outcome of the final talks.

“That is why I think the war in Yemen is so important and that Saudi Arabia and Egypt simply have to win this war, that agreement or not that Iran should know they will face strong resistance to any attempt to capture territory.”

False Linkages

Gilboa also says it is a major mistake if the Obama Administration assumes these talks could enable more cooperation on Iraq and Syria. He also says that that sort of linking is symptomatic of another assumption: that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would help solve problems throughout the Middle East.

“Before, we talked about linkage of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and regional alliances against Iran and ISIS. Even after the [Israeli] election, in absence of a two state solution, he said we would need some other solution, otherwise there would be chaos in the Middle East. This was a stupid, stupid comment – as if we didn’t already have chaos in the region! Note that in the last few days, there’s been no such talk and Obama has not repeated that stupid statement.”

Netanyahu vs. Obama, Public Diplomacy War

In part because of the White House’s apparently overbearing diplomacy and partly because this agreement would definitely change the strategic playing field, the Obama Administration will likely have to do a more significant walk back from the President’s comments, according to Gilboa.

“What they could say is ‘I will reduce pressure on the Israeli-Palestinian issue if you reduce criticism on the Iran issue.’”

“Netanyahu has very good tools now in terms of diplomacy. Since the agreement was announced, Bibi and Obama have engaged in public diplomacy warfare. Obama has appeared almost every day to defend the agreement and criticize Netanyahu, while Netanyahu is doing the opposite in American media. Bibi has some tools here to gain from the Obama Administration, some tools to gain some benefits.”

Gilboa says it was a smart tactic to publicly demand Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist as part of the agreement. The strength of the demand is not in hopes that it would be put on the table by the White House in the final round of talks – though that would be welcome – but that it shifts the focus back to the central Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear program that was one of the central reasons the talks were launched in the first place.

“Netanyahu is able to demand from Iran Israel's right to exist. By saying that, he hits a very sensitive nerve in American Jewry. So Bibi says that he has no other choice, ‘I have to accept the deal, but I need to make sure Iran stops calling for destruction of Israel.’ Obama criticized it himself as a mistake to demand it. I don't think it is a mistake and personally I would have demanded it 12 years ago when these talks started.”

Despite what the Obama White House might like to do regarding its relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu for the remainder of the President’s term, Washington will ultimately have to collaborate with Jerusalem intimately in the wake of the final agreement.

“I think eventually Obama will invite Netanyahu to the White House and he would say, ‘Here is the deal. Now, what would it take for you to accept it?’ I think in this particular case that diplomacy will replace or accompany the public diplomacy warfare we are seeing right now.”

When asked if personal animosity might even figure into things to prevent that sort of pragmatic event, Gilboa went further.

“It might be that relations between the two of them are so poisoned that diplomacy I am suggesting isn't a real option, but as an expert I have to say this is what should happen. It would also apply to other Arab allies and reinforce alliance.”