In an interview with Army Radio Thursday, top White House staffer Ben Rhodes said now that the Iran deal is done, it was time for the United States and Israel to move forward, in order to deal with the new and emerging issues in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to visit the United States next month to meet with President Barack Obama. While Netanyahu's recent relationship with Obama has been rocky, as both leaders were at odds over the Iran nuclear deal, the time has come to look forward.
“We believe that the Iran chapter has ended,” said Rhodes. “Despite the enormous skepticism in Israel, people should be seeing many changes in Iran even before sanctions are removed,” including the removal of centrifuges, heavy water reactions, and other equipment. “I am very confident Iran will be unable to sneak in a bomb, because the deal is so comprehensive,” he said.
Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, is one of Obama's closest aides, and has written most of Obama's important foreign policy addresses. He was also one of the strongest advocates of Obama's dumping Hosni Mubarak in the wake of the “Arab Spring” revolution of 2011.
The U.S. has been “very concerned about the recent violence and developments,” Rhodes said. “We are heartbroken at the loss of life. We have encouraged all the parties – the Israelis and Palestinians – to try and address security concerns and find a way to prevent escalation. Our hope is that this period of tension passes.”
With that, he said, the U.S. had decided not to actively intervene in the current situation.
“We have not advanced new proposals related to the peace process, other than hearing from Israel about how it can build confidence. To be frank, we have tried many formulas but none have worked. Our judgment is that we can only do so much. At each critical moment one of the parties – rather both could not keep things moving forward.
“At this point we don't see a silver bullet for a way for the U.S. to being this to a final-status discussion. But we believe there has to be a sense of hope and confidence, a way forward. Now in the absence of hope you have a deteriorating situation.”
Neither is there a quid-pro-quo regarding Israel's not building new communities in Judea and Samaria in exchange for America's promising to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council, as has been reported – and the threat of not vetoing them if Israel doesn't toe the line.
“We have worked to prevent one-sided resolutions from moving forward,” said Rhodes. “I don't want to suggest that there is a proposal on resuming negotiations, but we are exploring ways to build confidence and find ways to make the UN less attractive for resolving these issues.”
Rhodes expects that Obama and Netanyahu will have productive discussions at their upcoming meeting - because there is a lot of “business” to talk about. “When the Prime Minister comes we do want to discuss ways to enhance our security relationship. There are unique threats emerging in the region that call for U.S.-Israel cooperation, such as weapons being smuggled to Hezbollah.”
“We have had ups and downs in the relationship between the Prime Minister and the President, but what Obama has said is that the relationship with Israel is more important than personalities.”
Although a human being with human emotions, Obama hasn't taken Netanyahu's actions against the Iran deal to heart, added Rhodes. “We have a ton of opposition from the Republicans, but when we find a way to work with them we do. We lost some time over the Iran issue but it will not affect the President's activities with Israel, which is especially important now given the changes in the region.”