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Dr Musa A Keilani: Clash of interests in ties
September 30, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Barack Obama has perhaps the worst relationship that any US president ever had with an Israeli prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu is really testing the strength of the US, using the name of the strategic relationship that makes nowadays little sense to an outsider.

But Obama, who has been repeatedly humiliated by the pro-Israel lobby into dancing to Netanyahu’s tunes, is holding fast. The latest is that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton berated Netanyahu for his speech to the UN General Assembly last week during which he made his demand to confront Iran with red lines instead of diplomacy and sanctions.

The absence of a joint statement from their conversation for an hour and a quarter shortly after the speech clearly underlines that the Obama and Netanyahu are at clear odds over Iran. Of course, the gap is not limited to Iran and extends over a range of other issues, including the Palestinian problem and Israel’s efforts to undermine Obama’s efforts to improve his country’s relations with the Muslim World.

Clinton made it clear to Netanyahu on Thursday that Obama would not tolerate the Israeli prime minister having a say in the US Iran agenda. He remains committed to diplomacy regardless of Netanyahu’s warning that it was getting “late, very late” to stop a nuclear Iran.

Clinton accordingly announced a decision by the world powers to go into another round of nuclear negotiations with Iran, although after the breakdown of diplomacy in July, when it was expected to receive an improved Iranian proposal.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is now entrusted with the task of getting in touch with Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalilee for another attempt to set up a new round of negotiations, although a Sept.18 meeting in Istanbul between them failed to make any headway.

We in this part of the world know well that a compromise deal with Iran is impossible and the regime in Tehran is only stalling for time behind the smokescreen of negotiations. But Israel is determined to force the American hand.

In his UN speech, Netanyahu graphically depicted Israel’s “red line” for Iran. He produced a diagram showing that Iran had covered 70 per cent of the distance to a nuclear bomb and must be stopped before it reached the critical stage this spring or early summer of 2013.

He stressed that it is getting late, very late to stop a nuclear Iran.

The best way, he said, is to lay down a clear red line on the most vulnerable element of its nuclear programme: uranium enrichment. “I believe that if faced with a clear and credible red line, Iran will back down and may even disband its programme,” he said.

The key question here is not whether Iran is close to developing an atomic bomb, If indeed that is the case, then it is bad news because the Iranian regime would use it as a weapon to intimidate the entire region. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it has no concrete evidence that Iran is engaged in a programme to develop nuclear weapons.

Let us go by what the IAEA says although we all know that Iran would race towards nuclear weapons at the first given opportunity.

The key issue here is that the US-Israel relationship is undergoing a test of time and the outcome will have sweeping ramifications for the Middle East.

Obama has understood that Israel is capable of applying so much pressure on any US administration that no US president could withstand. He has learnt it the hard way and he is determined not to yield any more than is required for the political imperatives that he faces ahead of his bid for a second term in the White House in November. It will be a different story after the elections as far as Obama is concerned.

Netanyahu is also aware that he is dealing with a US president, who, for the first time in recent years, is determined to place American interests above Israeli interests and has realised the harm that his country’s “strategic relationship” with Israel has done to his country.

Any corrective action was not possible in Obama’s first term in office, but it is a safe conclusion that a re-elected Obama would strive hard to put the Israeli prime minister in his place in his second term at the White House.

Netanyahu knows this well and that is why he is using, albeit covertly, the Israeli influence in US politics in favour of Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney. And that is why the opposition party in Israel is questioning whether Netanyahu is seeking a “regime change” in Washington or in Tehran.

For us in Jordan and the broader Arab and Muslim world, the outcome of the November presidential elections will be key to the future of the US approach to relations with us in the region.

The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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