By ramping up his demands of any final nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears determined to stem the tide of international diplomacy which has turned against him in recent weeks.
Netanyahu was stung by an interim agreement last month for Tehran to curb its nuclear programme in return for a limited easing of sanctions, calling it a historic mistake.
His reaction has been to call for the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear projects, as opposed to their containment, and a halt to its development of ballistic missiles, an issue not addressed in the interim accord signed in Geneva on Nov. 24.
Taking even wider aim, Netanyahu said negotiators should demand a change to Iran’s “genocidal policy” toward Israel, manifested through its supply of thousands of missiles to Palestinian and Lebanese militants, and its calls for the Jewish state’s destruction.
The wish list has received a cool reception in Washington, will be given short shrift by Iran and was described as “crazy” by a senior Western diplomat. But experts believe the Israeli leader wants to put pressure on President Barack Obama and prevent U.S.-Iranian ties from thawing too far, too fast.
One way to do that would be to send a message to Israel’s supporters on Capitol Hill. The Senate has already sparred with Obama over whether new sanctions against Iran should be prepared.
A former Netanyahu adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. legislators were Netanyahu’s target audience.
“It’s one thing for Congress to hold off on imposing sanctions, quite another for it to cancel sanctions under a final deal with Iran. Netanyahu wants to help set the tone in Congress and he doesn’t mind if Obama notices.”
There is a growing sense in Washington that Netanyahu has accepted it is unlikely he can derail the negotiations, so he may have reverted to spoiling tactics, however unpopular they may be in Obama’s administration.
“I can’t believe the Americans are happy about (Netanyahu) sounding off the way he is at this critical point in time,” said one Israeli official, who has direct knowledge of recent White House consultations between U.S. and Israeli experts on Iran.