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Behind the latest Obama-Netanyahu clash

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are at odds these days. Nothing new about that.

But this time, as Robert Satloff of the Washington Institue for Near East Policy says, the fight is serious.

When Obama tries to bully Netanyahu into making concessions to the Palestinian Authority, it’s disturbing but not alarming. Netanyahu knows how to maintain control over the process and can count on Palestinian intransigence to bail him out, if it comes to that.

But in the case of Iran, only France, for now, stands in the way of an unacceptable deal on what for Israel is an existential matter.

What specific differences are at the core of the current Obama-Netanyahu dispute? Satloff identifies three.

First, Obama appears to have dropped his longstanding demand that Iran fulfill its U.N. Security Council obligation to suspend all enrichment activity. Indeed, Israel worries that ending enrichment is no longer the goal of the negotiations.

Second, Israel fears that the enormous leverage created by the sanctions regime is about to be squandered. Such would be the case if negotiations fail to roll back Iran’s enrichment capability and/or fail to deal with Iran’s Arak plant, which provides the regime with an alternative path to developing nukes.

Third, as a matter of process, Israel complains that the U.S. kept it in the dark om the details of the Geneva negotiations.

Are Israel’s grievances meritorious? Satloff thinks so. He finds no evidence that Obama is pressing Iran for full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring the suspension of enrichment. Indeed, this demand is now derided as “maximalist”. But without suspension, any deal will leave Iran with a breakout capacity.

As for sanctions, the administration argues that leverage is not being squandered because relief at the first stage will be quite limited. But Satloff points out, as we have, that even small scale relief could easily undermine the sanctions regime.

Sanctions, he notes, are only as strong as their weakest link. Once a deal has been reached, nations eager to profit from dealing with Iran might well take this as their cue to end sanctions altogether. In fact, this might occur anyway now that Obama has cast Israel as the villain in his so far unsuccessful quest for a “reasonable” deal.

Finally, the evidence supports Israel’s complaint that the U.S. kept Israel in the dark about the deal it was negotiating. Kerry gave the game away when he rejected Israeli criticism of the deal he was negotiating on the grounds that Israel did not know the details. He thus contradicted his assurances that Israel was being fully and continuously apprised of the negotiations.

Not a clever man, that John Kerry.

Friends don’t treat friends this way. But Obama is not now, and has never been, a friend of Israel.

This is the state of play as Obama and Kerry prepare to press ahead with a deal on a matter of existential importance to Israel and mainly PR importance to a foundering administration.

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