Obama’s deal with Iran survives, but will Israeli-American relations?

November 24, 2016 23:17

The number of United States senators planning to vote in favour of the nuclear deal agreed between the world powers and Iran two months ago in Vienna has reached the critical tally of 34.

What this means is that President Barack Obama has now gained enough senators in favour of the agreement to deny the Republicans a veto-proof majority against the deal.

Mr Obama's growing certainty in recent days that he would ensure the passage of the deal through Congress by the September 17 deadline has allowed him to be much more conciliatory in his remarks.

In two interviews with Jewish representatives and media, he made it clear that, while he believed the nuclear deal prevented war, he did not view his opponents as "warmongers" and that the argument over the agreement has been bitter because it was being conducted "in the family".

"We are all pro-Israel," he assured his interlocutors, and added that he looked forward to working with the Israeli government on making sure that Israel continued to hold a clear military advantage over Iran and its proxies.

But despite the assurances of undying friendship, it is still unclear how, in the 16 months left until Mr Obama leaves the White House, he plans, if at all, to go about fixing his tense relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu.

There have been rumours of a meeting between the two leaders in the next few weeks, possibly on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, but no definite plans have yet emerged from Jerusalem or Washington.

The UN could also become the scene of further discord if the Obama administration decides to withhold its customary veto against anti-Israel resolutions.

Israeli diplomats and security officials have been saying for years that, while the co-operation between the two governments - particularly their defence establishments - has remained as strong as ever, there has been a "trickle-down" of the toxic relationship between the two leaders. This, they say, has made things harder at lower levels as well, and could take years to repair.

Any possible improvement is, therefore, in the hands of the two leaders.

Although Mr Obama has not ruled out a renewed push to find solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict once the dust settles over the Iran deal, he has not shown much enthusiasm on restoring ties. Neither is there expectation that he will have the time or the energy.

The main question is whether Mr Netanyahu, who has aligned himself so closely to the Republicans over Iran, will change tack in order to rebuild bipartisan support for Israel. As a heated election year approaches, he may be unable - or unwilling - to disengage from internal US politics.

November 24, 2016 23:17

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