An Israeli official reacted bitterly Monday to President Barack Obama’s criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for ostensibly intervening in internal US affairs by opposing the Obama-backed nuclear deal with Iran.
In a CNN interview broadcast Sunday, Obama said he could not recall a precedent for such intervention.
But a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Iranian nuclear issue is not an internal American concern, but rather “has a direct and crucially important impact on Israel’s security.”
Israel, said this official adamantly, “is not meddling in internal American affairs.”
There was no official Israeli reaction to the Obama interview, however, with diplomatic sources in Jerusalem quoted as saying that Netanyahu had no desire to cause further friction in relations.
In the CNN interview, when it was put it to Obama that Netanyahu has “injected himself forcefully” into the debate in Washington over the deal, the president said, “right.”
Asked whether this was appropriate, the president responded: “I’ll let you ask Prime Minister Netanyahu that question if he gives you an interview,” then added: “I don’t recall a similar example.”
Earlier Monday, Dore Gold, the Foreign Ministry director general and a confidant of Netanyahu, defended the prime minister’s approach.
“We are looking at what the implications of the deal are,” he told Army Radio. “The prime minister has … a duty to warn the US public and the world of the implications of the deal.”
As an example, Gold pointed to the cash that will flow into Iran as internationally imposed sanctions are lifted in the wake of the deal.
He argued that in there would be “$150 billion added to the Iranian coffers and from there transferred to the terror organizations surrounding Israel like Hamas and Hezbollah and groups in Syria.”
Israel, he said, wants to highlight such ramifications of the deal in the hope that “in the internal debate in Congress and in the international debate between the US and its allies, they will raise these matters.”
Gold asserted that Israel’s push against the deal within the US is an acceptable strategy. He noted that he had heard that deputy foreign ministers from Germany, Britain and France had also gone to Washington, where they spoke to congressmen about the deal.
“Everyone is talking with everyone and we are part of that debate. That is just the way it is,” he said. “The idea that Israel can give its opinion in public appearances and television programs and even on Capitol Hill is a very legitimate thing.”
Asked Monday morning in an Army Radio interview about how officials in Washington see Israel’s open campaign against the nuclear deal, US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that “everyone has the right to express their opinion about the agreement.”
Shapiro also clarified Obama’s apparent irritation over campaigns by US Jewish groups aimed at convincing members of Congress to vote against the Iran deal.
During a two-hour meeting last week, Obama reportedly told Jewish leaders that newspaper ads and facts sheets put out by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group are “inaccurate” and that he has to spend nearly an hour to set the record straight with every legislator that AIPAC has approached.
Although he acknowledged he wasn’t at the meeting himself, Shapiro explained that “it is clear that he [Obama] wants the debate, the discussion, the dialogue to be based on the facts of the agreement. So he is trying to convince everyone first of all that it is a good deal but also focus the discussion based on facts of the agreement.
“In every political debate there are examples of exaggeration and inaccurate facts. Sometimes people don’t understand how certain parts of the deal work.”
Israel’s security is “sacrosanct” to Washington, Obama also said in the CNN interview, as he pledged to overcome American political opposition to the recently struck deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
“I don’t intend to lose on this,” he said, referring to the battle between the administration and a Republican-dominated Congress over the Iran deal.
The president also repeated his stance that Netanyahu is “wrong” about the nuclear deal with Iran and has failed to offer any viable alternatives.