Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, said Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ignoring appeals to begin talks on ramped up security cooperation with the US based on the assumption that Congress will approve the nuclear deal with Iran.
Shapiro proposed that current disagreements on the nuclear deal, which Israel strongly opposes, should not get in the way of planning for a future in the Middle East shaped by the agreement.
“So far, the prime minister is not prepared to hold talks,” he told Army Radio. “I think that the time has come. Why wait? I think he will decide to do it.”
Shapiro said he had informed Netanyahu that Israel can begin professional talks with the US to look at ways of improving the security cooperation between the countries, particularly vis-a-vis threats from Iran.
He noted that aside from Iran’s nuclear program, there was much to work to be done on matters including finalizing a defense package for Israel for the coming decade, cutting off the supply of weapons to Hezbollah, and taking care of Israel’s missile defense needs.
“We will need to work together to deal with the threats from Iran,” Shapiro said. “We can begin to prepare for the day after.”
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 in response to Shapiro’s comments. “First of all, we need to get to the point where we can see what the outcome of implementing the agreement will be. The prime minister has a commitment to do that… He 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 — countering US President Barack Obama’s assertion that approval of the deal was an internal American matter — 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.”
The debate, he explained, is part of the process of government in the US whenever Congress is called upon to vote on matters of state.
When quizzed about how officials in Washington see Israel’s open campaign against the nuclear deal with Iran, Shapiro, for his part, 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 admitted 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.”
Congress is set to vote on the nuclear deal in mid-September. The deal, signed on July 14 between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — calls for curbing the Iranian nuclear program and tighter inspections of nuclear sites by international monitors, in exchange for sanctions relief. Israeli officials have said the agreement doesn’t go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.