Ya’alon: Obama showing ‘lack of leadership’ in confronting Iran

Ya’alon: Obama showing ‘lack of leadership’ in confronting Iran

Ex-defense minister pens cutting LA Times op-ed accusing US president of ‘wishful thinking’ in believing nuclear deal would bring reform

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

US President Barack Obama and then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon at a welcoming ceremony for Obama as he lands at Ben Gurion Airport, March 20 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
US President Barack Obama and then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon at a welcoming ceremony for Obama as he lands at Ben Gurion Airport, March 20 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon slammed US President Barack Obama in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times, accusing him of showing a “lack of leadership” in facing Iran and calling on the United States to increase pressure on the Islamic Republic.

Writing as US presidential candidates tussle over, among other issues, the Iranian nuclear deal and Israel’s position on the accord, Ya’alon in Thursday’s piece implored “political leaders of both parties” to focus efforts on damage control after last year’s agreement.

“US political leaders of both parties argue that destroying Islamic State is America’s top priority in the Middle East. In reality, that’s not nearly as important as confronting the challenge posed by Iran,” he wrote.

Ya’alon accepted that the agreement would delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions but said Tehran was still “much more menacing to Western interests than the Sunni thugs and murderers of Raqqah and Mosul,” a reference to the Islamic State organization.

The deal reached with Iran on July 14, 2015, saw the US, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia agree to lift some international sanctions in exchange for guarantees that Tehran would not pursue nuclear weapons.

John Kerry, right, meeting with Moshe Ya'alon in Jerusalem in May, 2013. (photo credit: US State Department)
John Kerry, right, meeting with Moshe Ya’alon in Jerusalem in May, 2013. (photo credit: US State Department)

In pointed comments, Yaa’lon said that those who believed the agreement would lead to a reformed Iran “regrettably suffer from wishful thinking.”

“What we lack is leadership from our traditional allies in the West, especially our good friends in America. Should President Obama or his successor shift priorities and lead a campaign to pressure Iran to end its destabilizing policies — applying the same type of pressure that forced Iran to negotiate on its nuclear program — it will find willing partners among both Arabs and Israelis,” he wrote.

The former defense minister was effectively ousted from his position earlier this year amid political wrangling that saw hawkish Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman take his place.

In Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, Republican candidate Mike Pence took issue with claims the Iran nuclear deal prevented Tehran from ever obtaining atomic weapons. “Well, that’s not what Israel thinks,” Pence said.

“Gadi Eisenkot, you can go check it,” retorted Democratic candidate Tim Kaine, referring to the IDF chief of staff.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Eisenkot in January said the Iran nuclear deal was “a strategic turning point” and “a big change in terms of the direction that Iran was headed, and in the way that we saw things,” but stopped short of endorsing the deal or asserting that it fully curtails Iran’s nuclear program.

“It has many risks, but also presents many opportunities. Our role is to look at the risk prism and the capability prism and to judge from that — not to assume that the worst-case scenario will take place, because that is as dangerous as the best-case scenario. Therefore, we are now revisiting our strategy,” the IDF chief said at the time.

In September Ya’alon also denied that Israeli security officials now back the deal.

In the LA Times op-ed, Ya’alon cautioned that “in 14 years, when critical restrictions will be lifted, the world may be in a worse position to prevent Iran’s nuclear project than ever before. In history and international politics, 14 years is the blink of an eye. And there are many factors — such as the possibility of global events that distract international attention from Iranian violations — that could shrink that time frame significantly.”

This is not the first time that Ya’alon has taken aim at the Obama administration over its Middle East policies. In 2014, he reportedly savaged US-led peace talks with the Palestinians, lambasting the security proposal drawn up by US Secretary of State John Kerry as being “not worth the paper it is printed on.”

Ya’alon also called Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax the two sides into a peace agreement, saying the secretary of state had “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians.”

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