The problem with U.S.-Israel relations with respect to Iran and its nuclear weapons has come down to two factors, only one of which perhaps can be resolved. As the P5+1 prepare to meet with the Iranians tomorrow in Baghdad, the Israelis are the hidden listeners in the room. Based on stories that have been circulating the past few days there appear to be some positive movement by Iran on a number of aspects that have persisted throughout the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program. The problem appears to be that assuming—at this point it is still a huge assumption—the Iranians accept the extensive and intensive inspection program that the U.S. and Israel want, it still may not satisfy the Netanyahu Government.
This suggestion is based on two perceptions that Israel appears to still have at least one of which Bibi cannot seem to admit. First, at the end of the day despite everything President Obama has said and guaranteed, Bibi does not believe or trust Obama. While the President has said the boycott remains in effect until all issues are resolved; Netanyahu still thinks that this is a pre-election bluff. Bibi appears to remain firmly convinced that if a dialogue and then a process of inspection does develop, that Obama will concede to a more forgiving position after the U.S. election and follow the Europeans into acquiescing to a changed Iran.
Ironically, for a consistent hard line position to be sustained and for any of these efforts to really work, Israel may well end up relying on the Saudis and the Turks. They will be as skeptical as Israel—but not nearly as publically vocal—in seeking to convince the U.S. to act against a non-complying Iran, lest Saudi Arabia and Turkey themselves also seek to go nuclear. Only when they believe that the Iranian nuclear threat is defused, perhaps will Israel accept it as well. The final and perhaps the most difficult part of the puzzle may well be how to give Iran enough slack so as not to embarrass its own leaders in the eyes of the Iranian people; something the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad cannot tolerate.
The remaining factor, however, is the unknown one. It is quite plausible that eventually the facts on the ground will convince Netanyahu that Iran is complying with Israel’s concerns; but it is Iran’s threat to destroy Israel and the non-ending, toxic rhetoric spewing forth from its leaders which may make it impossible for Netanyahu to disregard his late father’s warnings. It ultimately may come down to a test between realpolitik versus psychology.