Even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the interim deal in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program an “historic mistake,” Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that there was “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel on Iran. On the one hand, it is important to maintain the façade of unity: Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman insisted that despite a bad deal, there was no sense of betrayal, “Heaven forbid.”
On the other hand, the claim is laughable on its face. Kerry told George Stephanolpoulos on ABC News’ This Week that Israel and the U.S. share the same goal of preventing a Iran from having a nuclear weapon. But there is a subtle, and significant, difference in their understanding of that goal. The Obama administration wants to prevent a nuclear weapon, while Israel wants to prevent Iran from having nuclear enrichment.
That difference has emerged within U.S. politics as well–not between Republicans and Democrats as such, since the opposition to Iran’s nuclear enrichment is broadly bipartisan, but between that consensus and the position of the Obama administration. The two views were given voice in the 2012 Vice Presidential debate, with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) effectively arguing the bipartisan view, which aligns with Israel’s own goal, and with Vice President Joe Biden arguing the Obama administration’s unique, and rather different, goal:
REP. RYAN: We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability. Now, let’s take a look at where we’ve gone–come from. When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material, nuclear material, to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five…
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:…There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk–what are they talking about?
There is some very clear daylight between those two positions. The bipartisan view–shared by Israel and enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions–is that Iran should not be able to create the material for a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration’s view is that Iran might be able to enrich some nuclear material, but should not be allowed to create an actual weapon. These are two very different end-states. The latter implies that Iran would not only be closer to being a nuclear power, but would enjoy significantly greater power within the Middle East as a result. That is what Israel, and most Arab states, want to avoid.
Put another way, the Obama administration envisions a weaker U.S. role in the region, while Israel and most of Congress want U.S. leadership to remain. Contrary to what Kerry claims, not only is there daylight between the U.S. and Israel, but also between the Obama administration and the country it governs.