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Will Bibi Cool It?

By Jim Lobe (source: LobeLog)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry at the US embassy in Tel Aviv, April 2013. (Photo courtesy of US Embassy)

After listening to the various statements, press conferences, and background briefings by “senior administration officials,” and initial reactions that followed tonight’s announcement about the interim accord between the P5+1 and Iran, it occurred to me that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may alter his recent course of repeatedly and quite publicly denouncing the agreement as a “bad” or “very bad deal.” Bibi certainly has shown a pragmatic side in the past, and I suspect we may see it again, particularly because the deal appears to be somewhat tougher than had been expected.

After all, when Jeff Goldberg tweets that “The Israeli government position that any Iran agreement is a bad agreement simply isn’t credible,” even Bibi’s new, hard-line ambassador here, Ron Dermer, has to assess seriously the implications.

So it would not surprise me, at this point at least, if Bibi says that this is not as bad a deal as he had expected and then tries to take credit for the tougher-than-exected terms that it appears to include. That’s the only way he can hope to get a serious hearing at the White House at this point. Moreover, Hollande’s endorsement of the deal has really painted him into a very tight corner. After all, he can’t claim so soon after giving the French president a hero’s welcome in Tel Aviv for Paris’s rejection of the proposed agreement two weeks ago that his “sincere” friend has just signed on to a “sucker’s deal.” And, as has been shown in recent months regarding his fears about the hardening of European opposition to - and increasing exasperation at - Jewish settlements on the West Bank, he has to be careful about giving offense to the EU3, as well as to the White House, however politically weak he may perceive Obama to be at the moment. Indeed, I suspect he may come under pressure from the Euros, Israel’s most important trading partners by far, to keep his mouth shut. Finally, this deal was made, as Wolf Blitzer put it tonight, between Iran and the “international community” in whose name Bibi often purports to speak. To continue to vehemently denounce the deal is to put himself outside that “community,” thus further exposing Israel’s international isolation. With Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain as virtually his only “allies” on this question, his position is not an enviable one.

Of course, none of this means that he won’t try to derail the deal by working with the Israel lobby (which must be very concerned about its own vulnerabilities given both the degree of public support for an Iran deal that the recent Washington Post and CNN polls have shown and comments like Goldberg’s) to get new sanctions legislation through Congress or by resorting to some kind of provocation (short of attacking Iran as he and his ministers have so often threatened to do). But, assuming Iranian compliance with the deal, including the significantly enhanced inspections provisions, I think he’s going to have to be much more discreet than he has been, at least for the time being.

On the other hand, he’s never been a particularly subtle guy.

We’ll see soon enough.

About the Author: Jim Lobe Jim Lobe is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy, particularly the neoconservative influence in the Bush administration. The Washington Bureau Chief of the international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS), Lobe has written for various outlets and was featured in BBC and ABC television documentaries about motivations for the US invasion of Iraq. Read his complete biography.

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