by Joseph Klein
Israel and Saudi Arabia are proving the old adage correct that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Iranian regime is their common enemy. Israel sees a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat. Sunni Saudi Arabia worries that Shiite Iran with nuclear arms will be emboldened to threaten other Sunni Gulf governments and ultimately try to force its will on Saudi Arabia itself.
Thus, the Jewish state of Israel and the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia, certainly not friends in normal times, find themselves planning to join forces if necessary to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear arms finish line. According to a November 17, 2013 article in the British newspaper Sunday Times, Saudi Arabia has agreed to “give the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran.” The Saudis are also reported to be willing to assist the Israelis by making drones, rescue helicopters, and tanker planes available for the Israelis’ use.
“Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” an unnamed diplomatic source told the Sunday Times.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have good reason not to trust the United States to negotiate an acceptable deal that would dismantle Iran’s nuclear uranium enrichment and plutonium facilities in a fully verifiable manner. They have been pushed aside as the Obama administration plunges forward to reach an accommodation with Iran. Rather than take seriously the concerns of the countries in the region who would be most directly affected by a rash settlement on terms favorable to Iran, President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry are wearing blinders. They downplay how close Iran is to achieving its long-held ambition of becoming a nuclear-armed power and the danger that a bad deal will only serve to give Iran diplomatic cover while it moves ahead.
Israeli intelligence has concluded that the Obama Administration’s previous interim offer to Iran would only set back the Iranian nuclear program about 24 days. What was Secretary of State John Kerry’s response when he was asked about this assessment during his briefing of senators last week, as he tried to dissuade them from passing legislation to impose more sanctions on Iran? Kerry repeatedly told senators, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) remarked to reporters after the meeting, to “disbelieve everything that the Israelis had just told [us].” A Senate aide familiar with the meeting was quoted by BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”
Whom do the president and secretary of state listen to and put in charge of negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran? None other than the same person involved in the botched negotiations with North Korea more than a decade ago, Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs. Sherman fell for North Korea’s deceptions, admitting in congressional testimony in 1999 that she and others in the Clinton administration were “working hard” on “sanctions easing” for North Korea that would “allow for financial transactions, both bank and individual” and “the export and trade of consumer goods.”
A few years later, reflecting on her impressions of the former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, whom she had met on her visit to North Korea, Wendy Sherman said he was “smart” and “capable.” She thought he “was very polite,” a “hands-on leader” and “not some hysterical crazy person.” She admitted that at times he was brutal, but also compared him to “a big-city mayor who goes to see whether the garbage is being collected.”
Senator Kirk reminded reporters after the briefing with Kerry in which Wendy Sherman participated that “her record on North Korea is a total failure and an embarrassment to her service.” But the Obama administration rewarded her service as an appeaser of North Korea by empowering her to bring her Neville Chamberlain show on the road to Geneva to lead the U.S. delegation in negotiations with Iran. In fact, Sherman thought the draft interim deal she was negotiating with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif more than a week ago was so good that she and European Union foreign executive Catherine Ashton urged the foreign ministers of the six powers involved in the talks to come to Geneva for a signing ceremony. “The cake is ready for putting in the oven to bake,” she and Ashton are reported to have boasted. Fortunately, the French pulled the cake out of the oven before it had a chance to settle.
Indeed, France is now trying to decide whether to join the Israeli-Saudi opposition to the Obama administration’s half-baked efforts at détente with Iran.
French President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent, who branded the deal originally offered to Iran a “sucker’s deal,” are in Israel this week to discuss possible alternative options in dealing with Iran. This follows a number of meetings between French and Saudi Arabian officials, including a visit by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Saudi Arabia to discuss a new defense contract.
So far, France still gives no indication that it will meekly follow the Obama administration’s lead, no matter what the terms of the deal. During a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hollande listed four demands which he said must be in place for any interim deal with Iran to work:
“The first demand: put all the Iranian nuclear installations under international supervision, right now. Second point: suspend enrichment to 20 percent. Thirdly: to reduce the existing stock. And finally, to halt construction of the Arak (heavy water) plant. These are the points which for us are essential to guarantee any agreement.”“Surrender” Sherman and her merry band of negotiators are most likely not listening. They are hopeful for a compromise in the next round of talks scheduled to begin this week in Geneva, which no doubt the Obama administration would spin as a success. Only this time the final judgment on whether the deal is good or not may not rest with the Obama administration alone. Israel, Saudi Arabia and France may render their own verdict and act accordingly.
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