Trump and Netanyahu to discuss tough line on Iran
Washington - US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are expected to agree on a tough line towards Iran but are unlikely to call for an end to the international nuclear deal with Tehran during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.
After eight years of US-Israeli differences under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, Netanyahu is hoping to establish a strong bond with the staunchly pro-Israel Trump administration.
“Netanyahu feels that he has gotten what he wants with Trump already,” said David Mednicoff, a Middle East specialist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “For Netanyahu, Trump could be the American president dream come true as long as there is no unpredictability.”
One of the goals of the Israeli leader’s February 15th trip to Washington is to make sure that Trump’s line will stay the way it is. “Netanyahu wants to take what he sees as a friendship and build it into a strong alliance,” Mednicoff said. “He wants to make sure Trump is not a loose cannon.”
Both Trump and Netanyahu have called for a stern response to a recent Iranian ballistic missile test. The US administration is looking at a plan to declare Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organisation, Reuters reported.
Although Trump and Netanyahu have railed against the 2015 landmark agreement between the international community and Iran, neither of them advocates a cancellation of the deal.
Trump has delighted the Israeli right by slapping sanctions on Iran after a recent missile test and by declaring that all options — including military ones — were on the table in dealing with Iran. However, there are no known plans by his administration to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.
Netanyahu, during a visit to Britain, called on “responsible” countries to follow Trump’s sanctions lead. However, like Trump, Netanyahu stopped short of issuing a call to cancel the nuclear accord. The agreement has the aim of preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons while ending Iran’s international isolation.
Trump has also stated his intention to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that would strengthen Israel’s claim to the city. In a speech February 8th, Trump, who has come under fire because of his plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico, praised Israel for defending itself against terrorism with the help of a wall. “Just ask Israel about walls. Do walls work? Just ask Israel. They work,” he said.
At the same time, Trump warned Israel, through a White House statement, that further expansion of settlements “may not be helpful” to make peace with the Palestinians. “No one knows Trump’s exact policy,” said Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.
Netanyahu, faced with hardliners domestically and growing condemnation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians internationally, could try to use some of his rapport with Trump to fend off criticism.
“Netanyahu will try to pocket some of the toughening in the US attitude towards Iran and present it as his own achievement. He really believes in getting tougher on Iran,” said Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, a Washington-based group campaigning for an enduring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Netanyahu is likely to press Trump to issue a public statement rejecting a UN Security Council resolution that the Obama administration allowed to be passed during its last days in office and that condemned Israeli settlements as an obstacle for peace, Rubin said. At the same time, the Israeli leader can be expected to try to ascertain that Trump “understands the 2004 Bush letter as the basis of US policy”.
The letter by then-president George W. Bush said a future Israeli-settlement was unlikely to return to the armistice lines of 1949 but would be based on “mutually agreed changes” based on realities on the ground, “including already existing major Israeli population centres”.
Nir said Netanyahu could accept some restraints on the settlement issue to limit international criticism and sanctions levelled against Israel.
“They will want to reach an agreed formula on what is OK and what’s not, something that Netanyahu can present to his own right flank and say: ‘We have a friend in the White House but there are some restrictions on settlements that we have to agree to,’” Nir said.
The upcoming visit will also offer insights into the relationship between the Netanyahu government and the Jewish community in the United States. Nir said efforts by Netanyahu to ingratiate himself with Trump could lead to a widening rift between American Jews and Israel.
“The Jewish community in the United States is at the forefront of the opposition to Trump,” he said. In the view of many US Jews, Netanyahu was “cosying up to the most hated figure in American politics”, as many Jews saw Trump as a leader who might unleash a wave of xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the country. This could add to an already existing alienation, especially between a younger generation of US Jews and Israel, he said.
“It’s something new,” Nir said. “There has never been a president who is so reviled by the Jewish community.”