(April 26, 2021 / JNS) The head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and the government’s national security adviser is in Washington this week on an important mission that has failed even before it began.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki made it clear last week that the Israelis are wasting their time. When asked if Israeli pleas about the danger to the region if the United States rejoins the 2015 nuclear deal would have any impact on President Joe Biden’s plans, Psaki answered “no.” She went on to say that the Israelis are free to keep “challenging” the administration’s goal of returning to a weak pact that gives Tehran a legal path to a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade, but the best they could hope for is to be “kept abreast” of America’s plans.
That contemptuous attitude was of particular significance because the day before the Israeli security officials arrived, news broke about how former Secretary of State John Kerry had shared intelligence with Iran about Israeli covert operations seeking to stop their nuclear program. According to an audiotape of comments made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif that were obtained by The New York Times, he said, “It was former U.S. Foreign Secretary [sic] John Kerry who told me Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria.”
There is a lot to unwrap in that one sentence and not just because the Times buried this revelation at the bottom of its story.
Kerry, for whom Psaki served as spokesperson during the nuclear negotiations from 2013 to 2015, currently acts as President Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy of climate. We already knew that in 2018, Kerry consulted with Zarif advising his former negotiating partner not to work with the Trump administration, which withdrew from the nuclear deal as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign to force the Iranians to agree to a new tougher agreement that would eliminate sunset clauses, as well as include bans on Tehran’s role as the world’s leading state sponsor of international terrorism and its illegal missile-building. Kerry told Zarif to simply wait out Trump and then deal with a more pliant Democrat that he hoped would be elected in 2020.
That’s exactly what happened, and now the Iranians are reaping the benefits. Biden’s foreign-policy team, composed almost entirely of veterans of the administration of former President Barack Obama, are again resuming their past practice of appeasing the Iranians with concessions in the works in order to entice Tehran to return to a deal with little hope of improving upon it.
Kerry’s collusion with Iran is important because it comes in the context of the growing tension with Israel over its efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. Unlike in the past, when it was clear that the United States and Israel were cooperating in a joint effort to derail the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions, the administration went out of its way to disavow any role in Israel’s recent successful attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.
The implication of these off-the-record comments from “senior administration officials” is that the administration regarded Israel’s efforts as seeking to forestall an American push to re-engage with Iran. A news analysis published in The Washington Post filled with quotes from anonymous American and European sources, as well as some on-the-record potshots from former Obama administration figures, said the Jewish state was trying to play “the spoiler” in order to undermine Biden’s diplomacy. The liberal magazine Slate labeled the attack as an act of a “sneaky saboteur,” as if there was something inherently illegitimate about actions that sought to prevent a terrorist theocracy from acquiring a nuclear weapon that could fulfill the ayatollah’s genocidal threats against Israel.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) fulminated about the attack, saying he would demand a full security briefing on it while sending a message to the Israelis that he—and other members of his party—take it as a matter of faith that diplomacy is the “only” acceptable path for relations with Iran and that Israel’s efforts were bound to fail.
As Martin Peretz pointed out in Tablet, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s messaging on Iran has sounded a moderate tone, he has essentially outsourced the nuclear issue to Robert Malley, Biden’s special envoy on Iran. Malley was not only one of the chief architects of the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran; he is a veteran appeaser and critic of Israel.
In essence, right now the United States is asking Israel to back off on its efforts to stop Iran and to trust Biden’s team to deliver a diplomatic solution to the problem. But given that Malley has demonstrated no interest in strengthening the nuclear pact so as to forestall an Iranian bomb or stop the regime’s terrorism, that’s a leap of faith that no responsible Israeli government can make.
More to the point, Zarif’s revelation about Kerry’s sharing of intel about their anti-Iran operations makes it clear to the Israelis that the administration isn’t merely wrongheaded in its approach but may actively be seeking to undermine their country’s security and that of its regional allies.
Not only did Psaki refuse to answer a question about Kerry’s astonishing betrayal during her regular press conference on Monday, she didn’t even make an attempt to say something that might reassure the Israelis that the administration regarded this as an issue of concern, let alone something about which an apology should be forthcoming. An investigation into this scandal is imperative. So is Kerry’s resignation from his current post.
The implication here is something that advocates for Obama’s signature foreign-policy accomplishment have always been at pains to contradict. Democratic apologists for the deal have spent the last six years trying to claim that the agreement was the best way to safeguard Israel against an Iranian nuclear weapon. However, critics pointed to the way the deal empowered and enriched a rogue regime, and asked whether the goal was very different from the one Obama had discussed.
Obama said it was a chance to give Iran the opportunity to “get right with the world” by giving up its nuclear ambitions. Instead, the deal may have been part of an effort to shift American policy in the region from one of an alliance with Israel and the Gulf states to one in which Iran would supplant them as America’s best friend in the region. Few would have believed this claim in 2015. And yet, the impact of the agreement on the region, coupled with Kerry’s actions and the efforts of Obama alumni to return to the deal on Biden’s watch, lend some credibility to this theory.
Whatever Obama intended or what Biden may want now, the inescapable conclusion from these events is that the Israelis should be in no doubt about the fact that they are being abandoned by the United States with respect to Iran. This leaves Israel with no good options. Nevertheless, the Jewish state has no choice but to proceed as if its future safety lies solely in its own hands. If the Biden administration or the Democratic Party don’t like that, they can reverse course and start acting as if they take the Iranian nuclear threat seriously. Otherwise, they should pipe down and let the Israelis do what they must to stop an existential threat to their existence.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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