Wanting to see if any US official would have the nuts to back up a widely-publicized statement by John Kerry in favor of negotiations with Iran, which has been widely perceived as criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bloomberg reporter and frequent Israel apologist, Jeffrey Goldberg got an interview with Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Hagel, as can be imagined, would not directly criticize the Israeli head of state, however, his statement that “I think that Iran is responding to the constant pressure from Israel, knowing that Israel believes them to be an existential threat,” may be considered a surprising compliment for Netanyahu, who seems intent on subverting any détente between Washington and Teheran.
In a talk at the Ploughshares Fund, Kerry made this statement which Goldberg characterizes as a “brushback pitch”:
Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test. I suggest that the idea that the United States of America as a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility [peace negotiations with Iran] would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.
Hagel, after being humiliated in his Senate confirmation hearings because of previous mild criticism of Israel, assured his Senate adversaries that as Secretary of Defense he would be as pro-Israel as the Israel lobby desires. If Goldberg’s interview is any indication, Hagel has more than fulfilled that promise.
In response to Goldberg’s direct question, Hagel denied that Netanyahu was hindering the nuclear negotiations despite the constant Israeli military threats and warnings about Iranian plots to deceive the West. According to Goldberg:
Hagel made sure to absolve Netanyahu of the charge that he’s intent on subverting the nuclear talks. ‘I don’t think he’s intentionally trying to derail negotiations,’ he said.
Hagel also prominently mentioned the U.S. and UN sanctions as an important factor in leading to a more conciliatory Iranian position at the nuclear talks.
The Israeli threat may have been a factor in Iran’s apparent increased willingness to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program, although this is hardly a given. However, at this stage it will be more difficult for the Obama administration to gain Iranian confidence while Netanyahu continues to threaten to attack that country’s nuclear facilities and a top US official praises the Israeli bellicosity.
Immediately, smelling blood in the water, the Israeli right-wing daily Ma’ariv published a front page headline which read, “American Defense Secretary: Netanyahu’s Threats Brought Iran to the Peace Table.”
Did Goldberg set Hagel up? I think Goldberg knew that Hagel would back off the Kerry statement, but could not have known that he would turn Bibi boaster. The unexpected Ma’ariv headline will just assure Israelis that the tactics of their Prime Minister are welcome by the Americans.