This Obama administration-managed disclosure – the “outing” of Israel’s clandestine capability in Azerbaijan – was intended to exclude the risk of an Israeli air attack on Iran’s nuclear installations from former Soviet air bases near Baku, just 500 kilometres from Tehran. Of course, Azerbaijan was forced to condemn any Israeli involvement and then scale back any intelligence or military bases Israel had established there.
The Obama administration’s decision was obnoxious and deceptive.
This was followed by the “Bibi-sitting project,” a hand-holding exercise that saw senior American officials visiting Israel every month to keep tabs on the Netanyahu government’s thinking and planning, and to reassure Israel that Washington was taking Israel’s security interests into account. It wasn’t. It was babysitting Israel (“Bibi-sitting”) to make sure that Israel did not interfere with Obama’s rotten accord-making with Iran.
As the contours of the controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran later emerged, the Obama administration launched a hostile whispering campaign about Israel and its Jewish allies in the US (orchestrated by then-president Obama’s aide, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes).
Israel was standing in the way of an “amicable nuclear deal” with Iran and “dragging the US into war” – it was alleged. American Jews, Republicans, and others opposed to the soft deal with Iran were accused of disloyalty to America; of favoring Israeli interests over crucial US security interests.
The pro-Iran-deal chorus was mobilized to repeat these messages. Rhodes himself braggingly highlighted the “echo chamber” he created for this purpose, which encompassed journalists, left-wing think tanks, and other opinion leaders. Rhodes boasted that he snowed the “know nothing” media and the American public with a misleading narrative about the timeline of Washington’s negotiations with Tehran and other key facets of the deal.
ALAS, IT SEEMS that the Biden administration is using the same playbook to sideline Israel in the context of Washington’s current talks with Iran to reengage the JCPOA.
Instead of “full and close coordination” with Israel and America’s Arab allies regarding Iran that was promised by the new administration, we are getting disinformation, deflection, and early signs of a defamation campaign coming from Washington.
This week, an “American official” outed an Israeli commando strike on a ship used as an intel sea base by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in the Red Sea off the coasts of Yemen and Djibouti. Biden administration sources leaked the story to The New York Times, clearly accusing Israel of causing trouble while nuclear peace talks with Iran were underway.
Prime Minister Netanyahu understood exactly what the administration was trying to do, and he responded immediately. “We have to curb Iranian aggression in our region, and this threat is not a theoretical matter,” he said. “We know how to defend ourselves by ourselves from those who seek to kill us.”
And in case anybody misunderstood the context, Netanyahu added that “the danger that Iran will return – and this time with an international imprimatur – to a path that will allow it to develop a nuclear arsenal, is on our doorstep on this very day. We cannot go back to the dangerous nuclear plan.”
US deflection of Israel’s concerns about Iran was expressed this week in additional ways. Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to vent about Palestinian human and civil rights “that must be equal with those of Israelis.” Then the administration announced plans to refund the Palestinians to the tune of $250 million, including renewal of aid through the corrupt UNRWA.
Then the administration announced plans to rejoin the horribly-hostile-to-Israel UNHRC, and to revoke sanctions against the prosecutor of the ICC (even though she just launched an outrageous “criminal investigation” into Israel).
At the same time, the administration has distanced itself from the Abraham Accords and has frozen some of promises made by President Trump’s administration to Arab countries that committed themselves to peace with Israel.
While each of these American actions may have standalone rationalizations, the cumulative effect is to put Israel on the defensive – and I think that is exactly what the administration intends. Israel is being warned not to be too pushy about Iran policy, or else the administration can pester Israel diplomatically in ways that will pinch.
Next week, the Biden administration also is launching its own “Bibi-sitting” exercise, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin coming to soothe the concerns of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. It is not at all coincidental that this first cabinet-level visit of a Biden administration official comes at the time that talks with the Iranians are taking place (publicly in Vienna, and perhaps secretly elsewhere too).
I hope that Austin is authorized to discuss real policy with Jerusalem, not just hold the hands of Netanyahu and Gantz and warn them to back off.
And then there are some early signs of a defamation campaign coming from Washington. Joe Cirincione penned an NBC News op-ed this week in which he warned against the return of the old anti-Iran-deal “coalition,” including hawks in Congress, the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia, and by insinuation also Evangelical Christians and American Jews, whose “money and influence” could ruin everything for the Biden administration.
This is another way of writing, in sophisticate-speak, “Get the damn Jews, Israelis, and their allies off our back while we responsible statesmen loyal to Biden (and Obama) get our nuclear deal with Iran back on track.”
Cirincione is a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (a recent think tank sponsored by George Soros that is fiercely left-wing) and a former president of the Ploughshares Foundation, which lavishly backed the initial Iran deal movement. He may be a forerunner to more hostile messaging to come.
In truth, after the administration leaked news of the “Israeli strike” on the IRGC ship in the Red Sea, Cirincione tweeted that Israel is once again on the verge of conflict. By default, he was accusing Israel of pulling the United States into the conflict as well.
Beware: Obama’s echo chamber is returning to serve Biden, slamming him and endorsing yet another bad nuclear bargain with Iran.