Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss tough line on Iran

By Thomas Seibert, The Arab Weekly  |  Updated Feb. 14, 2017 at 8:22 AM
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U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Net­anyahu are expected to agree on a tough line toward 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 U.S.-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 trip Wednesday 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."

Trump and Netanyahu have called for a stern response to a re­cent Iranian ballistic missile test. The U.S. administration is looking at a plan to declare Iran's Islamic Rev­olutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization, 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 U.S. embassy in Is­rael from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that would strengthen Israel's claim to the city. In a speech Wednesday, 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 U.S. attitude toward 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 U.N. 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 U.S. 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 centers."

Nir said Netanyahu could accept some restraints on the settlement issue to limit international criti­cism and sanctions leveled 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 U.S. Jews, Ne­tanyahu was "cozying 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 U.S. 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."

This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

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