U.S. Offers to Help Israel Bolster Defenses, Yet Iran Nuclear Deal Leaves Ally Uneasy

July 16, 2015

New York Times:

When President Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to discuss the nuclear deal with Iran, the American president offered the Israeli leader, who had just deemed the agreement a “historic mistake,” a consolation prize: a fattening of the already generous military aid package the United States gives Israel.

The nuclear agreement, which would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions designed to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, would ultimately provide a financial windfall to Israel’s sworn enemy in the region, and Mr. Obama said he was prepared to hold “intensive discussions” with Mr. Netanyahu on what more could be done to bolster Israel’s defenses, administration officials said.

But, as in previous talks with Mr. Obama, Mr. Netanyahu refused to engage in such talk “at this juncture,” the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail the private discussions. And on Tuesday, as administration officials fanned out to make the case for the Iran agreement, one aide suggested in a phone call to Jewish and pro-Israel groups that Mr. Netanyahu had rebuffed their overtures because he believes accepting them now would be tantamount to blessing the nuclear deal, say people involved in the call who did not want to be quoted by name in describing it.

The president himself has hinted that he believes the Israeli prime minister is loath to talk about any additional security assistance he may want from the United States until after Congress has had its say on the Iran deal. Lawmakers have 60 days to review the deal, which Mr. Netanyahu has urged them to reject.

Mr. Netanyahu “perhaps thinks he can further influence the congressional debate, and I’m confident we’re going to be able to uphold this deal and implement it without Congress preventing that,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman on Tuesday, hours after announcing the accord.

He went on: “But after that’s done, if that’s what he thinks is appropriate, then I will sit down, as we have consistently throughout my administration, and then ask some very practical questions: How do we prevent Hezbollah from acquiring more sophisticated weapons? How do we build on the success of Iron Dome, which the United States worked with Israel to develop and has saved Israeli lives?”

That conversation may begin as soon as next week, when the defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, is planning to travel to Israel and meet with Israeli leaders. The Iran deal is likely to feature prominently in the discussions, defense officials said, but it remains unclear what, if anything, he might offer the Israelis.

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