Let's not make a deal.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Netanyahu Can Slow Obama's Rush to Peace

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
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When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses Congress Tuesday to discuss his deep worries about a potential nuclear deal with Iran, the legislature of the world's most powerful democracy will be in a strange position.

A leader of a foreign nation will be in a sense briefing lawmakers on the details of the nuclear deal its president is currently negotiating. A senior Israeli official told Israel's Ha'Aretz newspaper Sunday, "We know about details regarding the agreement being put together with Iran, and we feel that Congress members are unaware of these details."

QuickTake Iran's Nuclear Program

If this is true, it's very significant because the Obama administration has been stingy with giving Congress details about its negotiations in Geneva with Iran and five other great powers. 

The prospect of Netanyahu disclosing elements of the negotiations has so troubled the State Department that Secretary of State John Kerry issued a warning Monday to the Israeli leader.  "We were incredibly disappointed that some Israeli officials were saying Prime Minister Netanyahu would reveal sensitive information," State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf said. She added that the Israelis have received "detailed classified briefings" that update them on the talks and that releasing this information would betray the trust the U.S. has put in its ally. 

So what exactly is this information that Netanyahu plans on disclosing? Based on his comments leading up to the big speech, it will be about the current offer to allow Iran to keep thousands of centrifuges in place under a deal. Israel and many observers say leaving this infrastructure around is a recipe for disaster because the centrifuges can easily be turned back on once the agreement expires. As Netanyahu told an audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Monday, "Israel and the United States agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but we disagree on the best way to prevent Iran from developing those weapons."

If Netanyahu decides to elaborate on this point, he will risk the wrath of the Obama administration. Indeed, it looks like top administration officials are already laying the groundwork for painting Netanyahu's speech as a betrayal.

On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice both emphasized how the Obama administration has provided Israel with $20 billion in military aid since coming to power, and how this amount of aid to Israel has surpassed that provided by prior administrations. Now this is how Netanyahu repays them?

The other line from the administration is that Netanyahu often gets his facts wrong and that his judgment is suspect. Kerry made this point last week when he pointed out the Israeli prime minister's support for the Iraq war during his 2002 testimony as a private citizen before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. President Obama himself emphasized in an interview Monday how Netanyahu's predictions about the interim agreement forged in November 2013 with Iran turned out not to be true. "Netanyahu made all sorts of claims. This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting 50 billion dollars worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true," Obama said.

But Netanyahu also has some points in his favor. Republicans have long suspected, for instance, that the Obama administration has downplayed and sought to conceal from lawmakers Russian violations of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty -- something that John Kerry himself denounced when he was the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "When you look at things like the INF, many lawmakers have asked themselves what else are they not telling us about Iran?," one senior Republican Congressional aide told me.

Many members of Congress are even more suspicious because Obama has made clear that he considers any deal with Iran to be an international agreement and not a treaty, thus cutting the Senate out of the process altogether. Obama on Friday even threatened to veto legislation that would give Congress a role in reviewing and approving any Iran deal. 

Those suspicions have weighed more heavily on Republicans, even as Democrats have so far been more trusting of their president. A decade ago, it was the other way around. After the Bush administration failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it was the party of Obama that argued that Congress was never let in on the intelligence in 2002 and 2003 that might have slowed President George W. Bush's rush to war.

Now it will be up to Netanyahu to provide Congress with the information that might slow Obama's rush to peace. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net