US President Barack Obama said Sunday that it would be a “moral failure” of his presidency should Israel become weakened as a result of his policies.
In an interview with New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman on Sunday, the president stated, “I would consider it a failure on my part, a fundamental failure of my presidency, if on my watch or as a consequence of work that I’ve done, Israel was rendered more vulnerable.”
Obama said that no disagreement between Israel and the United States would ever break the alliance between the two countries. Should such a thing ever occur, the president added that he would consider it “not just a strategic failure, I think that would be a moral failure.”
Over the last year, Obama has been accused repeatedly of abandoning Israel and adopting policies that threaten the security and existence of the Jewish state.
The president explained that the last few months have been a “hard period” for him personally as he and his administration grapple with the criticism while doing all it can to ensure Israel’s safety.
“It has been personally difficult for me to hear…expressions that somehow…this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest – and the suggestion that when we have very serious policy differences, that that’s not in the context of a deep and abiding friendship and concern and understanding of the threats that the Jewish people have faced historically and continue to face,” he said.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection as prime minister finalized and Obama’s criticism of the prime minister’s leadership splayed across the headlines, Obama called Israel “a robust, rowdy democracy” as a further sign of the bond between Israel and the US.
“We share so much. We share blood, family… And part of what has always made the US-Israeli relationship so special is that it has transcended party, and I think that has to be preserved. There has to be the ability for me to disagree with a policy on settlements, for example, without being viewed as… opposing Israel. There has to be a way for Prime Minister Netanyahu to disagree with me on policy without being viewed as anti-Democrat, and I think the right way to do it is to recognize that as many commonalities as we have, there are going to be strategic differences,” he said.
“And I think that it is important for each side to respect the debate that takes place in the other country and not try to work just with one side,” the president added.
Last week, US led nuclear negotiations with Iran reached a pinnacle when US Secretary of State John Kerry and his P5+1 counterparts announced a tentative framework agreement on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
The deal, heavily criticized by Israel and other Arab nations, has become a controversial topic between Obama and Netanyahu. The president emphasized that while he is willing to show good faith towards Iran, he wants Israel and other Middle Eastern countries to have “a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them.”
Speaking to the Israeli people, Obama said that they “have every right to be concerned about Iran. This is a regime that at the highest levels has expressed the desire to destroy Israel, that has denied the Holocaust, that has expressed venomous anti-Semitic ideas and is a big country with a big population and has a sophisticated military.”
“So Israel is right to be concerned about Iran, and they should be absolutely concerned that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.”
While the president did acknowledge the threat posed by Iran to Israel and the West and its continued sponsorship of international terrorism, Obama still firmly believes that diplomacy is a far more effective option than any type of military action to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Obama expressed his hope that the Islamic Republic would one day become an “extremely successful regional power” that was a “responsible international player.” The “historic understanding” between Iran and the P5+1 is the first step in bringing this dream to reality.
The president argued that Iran’s justification for its anti-Western rhetoric is rooted in the countries past experiences. “Part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam [Hussein]” during the “extremely brutal” Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
Obama emphasized that his administration’s interest “in the region are not oil, are not territorial…Our core interests are that everybody is living in peace, that it is orderly, that our allies are not being attacked, that children are not having barrel bombs dropped on them, that massive displacements aren’t taking place.”
The president was not the only one to take to the media on Sunday. In a round of interviews on major US news networks, Netanyahu warned that the nuclear framework reached in Switzerland will do nothing to roll back Iran’s nuclear program.
The deal “keeps Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure in place, not a single centrifuge destroyed, not a single nuclear facility shut down, including the underground facilities that they built illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, enriching uranium, that’s a very bad deal,” he told CNN.
“They’re getting a free path to the bomb,” Netanyahu added.
Netanyahu stated that Iran’s inter-continental ballistic missile system (ICBM), which was not addressed in the nuclear deal, posed more of a threat to the US than Israel.
“The ending of their ICBMs, that’s not in the deal, and those missiles are only used for you, they’re not used for us. They have missiles that can reach us and they’re geared for nuclear weapons,” he said.
PM Netanyahu Speaks to CNN
In a separate interview with NBC, the prime minister made clear that he supports diplomatic options to the Iran nuclear crisis because “for any military option, the country that will pay the biggest price is always Israel, so we want a diplomatic solution but a good one, one that rolls back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and one that ties the final lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program with a change of Iran’s behavior.”
“I’m not trying to kill any deal. I’m trying to kill a bad deal,” he explained. In response to Obama’s assertion that the “historic” agreement will begin a new era of peace in the Middle East, Netanyahu countered that the deal “could be a historically bad deal.”
“The alternatives are not either this bad deal or [going to] war,” Netanyahu explained to CNN. “I think there’s a third alternative and that is standing firm, ratcheting up the pressure until we get a better deal. And a better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terrorism worldwide and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel. That’s better deal, it’s achievable.”
When asked about how Israelis feel about the nuclear agreement, the prime minister pointed to his own reelection as a sign of the nation’s sentiments on the matter. “The overwhelming majority of Israelis support the position I just put forward, because they know their life is on the line.”
Netanyahu reiterated that Iran, who “vows to annihilate us and is working every day with conventional means and unconventional means, if that country has a deal that paves its way to nuclear weapons, many nuclear weapons, it endangers our survival.”