TEL AVIV — Now that US President Barack Obama has secured enough votes to rebuff Senate rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran, voices here are clamoring for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move beyond self-defeating battles with the White House and accept the president's offer to resume talks on a full spectrum of security assistance.
But Netanyahu intends to keep on fighting.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu has a responsibility to warn of the grave dangers the deal with Iran poses to Israel, the Middle East and the world. He will continue to do so," an anonymous government official said in a Sept. 2 statement.
Netanyahu essentially broke off talks on a bilateral security enhancement package early last summer, insisting he could not be perceived as acquiescing in any way to the deal in the works between Iran and world powers.
And s Since then, despite repeated invitations by Obama to "rejoin the conversation," Netanyahu continues to dig in his heels, stridently stoking partisan fires and injecting unprecedented strain in the American Jewish community. in an increasingly delusory hope of reaching a better deal.
"We've been in discussions with the Israeli government for months now about the importance of getting back on track and working together to enhance security cooperation," Obama told Jewish leaders in an Aug. 29 webcast from the White House.
In what many here described as a magnanimous gesture to Netanyahu, Obama sought to disaggregate the two issues, telling Jewish leaders that he intended to expand security cooperation regardless of the Iranian nuclear deal.
He continued: "I’ve heard some suggest that the reason I’m calling for all this enhanced cooperation is to compensate for the fact that Iran is going to be more dangerous from this deal. Nothing could be further from the truth." These are things that I’ve been suggesting we need to be doing consistently."
In addition to a new 10-year agreement on grant military aid and enhanced intelligence and interdiction efforts, Obama flagged the specter of new co-development programs in missile defense, tunnel detection and other means of confronting conventional and asymmetric threats.
"We need to think about what are the next generations of missile defense programs we can set up. How can we improve our intelligence and interdiction capabilities and how we can counter Iranian proxies in the region. Those are all things that we should be doing anyway, even if we weren't having this debate on the Iranian deal," Obama told Jewish leaders.
Politicians and experts here said Netanyahu's intransigence not only puts American Jews and pro-Israel Democrats in the untenable position of having to choose between their president and the Israeli leader, but adversely impacts proper long-term defense planning.
"More and more people, including many in the defense establishment, differentiate between what needs to be done and what is being done," said reserve Maj. Gen. Eyal Ben-Reuven, a lawmaker representing Israel's opposition Zionist Union party.
"It's clear that the prime minister is making a big mistake by his combative, boorish behavior. He's essentially removed us from the playing field; preferring instead to play to the crowd.
"But as everyone knows, goals can only be made by those on the soccer field. No matter how loud the crowd cheers, nobody up there has an opportunity to score points," the lawmaker said.
Sources here said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strategic planning department has assembled a list of operational, equipment and other measures that will help Israel preserve its so-called qualitative military edge (QME) against all adversaries. in an increasingly volatile region.
Israel is seeking to raise the US $3.1 billion in annual Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant aid to around $5 billion in a follow-on 10-year aid package.
Its long-term military modernization roster includes additional F-35 stealth fighters, aerial refuelers, active electronically scanned radars for existing F-15Is, a possible follow-on squadron of F-15Is, V-22s, a replacement to its aging CH-53 utility helicopter fleet and replacing older-model Apache helicopters with the new AH-64 model.
It hopes to seal a three-year, $500 million commitment to ramp up to serial production of the joint Arrow-3, an exo-atmospheric interceptor that provides Israel with additional opportunities to defend from longer ranges against Iran's Shahab-class ballistic missiles.
Billions more will be sought over the coming decade for other layers of Israel's intercepting network, which includes David's Sling against long-range rockets, shorter-range ballistic missiles and air-breathing targets; Iron Dome and possibly a new lower layer for point defense.
And that's just for the Air Force.
Other options under consideration, but not yet officially discussed with American interlocutors, are more intangible. They include expedited access to US satellite imagery; an active role in monitoring implementation of the Iran deal; and a US commitment to deploy Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense ships in the Mediterranean "the minute rockets and missiles start pounding the Israeli home front," a defense official here said.
In a Sept. 2 letter to US lawmakers, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted echoed Obama’s commitment to bolstering Israel’s QME through a broad range of security enhancements. Insisting that the US administration views Israel’s security as "sacrosanct," Kerry cited "concrete actions that have increased US military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel to their highest levels ever."
He flagged the $20.5 billion in FMF granted to Israel since 2009; which Kerry calculated as averaging some $8.5 million to day. Additionally, he cited an additional $3 billion invested in Israeli active defense systems; a recent $1.9 billion package to replace weaponry expended during Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza; and the fact that Israel is the only country in the region authorized to receive the fifth generation F-35.
"We are prepared to further strengthen our security relationship with Israel," Kerry wrote. "President Obama and this Administration firmly believe we have an opportunity now to build on and fortify the United States' historic and enduring commitment to Israel's security."
Orly Azoulay, veteran Washington correspondent for Israel's largest daily paper, Yediot Ahronot, described Netanyahu in Sept. 3 editions as "the man who defeated himself, and most of all us, by standing on the wrong side of history.
"Now that the nuclear agreement is on its way to implementation, Obama can present to America and the world a new horizon in the international theater. Only Netanyahu has fortressed himself and us on the sidelines … refusing to partake from the table that Washington has set and so badly wants us to benefit from."