U.S.-Israel rift exposed by Iran talks in Geneva

The failure to reach a deal in Geneva on Iran's nuclear program exposes the growing rift between the United States and Israel — and tensions between John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tough talk about Iran largely welcomed by many Israelis, but not the U.S. secretary of state

There's less laughter now: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September. Last week, Netanyahu's hard line on Iran's nuclear program drew criticism from Kerry. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

They came pretty close. From all accounts, a deal between world powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program was nearly reached. In the end, there was no final agreement after three days of high-level talks in Geneva over the weekend — but it did expose a growing rift between the United States and Israel.

As the momentum was building late last week for an agreement that could have temporarily curbed Iran's nuclear program and offered relief from sanctions, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that this, for Iran, was "the deal of the century," and a "very, very bad deal." That deal, of course, was never signed. (More talks are expected later this month.)

Netanyahu is famous for his fiery rhetoric — especially when it comes to Iran. Remember that cartoonish drawing of a bomb that he brought to the United Nations just over a year ago. The prime minister drew a red line right through it, to highlight Israel's opposition to Iran's nuclear program.

His tough talk about Iran has largely been welcomed by many Israelis, who view Iran as a threat to their country's existence. But it seems to have stuck a nerve with the top U.S. diplomat. The relationship between Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, it seems, has turned frosty.

Kerry took aim at Netanyahu's "deal of the century" comments, saying yesterday, "the time to oppose [a deal with Iran] is when you see what it is, not to oppose the effort to find out what is possible."

And it's not just Iran that is behind the chill in relations between Israel and its most important ally, the United States.

Kerry, while on a visit to Israel and the West Bank last week, was critical of Israeli policies, warning that if the current round of peace talks fails, Israel could see a third uprising, or Intifada, and increased international isolation.

"The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos," he told a joint Israeli and Palestinian TV interview.

'No personal clash'

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, tried to play down the rift, saying "there's no personal clash" between his boss Kerry and Netanyahu. Shapiro told Israel's Channel 10 News the two are friends and have "worked well together before and are continuing to work well together."

The relationship between the Obama White House and the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem has not been seen as overly warm since Obama was sworn in. In fact, Obama was reported to be furious that Netanyahu seemed to picked sides — the Republican side — in the last U.S. presidential election campaign. Still, Obama made his first foreign trip of his second term to Israel, to mend fences.

For now though, the Israeli media are having a field day in writing about the chill in relations.

"If there was a synoptic map for diplomatic storms, the National Weather Service would put a hurricane warning right now," wrote Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz.


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?