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HomeMiddle EastIn Visit to Israel, Defense Secretary Vows Vigilance in Fighting Iran’s Influence

In Visit to Israel, Defense Secretary Vows Vigilance in Fighting Iran’s Influence

HUSSEIN LOOKOUT, Israel — The Obama administration opened its Middle East reassurance tour on Monday with the secretary of defense, Ashton B. Carter, promising Israeli officials that the United States would remain vigilant in trying to combat what he called “Iran’s malign influence” in the region despite the nuclear deal struck last week among Tehran and six world powers.

To make his point, Mr. Carter let Israeli officials take him to this remote outpost along Israel’s border with Lebanon, where he listened to them describe all the ways they said that Iranian proxies — especially the militant group Hezbollah — had bedeviled them. Mr. Carter’s excursion was an exercise meant to soothe an angry friend, and he made a point of repeating the words “Iran’s malign influence” several times during the day.

“Hezbollah is sponsored, of course, by Iran,” Mr. Carter said after receiving an hourlong briefing from military officials in a tent atop a hill that overlooks Israeli kibbutzim nestled along the border with Lebanon. “We will continue to help Israel counter Iran’s malign influence.”

While Israel does not want to appear, publicly, to be asking for compensation for a deal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still hoping will be derailed by the United States Congress, American and Israeli officials have privately discussed ways that the United States could increase Israel’s security, including strengthening its Arrow missile-defense system with additional radar and missiles.

Graphic | Who Got What They Wanted in the Iran Nuclear Deal Here is a look at what Iran and the United States wanted, and what they got.

But for all the efforts at soothing and the talk of strengthening security cooperation, one message remained clear at the end of Mr. Carter’s first day in Israel: As far as the administration is concerned, the Iran deal is here to stay despite objections from Israel and America’s Arab allies, who do not like it either. Mr. Carter is heading to Jordan and Saudi Arabia next.

“This is a good deal,” Mr. Carter told reporters aboard his plane to Tel Aviv on Sunday. “It removes a critical element of danger and threat and uncertainty from the region. It does that in a comprehensive and verifiable way by preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

But the deal comes at a time when relations between the United States and Israel are at a low. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama distrust each other, officials in the United States and Israel say, and the White House is still seething over Mr. Netanyahu’s speech before Congress this year denouncing the Iran nuclear pact as Mr. Obama’s negotiators were trying to iron out the details.

Once the pact was reached last week after marathon negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” and balked at engaging, in a phone call with Mr. Obama, in talk about how the United States might fatten the already generous military aid package it gives Israel.

Interactive Feature | The Iran Deal in 200 Words A short overview of important highlights from the Iran nuclear deal.

Administration aides said afterward that Mr. Netanyahu had rebuffed American overtures because he believes that accepting them now would be tantamount to blessing the nuclear deal.

Silvan Shalom, Israel’s deputy prime minister, also turned his nose up at the suggestion on Monday of American compensation to Israel for the Iran deal. He told reporters at a briefing that any offer of increased military aid “is not really something that we are dealing with because it looks like a contradiction.”

Amplifying the argument made by Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Shalom said, “If the agreement is so good, and if the agreement is making sure the Iranians will never have nuclear power, why do we need any kind of aid?”

American officials have tried to reassure Israel by maintaining that if Iran cheated on the nuclear pact, which would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions intended to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, the United States could still strike Iran militarily. Mr. Carter said as much Sunday on the flight to Tel Aviv, drawing the ire of Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who on Monday said it was “unfortunate” that officials were speaking of “unlawful and illegitimate use of force to reach their elusive goals.”

In Israel, where politicians and commentators have almost universally criticized the deal, some have begun to warn that further efforts to derail it are unwise.

Efraim Halevy, a former director of the Mossad intelligence agency, argued in a recent column that it was better than no agreement, and that Israel should not lobby Congress to override a veto Mr. Obama might use if Congress does not approve the pact.

Sanctions “will crumble in any case,” Mr. Halevy wrote in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, and the Obama administration would be “emasculated and humiliated, whereas Israel will remain only with the independent military option.”

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(via NY Times)