U.S. President Barack Obama is sending his defense chief next week to the Middle East, where he faces the unenviable job of reassuring allies such as Israel that a nuclear deal with Iran will not undermine America’s commitment to their security.
It could be a very hard sell.
So far, the White House has only disclosed one stop on the trip — to Israel, where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned Tuesday’s deal as “a stunning, historic mistake.”
U.S. defense officials told Reuters that Defense Secretary Ash Carter would travel elsewhere within the region but declined to offer details.
Even U.S. military officials concede that unchaining Iran’s economy from crippling sanctions will likely translate into more money for Iran’s military and its surrogates abroad.
Offering a hint of his message to allies, Carter said in a statement about the Iran deal that the United States stood ready to “check Iranian malign influence.”
“We remain prepared and postured to bolster the security of our friends and allies in the region, including Israel,” he said.
Philip Gordon, who until March was the top White House National Security Council official on the Middle East, said there needed to be an explanation that the nuclear deal was not what allies such as Israel feared: “Which is blanket reconciliation with Iran.”
If U.S. allies in the region say they need more defense and intelligence cooperation, “then that needs to be part of the discussion,” he said.