As the US and the UN P5+1 foreign ministers resume negotiations in Geneva with Iran over its nuclear status, Israel’s fate hangs in the balance. The fix seems to be in–Obama clearly is ready to make a deal with Teheran “moderates”, one which Israel’s Netanyahu (seconded, mirabile dictu, by the Saudis) has already clearly denounced as a sell-out.
(As I write, news of the French foreign minister’s surprising withdrawal from what he terms a “con game” is being carried by the media—but will this opposition be enough to derail the deal?)
In apiece published three months ago, I examined Foreign Secretary Kerry’s odd nine-month ultimatum-limit for an agreement with Abbas and the Palestinians, and related it to the growing crisis over Teheran’s rapidly accelerating nuclear program.
It already was clear that containment, alluded to both by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Hagel Obama, and not military intervention, was Obama’s decided policy. And, despite pious affirmations of Israel’s right to make its own defense decisions, President Obama and Administration officials repeatedly underlined US unhappiness with any prospective unilateral Israeli action against Iran.
I concluded then that what was really at stake between Jerusalem and Washington, was not direct US military action, but the US stance towards Israel if Israel in fact acted against an Iranian nuclear capacity. In other words, a threatened US lining-up with the already-negative European Union states and their increasing delegitimation campaign against Israel.
Such a threat, I argued, would also explain another mystery, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sudden caving in to US Secretary of State Kerry’s pressure to agree to resume negotiations with the hostile Palestinians, as well as his striking pledge—despite almost unanimously negative Israeli public opinion–to release up to 104 convicted Palestinian terrorist murderers, as an unreciprocated initial concession.
My earlier analysis has now been borne out by a series of statements Kerry recently made: in Rome with Netanyahu at the end of October, again last week while he was in Jerusalem, Ramallah (wearing a green tie!) and Jordan, and in a joint Israeli-Palestinian television interview just before the resumption of the Geneva P5+1 negotiations with Iran.
In all these venues, Kerry repeatedly threatened Israel, but not the Palestinians, with dire consequences were the peace talks to break down.
Kerry clearly warned that failure of the peace process risked European political and economic marginalization of Israel (and, implicitly, US support for it), and would also create a third Palestinian intifada. In the TV interview, Kerry came down hard on Israel, urging it to end its West Bank “settlements” and “perpetual military occupation” of Judea and Samaria, and explicitly noting that a direct consequence of the talks’ failure “will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel that has been taking place in an international basis”.
In all these remarks, there were no strictures against Palestinian obduracy, the PA’s antisemitic media propaganda, refusal to relinquish insistence on “the right of return”, or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (Indeed, so unbalanced were his remarks that one observer wondered if he had become Abbas’s Foreign Minister.)
Obama now is seen by Israel (and by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) as having compromised his clear pledge that there would never be an Iranian nuclear weapon (just as he reneged on his “red line” post-poison gas attacks commitment to bomb Syria). Instead, he and Kerry—again in concert with Russia–have rushed into direct negotiations with the mullacratic dictatorship, and actively cooperated with Iranian President Rouhani’s diplomatic “charm” campaign.
(Details leaking our of Geneva indicate a first-stage deal which would see Teheran cease production of 90% enriched uranium but continue refining 3% uranium and bomb-grade plutonium [while the heavy-water reactor at Arak , for more plutonium, continues to be built]. In return, the U.S. and allies would, as a first step, release some currently escrowed Iranian funds and ease banking restrictions.
Netanyahu, as noted earlier [and, evidently, the French foreign minister] denounced this as a sell-out, not least because it leaves Iran’s nuclear facilities intact—achieved stockpiles of fissionable materials are untouched, and 3% uranium can quickly be ginned up to “break-out” weapons-grade by the Iranians’ increasing, and increasingly efficient, centrifuges, 10,000 of which would remain in place).
That these two processes—peace-process pressure on Israel and the rush to a negotiated diplomatic “settlement” with Iran—are connected and overlap is shown precisely by the nine-month ultimatum given Israel. Obama wants a diplomatic victory before Israel feels it must move against Teheran: and nine months from the July, 2013 beginning of Israeli-Palestinian talks will put us at March, 2014. This is the date by which most informed experts see Teheran as achieving clear nuclear break-out, with enough enriched uranium for one or more nuclear weapons. Hence March, 2014—five months away–is also Israel’s own terminus ad quem for a decision on military action.
Here, note that a final Iranian-European-U.S nuclear deal before March, 2014 would, politically, make a subsequent Israeli military move against Iran more difficult. Such an act would be represented as an aggression threatening “peace” both with the Palestinians and the Iranians, and alienating Europe and the UN and, clearly, Obama’s America as well.
To summarize: “Peace” between Israel and the Palestinians, and a diplomatic deal with the Iranians, are related; they are obverse sides of the same coin, the building-blocs of Obama’s (and Kerry’s) second-term foreign policy. They are also key to Obama’s post-Presidential legacy, offsetting his dismal record of failures elsewhere—Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, Russia.
(They may also be crucial not only to John Kerry’s eligibility for a Nobel prize, but to his viability, should Hillary falter, for a second run at the U.S. presidency in 2016.)
Jerusalem, from Obama’s perspective, stands in the way of both goals. This explains the clear Obama-Kerry readiness to pressure Israel both into an rushed and unstable peace agreement, and into living with the existential threat of an Iranian bomb. Extricating America from Middle East entanglements by playing to Muslim regional interests should also be related to Obama’s wider diplomatic plan, the much-vaunted new “pivot” to Asia.
Here, if Obama can dissuade Israel from acting against Iran, so much the better; if not, and Israel acts despite his pressure, he can then support European sanctions, abandon Jerusalem at the UN, and, finally, wash his hands of the uncooperative Jews and their pesky Prime Minister.
Who is the loser here? Certainly not the Iranians, who would get the easing of sanctions while maintaining their nuclear infrastructure intact. Not the Palestinians, who will either get a sweet, and easily abrogable, “peace” deal (division of Jerusalem, restriction of “settlements”, financial aid, etc.) or an excuse for evading responsibility for a negotiations breakdown. Indeed, as usual, such a breakdown would enable them both to avoid accepting the small, demilitarized state-let they have never wanted and recognizing Israel as a legitimate, and permanent, Jewish state.
Obama—especially given the weak and divided domestic opposition—is a winner here, not a loser. His appeasement of Iran in solidarity with Western Europe and Russia would be represented, like the Syrian debacle, as a diplomatic triumph, peace in our time.
No—the real potential losers are the Jewish state, and the American people. Were Israel to accept being outmaneuvered it would have to live with the dangers of an eliminationist nuclear Iran as the new regional hegemon; and if it did finally move unilaterally–and remember, the window for such action is closing very quickly–it would, even if successful, face opprobrium and punishment not only from Europe and the UN, but also—and most importantly–from its sole current ally, the U.S.
And the American people? Sacrificing democratic Israel would mean they would have to face an inward-turning loss of their own democratic vitality, a declining world role, the rise of increasing tensions and instability in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and—if domestic economic and social stagnation and political paralysis continue and even deepen—rising internal tensions and divisions as well.
Still, “winning” in such circumstances is ambiguous. If Obama and the Europeans persist in isolating Israel, they may just engender what they are seeking to avoid: forced to choose this spring to choose between possible nuclear destruction at the hands of the messianic and antisemitic Iranian regime and suffering Western sanctions, one assumes (hopes?) Netanyahu will choose sovereign national Jewish survival. And Israel’s resistance to Western pressures here would, if successful, also have consequences insofar as the Palestinian issue is concerned.
Israel going it alone against the Iranians, and in opposition to the US, is a nightmare scenario indeed. That it is even thinkable is a measure of the immense diplomatic-political distance travelled in the last five years of Barack Hussein Obama’s Presidency. Will Israel find the strength to act alone, despite threats? Will the U.S. Congress find a leader able to rise to the occasion across party lines and oppose Obama’s abandonment of Israel, appeasement of Iran, and weakening of America’s position in the world?
Finally, will the poorly-led and divided North American Jewish world—remembering in this Hannukah season the valiant struggle of the Maccabees against foreign oppression—now wake up, and come to the defense of the Jewish state?
(Prof. Krantz is Director of the Canadian Institute for
Jewish Research, and Editor of its ISRAFAX magazine).