Ledger Editorial Advisory Board
The P5+1 and Iranian diplomats have finally produced their Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the “Iran deal.” What was tabled last week in Geneva is nothing more than a fleshing out of the framework agreement of three months ago. Back in April, we called the framework agreement a ten-year “punt” of the Iranian nuclear question, and concluded that it was “the best possible outcome in the current circumstances.”
Nothing we’ve learned from reading the full JCPOA changes our mind.
Even if the critics are right – that in the final push for a deal, the P5+1 retreated on many of the remaining sticking points – we continue to agree, along with numerous Israeli security establishment professionals, that this a deal Israel can and should learn to live with.
It’s a problematic deal; a work of devilish compromises. Iran will soon have access to an estimated $150 billion of frozen funds, to do with as it pleases. But there can be no surprise here – the decoupling of Iran’s truculent embrace of terrorism from the issue of its nuclear ambition was the linchpin of the entire P5+1 undertaking and came years ago. No after-the-fact carping will now change the contours of the deal.
Yes, Iranians are still encouraged to go to the streets on their “Jerusalem Day,” the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Yes, untold amounts of the $150 billion will flow to Hezbollah, Israel’s asymmetrical adversary to the north.
But Iran has a bigger problem than Israel or America. Iran is far more entangled with the growing Sunni ascendancy of ISIS, and Hezbollah fighters have been commanded to martyr themselves in Syria, not in Israel. Iran, in other words, has other things to tend to.
Prime Minister Netanyahu can claim both credit and blame for the predicament he now faces. The de-nuclearizing of Iran has been his signal cause, and he has repeatedly told the Obama administration that, given this existential threat, he could not possibly manifest the flexibility to engage in robust negotiations with the Palestinians until it was resolved. He argued for a nuclear deal that offered dismantlement of the economic sanctions in exchange for dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The Obama administration listened to Netanyahu’s warning, but devised a solution quite different from what Bibi had in mind.
Inside Israel, there is little sunlight between Netanyahu’s Likud and Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union when it comes to Iran. Most centrist opposition leaders in Israel have condemned the deal. Unlike the Palestinian issue, where there is a chasm of difference between the Israeli right and left, when it comes to Iran there is a sizable political consensus (as opposed to the intelligence consensus) that the JCPOA damages Israel’s security interests. This is fully understandable given Iran’s bellicosity and subterfuge.
How do allies handle a profound disagreement? That is the question Israelis and American Jews need to ask.
Saudi Arabia’s newly crowned King Salman expressed his displeasure by dramatically snubbing a presidential invitation to a Gulf Summit at Camp David. Prime Minister Netanyahu defiantly travelled to Congress and vowed to fight the deal to the bitter end, hoping to torpedo those few provisions of the deal which fall under Congressional purview. President Obama says he understands both Saudi Arabia’s and Israel’s legitimate anxiety over Iran, and invites them both into an even deeper military and intelligence alliance to fend off any adventures being plotted in Tehran. The Saudis have come around. But Netanyahu will have none of it until he has exhausted his quixotic campaign to defeat the deal in Congress.
Instead of — or along with — engaging in a doomed-to-fail campaign in Congress, Netanyahu should engage the Americans in a discussion of just what military and intelligence collaborations will satisfy Israel’s security anxieties. For example, former U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross has suggested arming Israel with B-52 strategic bombers (capable of delivering 15-ton “bunker buster” bombs upon Iranian lairs) as a way of allaying Israel’s concerns. While we think this is a fantastical idea, it is precisely this kind of “out of the box” thinking that could counter Iran’s adventurism and repair the rift between Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.
Even Israeli opposition leaders who agree with Netanyahu on the merits of his case hope to change both the tone and substance of the Israeli-American discussion. American Jews who both support the President and share Netanyahu’s critique of the deal should help the government of Israel turn away from its hopeless bravado in exchange for something more constructive, both for Israel-U.S. relations and for the future of the state of Israel.
There are only three options to end the Iranian nuclear conundrum: Use military force, or use the niceties of international diplomacy, or learn to live with a nuclear threshold Iran.
Of those three options, a vigilant and meticulously administered JCPOA, combined with compensatory assistance to Israel, is the only viable course.