The Elusive Objectives and Risky Results of Netanyahu’s War on Obama

Did Israeli ministers and American Jewish leaders carry out due diligence before deploying their armies against the Iran agreement?


Section 40 of Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, which deals with Declaration of War, says “the State shall not launch a war other than by authority of a cabinet decision.” The official dictionary of the Israel Defense Forces defines “war” as “a situation in which rival sides employ their forces and resources in order to impose their will on each other or in order to prevent such imposition.” The definition states that it encompasses unarmed confrontations, such as economic or psychological warfare, as well.

Which raises the question: Did the Israeli cabinet authorize the war that Israel has launched in order to impose its will on the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear agreement? Shouldn’t it have done so, give that such a war could have implications and ramifications that are no less consequential than those of a “conventional” war?

After all, this could very well be the decisive battle of what may be described as the Six Year War between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. Israel is employing its “forces and resources,” deploying its emergency reserves of influence and goodwill, recruiting its nuclear experts and PR mavens, calling up its crack divisions of the pro-Israel lobby. And its order of battle includes the Republican Party, a politically powerful and zealously steadfast ally.

But it is facing the full force of a disciplined administration, led by a president committed to repel any attack on an Iran policy that is supported by most of his party and a solid if skeptical majority of the American public. And given the importance of the Iran nuclear deal to his current foreign policy and future legacy, for Barack Obama this is a fight to the finish, a politically existential battle in which failure is not an option.

The question of whether the nuclear agreement concluded in Vienna two weeks ago is as horrid as Israel claims or as terrific as the administration maintains is irrelevant: This is the agreement, and contrary to what anyone may tell you, there is no other. The fight is over whether the deal will live or die, and its possible outcomes are like a choice between the plague and cholera: between the disaster portrayed by Israel if the deal goes through to the catastrophe predicted by the administration if it doesn’t.

It should go without saying that Israel cannot afford to embark on a campaign to kill the deal only to flex its muscles or to prove a point or for ulterior motives or out of the inertia of a gambler who bets his house after losing his money. The only possible justification for such a potentially costly confrontation with its most powerful ally can come after careful consideration that yields an honest assessment that victory is possible, that its gains will be worth the casualties and damage that will certainly be incurred, and that such a victory won’t be worse than either inaction or defeat.  

If the Israeli leadership hasn’t carried out such due diligence, it has been derelict in its duty and could one day be rightfully investigated for the omission. The same is true of AIPAC and other Jewish organizations, including local Federations, who have defiantly come out against the deal with Tehran. It is their full and democratic right to do so, of course, but only after careful and considered debate about the pros and cons of such a campaign, not as a result of peer pressure or donor influences or other extraneous factors.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Administration spokespersons, from Obama through Kerry to the last of the anonymous briefers have painted a grim picture of the fallout from a Congressional veto: America will be isolated, its allies enraged, the sanctions regime collapsed and Iran triumphant; a military attack will loom larger than ever before. Israel and its supporters have refrained from portraying a plausible alternative scenario, other than full reversal, stronger sanctions and a miraculous “better deal.”  No one has actually dared to claim that after the president is dealt such a devastating political blow, America might be stronger, Russia and China more compliant, the Middle East safer and Tehran humbled and eager to renegotiate from square one. Even the deal’s most ardent critics realize that this is pure fantasy.

From statements made in recent days by Obama, Kerry and others it is also clear that Israel and its “lobbyists” will be held jointly responsible with the GOP for the mayhem that may follow a Congressional veto. Even if Israeli spokesmen describe Kerry’s warnings that Israel will be isolated like never before as “threats,” their inconvenient truth cannot be ignored. Only in La La Land can anyone seriously assume that after torpedoing an agreement supported by the overwhelming majority of the world, Israel and the Republicans will be hailed as conquering heroes. 

A decade ago, the American Jewish community had to mount a concerted campaign to counter the claims made by widely respected political scientists Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer about the Israel Lobby and its supposedly pivotal role in pushing America to war in Iraq. And that was with a gung-ho administration that needed no encouragement to take on Saddam Hussein, and with an experienced Israeli prime minister like Ariel Sharon who maintained an extremely low profile during the months leading up to the 2003 war.

In 2015, however, the administration is promoting a diplomatic agreement, not seeking an excuse to go to war. And far from lobbying discreetly on the sidelines, the Israeli prime minister is flaunting his opposition to the proposed deal, brazenly infiltrating the administration’s hinterland in Congress, openly exhorting his troops, Henry V style, to go “once more unto the breach” to topple Obama’s dangerous peacemaking.

When things turn ugly, and Israel and the Jews stand accused for both plausible and anti-Semitic reasons, there will be no easy deniability this time around. And the Jewish community will be otherwise engaged anyway, torn between most of its leadership, which follows Netanyahu, and most of its masses, who remain loyal to Obama.

There have been harsh confrontations between Israel and U.S. administrations in the past: None have seemed quite so harsh, bitter and potentially damaging, directly and collaterally. Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that the price of war is not paid while it is being waged – the invoice is presented only when it is over. In a campaign with unclear motives, undefined objectives and dubious gains even in victory, the price is bound to be high and the bill both painful and inevitably shocking.