Israel Should Seek the Achievable Rather Than Waging an Unwinnable, All-out War With Washington

The ferocity of Israel’s onslaught against the emerging pact with Iran threatens to return Netanyahu and Obama to their bad old days of yesteryear.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Over the past weekend of soaring emotions, Washington sold us out, President Barack Obama was declared Neville Chamberlain’s successor and Secretary of State John Kerry was branded as an out-and-out enemy of the Jewish people. And to add just a bit of loony to the crazy, France suddenly turned into a stalwart ally of Israel, through thick and thin.

Even though he continued his harsh offensive against the emerging deal with Iran on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to be turning down the heat of the disturbing outbursts that he exhibited on Friday, at the very same time that, according to his advisers, he was feeling the American knife imbedding in his back.

The ferocity of Netanyahu’s rage, accompanied as it was by a volley of protests and insults hurled by many Israeli politicians and commentators, astonished many Administration officials in Washington and surprised some of its detractors as well. No one denies Netanyahu’s right to vigorously protest against an agreement he views as “bad and dangerous,” but the talk of perfidy and betrayal harkened back to the dark period in relations between Obama and Netanyahu, before the former’s March 2013 trip to Israel and while the latter was still suspected of trying to get Mitt Romney elected in Obama's stead.

Hopefully, the prime minister is now better informed about the state of play in Washington than he was back then, when the wishful thinking of some of his friends and allies reportedly clouded what they should have been seeing with their own two eyes. The American public doesn’t trust Iran, despite Hassan Rohani’s recent charm offensive, but they will still prefer a flawed agreement with the Tehran ayatollahs over an excellent military campaign against them. This is the only reality that exists, as was amply proven during the recent crisis over Syrian use of chemical weapons, and it is the one that should dictate Israel’s behavior.

This is why Republicans will be more than happy to blast Obama’s “weakness” and “kowtowing to Tehran,” especially at a time when he is suffering from the aftershocks of the miserable launch of Obamacare. But, notwithstanding Senator Lindsey Graham’s projections yesterday on the Sunday talk shows, they will hesitate before going forward with stronger sanctions that could scuttle the Iran talks altogether. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, for example, seemed to be pulling back from his threat to curtail Obama’s authority to waive certain sanctions, but made sure, on the other hand, to express his support for his former Senate colleague Kerry.

Large parts of the Jewish community, which Netanyahu publicly and openly recruited yesterday in his speech at the General Assembly in Jerusalem, will join the battle cry against an agreement in which Iran only gets and doesn’t give, but it won’t be a completely united front. Most Jewish organizations will support Netanyahu, but others will prefer the diplomatic route proposed by Obama. And many Jews will have mixed feelings about bearing the brunt of potential blame for sabotaging the talks and thus pushing America, by implication, closer to a military confrontation with Iran.

And while Administration officials were said to be seething at what one of them described as Netanyahu’s “scorched earth” policy and his “lack of appreciation” for Kerry, Washington would still prefer to accommodate Jerusalem rather than conduct a damaging public campaign against it. Thus, if Israel plays its cards right, it could bring some of its objections to bear on the Administration’s positions during the upcoming November 20 round of talks, as long as it realizes that the objectives outlined by Netanyahu yesterday – no enrichment and no centrifuges – are unattainable, at least during the “first step” that the Administration is advocating.

Because A. Israel cannot afford an all-out war with the U.S. government; B. France will inevitably go back to being the same, old self-centered France; and C. For Iran, a situation in which Israel is viewed as derailing the talks, the international coalition is split and Jews are portrayed as having had such a direct influence on U.S. foreign policy – why that would be a consolation prize almost as desirable as the terrible agreement that Netanyahu is protesting.

Netanyahu and Obama in better days: Shaking hands with Chamberlain's successor.Credit: Reuters

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