Battle for New Sanctions Could Harm Israel More Than Iran, Now That Deal Is Done

Israel finds itself isolated in the world arena, with only Saudi sheikhs and U.S. lawmakers at its side; perhaps it’s time to consider other diplomatic options besides perpetual petulance.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

It’s hard to decide what should worry Israelis more: The fact that an agreement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has depicted as “very bad and exceedingly dangerous” was signed in Geneva, or that Israel has somehow maneuvered itself into international isolation, with only Saudi sheikhs and American senators standing by its side.

And it’s not completely clear which is the more imminent danger to Israel’s national security: The possibility that Iran will exploit the new accord in order to advance its nuclear weapons program, as Jerusalem suspects, or the probability that Jerusalem will once again wage a harsh but nonetheless futile campaign against the U.S. Administration, thus exposing, for all the world to see, its growing discord with what was, is and will apparently continue to be its one and only strategic ally.

So the question isn’t whether Israel is right, but whether it’s smart as well. Do insults, aspersions, accusations and complaints advance or harm the country’s national interests? Is perpetual petulance and in-your-face bellyaching really a constructive form of diplomacy? It’s how we got to this point, at any rate.

Because Israelis should not delude themselves: Even if they view the failings and faults of the new Geneva accord as self-evident and crystal clear, it will be welcomed by a majority of Americans, including American Jews. The agreement will be seen, at least in the short term, as a major achievement for the Obama Administration, especially against the backdrop of the flailing Affordable Care Act. It will be assessed as exacting tougher concessions from the Iranians than what was expected and as conceding less sanctions relief than initially feared. The agreement is solid enough, most analysts will agree, to give peace a chance.

It was a premeditated tactic, of course: Contrary to the Iranians, who promised far-reaching concessions while the talks were going on and then had a hard time pointing them out, the White House and State Department maintained discipline and saved their ammunition for the crucial battle of media spin that started immediately after the P5+1 handshakes and hugs in Geneva. President Barack Obama didn’t waste a minute in setting up a televised address to the nation at an unusually late hour on Saturday night in order to herald an agreement that “achieves a great lot.” Obama wanted to set the tone of the debate before his Middle East critics woke up and started firing away.

The main arena for the upcoming political battle is the clause in the agreement that promises that no new sanctions will be imposed on Tehran during the interim period, if it keeps its side of the bargain. Senators from both parties have already announced their intention to legislate such tougher sanctions and AIPAC took the unusual step on Friday of publicly and explicitly announcing its support for such a move, in a video tape posted on the organization’s website by its Director of Policy and Government Affairs, Bradley Gordon. If AIPAC is there, then by implication, at least, Israel is right there behind it.

But by now it’s clear to everyone that such new sanctions would sabotage the agreement, humiliate the Administration, erode the international coalition and possibly destabilize the Middle East. Obama, one can safely assume, will spare no effort to fight such a move, including invoking party discipline, enlisting public opinion and if worse comes to worst, casting a presidential veto.

This could very well develop into a no-holds barred, dirty kind of total war, compared to which the tensions of the past few weeks between Jerusalem and Washington will seem like child’s play. And not only is an Israeli defeat almost a foregone conclusion, the ties between Jerusalem and Washington could be irreparably harmed and irrevocably frayed, with momentous negative ramifications.

This is true, and even more so, if Israel decides in the end that it has no choice but to defend itself and launch a military attack. As Tuco said in that oft-quoted maxim in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”: if you want to shoot, shoot, don’t talk - especially when those that you insult today are the same people that you will be calling on tomorrow to extricate you from the quagmire that they begged you not to enter in the first place.

Iran's Hassan Rohani, center, arrives for a meeting with lawmakers at the parliament.Credit: AP

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