Iran Deal Would Be Worst U.S. Betrayal of Israel Yet

The last time an Israeli premier stood quietly by while the U.S. tried to cut a separate peace, the Jewish State got bubkes.

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The U.S. delegation at the Iranian nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 28, 2015.
The U.S. delegation at the Iranian nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 28, 2015.Credit: AFP
Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky

The thing to remember about any deal that the P5+1 — Obama administration, Britain, France, Communist China, Russia and Germany — seeks with the Iranians is that it will be a separate peace. Whatever U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and their camarilla think of it, their pact, if any emerges, will have been reached at the exclusion — and over the protestations — of the Jewish state that is the declared target of the Iranian regime.

This would be by far the worst breach in America’s solidarity with Israel, but it would not be the first time. I was reminded of this by the speech James Baker delivered the other day to J Street’s annual policy conference. Our 61st secretary of state, who served under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, spoke of America’s refusal to let Israel fly in its own defense against the Scud missiles Saddam Hussein was launching at Jerusalem.

No doubt there are many who don’t remember how galling that dispute was, if they remember it at all. It was bad enough that Israel was excluded from the coalition that went up against Saddam’s army in Kuwait. It included not only America, Britain, France and Canada, but also, to name but a few, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. All of those local Arab regimes were desperate with alarm over Saddam’s advance.

The Forward, which I was editing, saw this as a perfect time for President Bush (41) to declare that if the Gulf States wanted to be protected, they’d have to be prepared to fight alongside the Israel Defense Forces. But Bush shrank from standing on this principle of solidarity. This came to a head when the scudding started, and Yitzhak Shamir — an underrated figure in the Lipsky view — was desperate to get Israel’s warplanes and troops into the fight.

That led to the issuance on the front page of the Forward an editorial called “The Jewish War Front.” The title echoed that of the book in which Ze'ev Jabotinsky, in 1940, called for “a Jewish army on all Allied fronts.” The Forward said that it was waiting for “some indication that the Jewish state is more than a potential victim in this struggle” and might have something to contribute to the military campaign. Plus the victors would have standing in the parleys to come.

Saddam at the time had reportedly moved to Iran a force of Sukhoi-24 heavy attack bombers. The Forward took the position that Bush personally should have gone to the Pentagon to make sure that Israel got the codes its planes needed to fly in coalition airspace. “The notion that Israel is going to earn political capital by lying in the background is chimerical at best,” the Forward warned. “There is,” it said, “no reason why Israel should be asked not to apply.”

This moment was recalled by Secretary Baker in his speech to J Street. “By refusing to respond to Iraq’s Scud missile attacks, Israel helped us sustain critical Arab support for ejecting Iraq from Kuwait,” Baker cooed. “Israel’s forbearance in the face of Iraqi aggression was evidence, if any was needed, of the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. And it was something for which President Bush and all who served on his foreign policy team were immensely grateful.”

Well, that and a dime will get you a cup of coffee. Baker spoke of the opportunity the coalition’s triumph in the First Gulf War provided to “advance Arab-Israeli peace.” He was speaking of the Madrid Conference, which was undercut at Oslo, which eventually failed as well. I’ve always thought that one reason is the fact that the world saw that Israel could be elbowed to the side by its own ally, even in the middle of a missile war aimed at its population centers.

The excuse Baker gave for his famously coarse epithet of the Jews is, “They didn’t vote for us anyhow.” But what excuse does President Obama have? He wants Israel out of the Geneva talks, so that he can cut a separate peace. The last time an Israeli premier stood quietly by while this happened, Israel was trundled from Madrid to Oslo to Camp David II. It got bubkes. That Israel has not been at the table in Geneva and Lausanne is in and of itself reason enough to reject the separate peace that may be unveiled this week.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000. 

James Baker and Yitzhak Shamir after a meeting in Jerusalem, 1991.Credit: AP