Opinion

Netanyahu’s High-risk Pressure on 'Pressure Cooker' Trump to Confront Iran

Israel will be seen as agitating against the nuclear deal in cahoots with a President who, as Corker said, could start World War III

L-R: U.S. President Donald Trump, Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS, Bebeto Matthews/AP, Abir Sultan/ POOL/REUTERS

Benjamin Netanyahu’s public call on U.S. President Donald Trump to break the nuclear deal with Iran is even less responsible than the all-out war he waged against the agreement in the first place. Then, Netanyahu went to Congress behind President Obama’s back to defeat an agreement that didn’t exist. Now he’s urging his successor to stray from international norms, set the U.S. on a collision course with the international community and risk a military conflict that could exact a steep price from America and the world.

When Netanyahu decided in March 2015, on the eve of elections in Israel, to thumb his nose at Obama in a battle that everyone but he and his confidantes knew was lost, he antagonized the White House, the Democrats and a significant part of the Jewish community. But there was no binding agreement yet and Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress, which was also seen as a personal challenge to Obama, could be viewed, barely, as part of the rules of the game. Israel has always exerted its influence in Congress on matters it deems vital to its national interests. The precedent was in Netanyahu’s rudeness, not in his effort to influence the outcome.

Israel will once again be wooing the Senate - and failing that, Trump himself - to try and undermine the nuclear deal by resuming sanctions that had been suspended because of it. But this time around, Israel isn’t trying to influence a decision that hasn’t been made yet but to push Washington to break an agreement it signed together with the world’s powers and the UN, and to do so without even claiming, never mind supplying any evidence, that Tehran had broken the agreement. Not only will such a move spark a diplomatic confrontation with the rest of the world, it puts America on a dishonorable list of countries - usually more authoritarian and less democratic - whose leaders can abandon international agreements, even on a whim. Washington’s signature on any accord will be significantly devalued, and its demands for new agreements with Iran, North Korea or for Middle East peace would henceforth be greeted with polite mockery. Israel, which has binding peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt that are bedrocks of its national security, should be the last country to encourage such recklessness.

The Israeli position, dubbed “Nix it or Fix it”, was presented by Netanyahu in his speech to the UN General Assembly last month and formulated almost as a formal request in an article published this week in The New York Times by Netanyahu’s deputy minister, Michael Oren, entitled “The Iran Deal Isn’t Worth Saving”. It casts Israel as the only partner, at best, or as chief instigator, at worst, of a controversial American president who is like a “pressure cooker”, as the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. When the world starts looking for someone to blame for the acute crisis that would be sparked by an American decision to abandon the nuclear deal, it won’t forget the cheers and encouragement that came from Jerusalem. Anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists who believe Zionists rule the world are going to have a ball. And Trump himself, as he often does when there’s blame to pass around, will pounce on Israel most of all.

According to reports in the media, Trump is set to fire the first shot in a campaign that could escalate to far, far worse. This is taking place on the same week that respected GOP Senator Bob Corker publicly described Trump as out of control and in need of constant supervision. Standing right behind Trump is Netanyahu -  who, judging by a Haaretz report on his words in a closed Bible study group, seems to have some doubts about Israel’s long term prospects - who is casting Israel’s lot with the President that Corker swears could launch World War III.