Reading America and Russia Wrong

The Syrian precedent of American-Russian cooperation is also likely to work on Iran. And in any case, the very fact that this possibility exists constitutes a deterrent from Iran’s standpoint.

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As soon as the negotiations between the United States and Russia began in Geneva, when it became clear that an American attack had been postponed and there was doubt as to whether it would ever take place, all the pundits rushed to proclaim that the message this development sent to Iran was that it no longer had anything to worry about: The possibility of American military action against its nuclear program had been removed from the agenda. Yet even before the dramatic compromise was achieved, there was no basis for this analysis. Syria isn’t Iran, chemical weapons aren’t nuclear weapons, and any attempt to draw parallels between the American public’s current views about military action in Syria and its future views about attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities is fundamentally flawed.

In Syria, the war isn’t between good guys and bad guys; it’s a bloody civil war between two sets of bad guys, and it’s not easy to determine which one is worse. This isn’t the case with Iran and its nuclear program. That involves a clear struggle between a very bad actor – Iran – and the good guys, namely the free world, including Israel. According to all the polls, Iran is the country most hated by Americans, and the American people views Iran – not China, not Russia, and certainly not Syria – as the greatest threat to the United States.

There’s also no comparison between chemical weapons and nuclear weapons. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons don’t threaten the United States, and it’s doubtful whether they even threaten Israel. In contrast, American public opinion views nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran’s fundamentalist regime as a real threat to U.S. national security. When President Barack Obama explains to his countrymen that nuclear weapons in Iran’s possession are liable to make their way to terrorist organizations, potentially in the form of a nuclear bomb arriving in a container at the Port of New York, the support for military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities will rise dramatically, both among the American public and in Congress.

Today, the situation is even more unequivocal, and the threatening message that has been sent to Iran is clear. The agreement between the United States and Russia, which is supposed to force Assad, against his will, to give up all his chemical weapons and all his means of producing them within half a year, is likely – if it is actually implemented – to constitute a very important development, a genuine turning point in global politics. This is an achievement for both America and Russia, and indirectly for Israel as well. The significance of the last few days, as our prime minister noted, is that creative diplomacy, backed by a threat of military action, can accomplish great things. To this must be added America’s willingness to view Russia as a partner in running the world.

For a long time now, it has been clear to Israel that the fundamental, long-term solution to the danger that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would pose lies in cooperation between the United States and Russia. It has now been proven that Russia has no particular interest in Assad’s continued possession of chemical weapons, despite its support for him, and it surely has no interest in Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The Syrian precedent of American-Russian cooperation is also likely to work on Iran. And in any case, the very fact that this possibility exists constitutes a deterrent from Iran’s standpoint.

The way Syria was dealt with constitutes writing on the wall that the Iranians would do well to read, as was said explicitly by none other than President Obama. And in order to make this even clearer, he stressed that the combination of a credible threat to use force and creative diplomacy, which has proven itself in Syria, could also provide a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holding a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on September 14, 2013.Credit: AFP

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