The truth is I have absolutely no idea whether the deal with Iran is good or bad for Israel. Analyses by experts in Israel vary from declarations of a total catastrophe (right-wing experts) to acceptance of a lesser evil (left-center experts). I suppose that like everything in life, the agreement has its pros and cons.
What I do know is the following:
- Other than an agreement guaranteeing the total dismantlement of the nuclear program in Iran, no deal with the Iranians would have satisfied Israel.
- Israel is not in immediate danger of annihilation by an Iranian nuclear weapon, or by any other enemy or weapon for that matter, and remains the strongest and most powerful country in the Middle East.
- Israel’s strategic relationship with the U.S. is crucial for its stance in the Middle East, and has hit rock-bottom.
Put together, these three points mean that Israel needs to immediately make a major policy shift, otherwise, it risks being unable to adapt to the monumental changes taking place in the world and the Middle East.
The world has changed. The international system is beginning a slow realignment. From a uni-polar system consisting of one major superpower, the world will now have to get used to a fragile balance between a number of equally powerful countries. As the crisis over Syria a few months back proved, the international scene is now making room for new (or old) players who will have an increasing influence on events all over the world, and the Middle East especially.
The Middle East has changed. The U.S. has made the strategic decision to make a slow withdrawal from the region, creating a vacuum, and attracting other powers to bid for influence in a region that has always been inviting for foreign powers. Russia was quick to fill in the void left by the Americans in Egypt by signing their own weapons deal with General Sisi. The French have made deals with Saudi Arabia, renewing ties with a region France has always had a major (and damaging) role in. The public and secret discussions between the U.S. and Iran herald a new age in Middle East history, opening new and old diplomatic doors and creating new options for political maneuvering.
Yet, Israeli policy has not changed. During the past few months, from the beginning of the dialogue with Iran and perhaps even before, Israel has done its best to show the entire world that it is not aligned with the U.S. Untimely declarations on constructions in the West Bank, constant efforts by Prime Minister Netanyahu to influence the U.S. Congress to counter President Obama’s policy, open criticism on American diplomatic efforts and public displays of spurns and slights – have all made clear to all that Israel and the U.S. are no longer an item.
The deal with Iran is a wake-up call, and should be treated as such by Israeli decision makers. Israel’s ability to influence what transpires in the halls of international institutions such as the U.N., has always been as a direct result of being able to flaunt its intimate relationship with a superpower. Israel’s obvious inability to do so now, is a direct result of the continuing public disagreement with the current American administration, and the transformations taking place in the international system (i.e. the waning of American power and influence). America is no longer treating Israel as a favorite son, but as an annoying step-child.
The simple truth is that Israel has managed to portray itself as a spoiled child not happy with the present given to him for Christmas (or Hanukkah). The world is listening to a different tune and is tired of Israel’s constant whining. Coming as a shock to Israelis as a whole, and Prime Minister Netanyahu specifically, the U.S. acts out of its own volition, and not at the whim of an Israeli Prime Minister, his oral skills in English not-withstanding.
Instead of crying over a done deal, and making empty threats of a unilateral military operation, Israel needs to act on two levels:
- Continue its efforts to gather intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program, making sure that if the Iranians do breach the terms of the agreement, Israel can provide verifiable evidence.
- Make every effort to improve relations and the strategic dialogue with the American administration. Other than the long term importance, this is crucial for two reasons: first, so Israel can begin to plan ahead together with the Americans towards the next agreement with the Iranians (in six months). Second, to ensure that the U.S. and Israel are on the same page on the issue of the peace process with the Palestinians.
It can’t be easy for Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has used all his political wherewithal in an effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Boasting a deep understanding of the U.S., he believed he knew how to handle President Obama and the U.S. Congress. Making comparisons between the current situation to Europe before the Second World War, he continuously quotes Winston Churchill warning of the dire implications following the Munich Agreement. It was Churchill who also said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Israel needs to take a breath and listen. No one likes noisemakers the morning after a party!