My mother-in-law, Tamar, was born in Shiraz, Iran. Along with her parents and siblings, she made the long and dangerous journey to Israel in 1951, arriving at the age of 12. Although she rarely has the opportunity to speak her native Farsi, she is still ﬂuent and follows Iranian events closely, both in the mainstream Israeli media and on the local radio stations that broadcast in Farsi for the sizable community of Israelis of Persian origin. Last summer when Hassan Rouhani was elected prime minister of Iran, replacing Mahmoud Ahmenijad, the person she loved to hate, I asked her opinion. She said she would miss “Little Haman” as she called him. Surprised, I asked her why. She said that Rouhani was just as extreme in his hatred of Israel, but was much more sophisticated and cunning than Ahmenijad and the world would be deceived by him. She always said that Little Haman was a crass simpleton and thankfully wasn’t blessed with the characteristic Persian cleverness needed to hide the Supreme Leader Khamenei’s bigotry and anti-Semitism.
Rouhani would be a different story she said. Now that is Persian cleverness! My own mother advised me that I should always agree with my mother-in-law. Tamar foresaw the charm offensive before it happened.
Nov. 23 brought the expected and inevitable interim agreement between Iran and the ﬁve permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5+1), and the reaction here was dramatic. Headlines the next morning included: “How Rouhani succeeded in fooling Obama & Kerry” (Ha’aretz), “Agreement, No Matter What” (Yisrael Hayom) and Yediot’s “Historical Agreement? Historical Mistake!” The overwhelming official and unofficial reaction was that the agreement was bad and dangerous for many reasons, the main one being that Iran did not retreat one millimeter from its nuclear program. At best, they are running in place; yet the world sanctioned Iran’s illegal enrichment program and tore down part of the wall of sanctions. The danger is clear. While Iran retains the ability to break out to produce a nuclear weapon, the tired P5+1 nations will ﬁnd it difficult if not impossible to resume the aggressive sanctions regime and put all options back on the table.
Respected veteran journalist Eitan Haber wrote: “Don’t be misled; today Israel ﬁnds itself at one of the most decisive and fateful junctions in its history. The agreement leaves Iran with the ability to build a nuclear weapon in a short time. … this is frightening but it is the truth. No declaration or condemnation are of any use when almost the entire world, and mainly the U.S., close their eyes and deny the truth. We have a major problem.” Yediot’s Alex Fishman wrote “one of the sides is either naïve or stupid or both, and it isn’t the Iranians.” Netanyahu has been outspoken in his unprecedented condemnation of the interim agreement, his declaration that Israel does not recognize it and his thinly veiled personal criticism of Barack Obama and John Kerry. Much of the world wondered if his ﬁerce criticism has been useful or damaging to Israel’s cause. Although this is only the interim agreement, the ability to develop the most dangerous weapon on the planet has been granted de facto to the most dangerous regime on the planet. We and our children will be in the terrifying shadow of this existential threat, paying the price even if Iran never deploys a nuclear weapon.
It is easy to forget that Israel and the United States have the same aim of preventing Iran from military nuclear capability. But the noisy divergence in this common goal is where Bibi going ballistic has its roots. Netanyahu, like most of us, is convinced that an interim agreement was a mistake and increases the chance a ﬁnal agreement will sweep the problem under the carpet. Netanyahu’s feeling of betrayal is profound because this issue has been his personal crusade since he became prime minister, and the robust sanctions that brought Iran to Geneva are in large part the result his rhetoric, threats and warnings. He warned that even “moderate sanction relief,” as Kerry deﬁned it, will be like a small puncture in a tire, which is all that is needed for all of the air to disappear. To prove this, scores of international companies eagerly waiting for this moment already have delegations in Teheran discussing terms with Iranian officials. Only an idiot would say this process can be reversed. Netanyahu’s bellicosity reﬂects our extreme apprehension about a future in Israel in the shadow of a nuclear Iran, which would create unavoidable nuclear proliferation in an already anarchic Middle East. The only reason the Iranians are at the table is because of the economic sanctions. Relieving sanctions with no clear demand that the Iranians dismantle the components of their nuclear weapons program is giving away the West’s leverage. It is a recipe for disaster. No one here wants military action. But the dangers in this agreement make the possibility of eventual war more likely.
An interim agreement that makes no mention of removing a single centrifuge or stopping construction of the Arak plutonium reactor is a bluff. If, as Iran states, their intentions are peaceful, then why a plutonium reactor in the ﬁrst place? Why not demand that it be dismantled? And why build peaceful nuclear installations buried deep under mountains? Iran has deceived and played the international community for the last decade. Now Iran is one turn of the screw away from having a nuclear bomb as well as intercontinental ballistic missile delivery ability – all because the West just doesn’t get it.
Amos Harel of Ha’aretz writes: “The American announcement (of the interim agreement) shouldn’t surprise Israelis. … The cultural cliché is correct. These are the classic Iranian tactics. They possess extreme expertise at conducting long and tiring negotiations. Then the ﬁnal conclusions agreed in previous rounds are in turn used by them as opening positions in the next round and the international community goes along with this.” This seeming willingness to be deceived is the reason that the vast majority of the Israeli public, including Netanyahu’s ﬁercest critics in the Knesset and the media, are in agreement with his message. There has been strong criticism about his style, but in the days following the agreement, a Channel 2 news survey analyzed the public’s reaction to the agreement and to Netanyahu’s actions. To the question if the agreement endangered Israel, 60% answered yes, 25% not yet and 15% were undecided. To the question if Netanyahu had exaggerated in his criticism, 58% percent responded no, 28% yes and 14% were undecided.
There are other reasons for Netanyahu’s behavior. The lack of any clear American reaction to the supreme leader’s labeling of Netanyahu as a “rabid dog” and Israelis as “creatures that are not human” a few days after the agreement added fuel to the ﬁre. But the straw that caused Netanyahu to toss diplomatic protocol to the wind happened in his last meeting with Kerry, when the latter informed him of the softening of the American position. At the end of this meeting, the joint press conference was canceled, and instead Netanyahu ﬁred the opening salvo in his offensive against what he and most of us perceive to be capitulation to Iran. It was astounding to see the administration seeming to be more eager than Iran to sign the agreement. Ben Caspit writes: “Obama is sprinting faster and stronger to an agreement than Rouhani. The Americans are eager. The agreement cleans the books. The Syrian chemical weapons problem is closed, as is the Iranian nuclear problem, all without bloodshed. Obama retroactively justiﬁes his Nobel Prize, and after his presidency, comes the ﬂood. In 2016 the Iranian bomb will appear? So what? It didn’t happen during his term just as he promised.”
The Iranian issue is actually a symptom, albeit a potentially fateful one, of the real problem. Netanyahu and most of our leaders do not understand what appears to be a paradigm shift in American policy. Alon Pinkus, a former Israeli diplomat and expert in American affairs, says that the U.S. is on the verge of a signiﬁcant strategic shift regarding its place and role in the region. “The attention is on the Israeli confrontation with Washington. … In fact, at this time a deep and fundamental change in American Middle-East policy is occurring. … This stems from economic factors, the U.S. is on the verge of energy self-reliance, and will no longer be dependent on Middle-East oil … and also stems from fatigue and intellectual laziness. … The U.S. is scarred, bleeding, tired and has no more patience to continue to deal with the abundant conﬂicts, uncertainty and instability that the Middle-East offers in abundance.”
Pinkus adds the United States has basically seen the Arab world as hopeless and will rely on the three non-Arab regional powers – Turkey, Iran, Israel – but with no involvement. If Netanyahu recognized this, his efforts to strengthen the ﬁnal agreement would be more effective. Pinkus continues: “The existential threat posed by Iran perceived by Netanyahu is justiﬁed. He is reading the Iranian map correctly. The problem is that he is not reading the American map correctly.”
It might be nice to know that Israel is in America’s future plans, but if, or more likely when, Iran has a bomb, this strategy will go up in a mushroom cloud. I am not even taking into account that Saudi Arabia, who gave us 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 terrorists, will acquire nuclear weapons by receiving the 30 or so existing nuclear bombs from Pakistan. Many in the media here have drawn similarities to Munich 1938. Dan Margalit in Yisrael Hayom wrote: “The more apt parallel is to the silence of the West when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland in 1936. Then the enlightened world could have stopped the Nazi regime and perhaps even caused its collapse but the Obamas and the Kerrys of the ’30s wanted quiet and their eyes clouded over.”
Unlike Israel, Iran was required to offer nothing concrete, not even lip service, like “we are sorry for the American embassy siege, or blowing up hundreds of Marines in Beirut,” or “No, we do not want to annihilate Israel.” The West, not only Obama, simply does not know how to handle Islamic dictators like Khamenei, who abide by no rules. They continue to brutally oppress their own citizens, slaughter Syrian civilians, launch rockets against Israeli civilians and attempt to kill Israelis abroad – which occasionally succeeds as it did in Bulgaria last year. To give them the beneﬁt of the doubt, as the interim agreement has done, is unfathomable to us.
Where does this leave us? The initial ﬁght has been lost. The battleground moves to the ﬁnal agreement. Former Chief of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin reminded us that this is the ﬁrst stage and, as bad as it might be, Israel must move on and concentrate on the challenge ahead. He said the ﬁrst priority must be for the two sides to stop the blame game and thrash out their differences. He asserts Netanyahu will comply if Washington can assure the following conditions: Iran will not use the interim agreement to solidify gains to their nuclear program; if the talks fail, new sanctions will be imposed; clarify the interim agreement is valid for six months only; and for the U.S. to rehabilitate its military option by reasserting “all options are on the table.” He writes “The art of war is the attainment of strategic goals with a minimum of resources and time and minimizing losses.”
The U.S. and international community do not need to do this for Bibi or Israel. It is necessary for the world’s future. Will the P5+1 make these demands and will it be enough to prevent Israel from taking matters into its own hands? I hope so, but I remember Elie Wiesel once said, “Always believe the threats of your enemies more than the promises of your friends.”
Born in America, Mylan Tanzer moved to Israel in 1981. He was the founding CEO of the ﬁrst Israeli cable and satellite sports channel. Since 2005, he has launched, managed and consulted for channels and companies in Israel and Europe. Tanzer lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and ﬁve children. He can be reached at email@example.com