Listening to the speeches of US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State
John Kerry at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum last weekend, we were
reassured that the administration is approaching the Iranian threat and the
Mideast peace process with appropriate caution and commitment.
our community have raised questions about the interim agreement struck in Geneva
on November 24 between Iran and the P5+1.
Some of these questions are
quite legitimate. The agreement was not a victory for diplomacy. It did not
neutralize the Iranian threat and could even exacerbate the threat if the US
drops its guard one bit.
What the agreement did was merely impose a
momentary pause. Whether the diplomatic pathway will prove fruitful, or whether
tougher action will be required, remains to be determined.
the significance of what has been achieved so far serves to unsettle those who
worry about Israel’s security, not to calm them.
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicated this weekend that they
understand these points well.
The goal of the Geneva exercise is to “test
the possibility that we can we resolve this issue diplomatically,” Obama said.
It is about “testing the process, testing their commitment,” Kerry
At no point did either Obama or Kerry hint that he thought
America’s work is done. Quite to the contrary, both men stated unequivocally
that they were prepared to ratchet up sanctions and potentially even take
military action if talks fail to produce satisfactory results.
same time, Obama and Kerry made a strong case that the agreement reached in
Geneva could, in principle, be a step in the right direction.
agreement seeks to freeze the status quo for a period, giving the US the
opportunity to negotiate without facing the ticking clock of Iran’s
advancements. Freezing the status quo buys time for the parties to explore a
diplomatic approach without Israel having to fear that Iran’s nuclear program is
marching toward a point at which an Israeli military response would be
ineffective. This is far from a solution to the problem.
should be recognized that, if the agreement is implemented as designed – which
is a big “if” – it is a positive development.
Whether this interim
agreement proves helpful or hurtful to US and Israeli security interests will
depend on how carefully it is monitored, verified and enforced. Secretary Kerry
was absolutely correct to note that “we have a right to be skeptical” of the
Iranians. They have done nothing to date to inspire any measure of confidence or
Adding insult to injury, we also have reason to doubt that
China and Russia – which stubbornly resisted imposing sanctions in the first
place – will now stringently enforce the agreement. Israeli officials have
expressed concerns that corporate interests will pressure the weakest links
among the P5+1 to turn the limited sanctions relief contemplated by the Geneva
agreement into a wholesale rollback. These concerns do not seem
Given this dynamic, the US will have to play an outsized
role in policing the agreement and the sanctions regime in the months ahead,
vigilantly rooting out defectors wherever they tread. Allowing ourselves to be
duped would be nothing short of catastrophic; it could enable the menacing
Iranian regime to become virtually invincible, just as the North Korean regime
To ensure Iran abides by the terms of the Geneva agreement,
it will be critical that the US and Israel continue working together
Similarly, Israel and the United States must continue working
together closely to address another ever-present Israeli security concern – the
festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Here, too, the administration has
shown an admirable understanding of Israel’s needs, maintaining a laser focus on
By all accounts, the program proposed by US Gen.
(ret.) John Allen has been unprecedented in its scope and rigor.
said, “Never before – ever – has the United States conducted such an in-depth
analysis of Israel’s security requirements that arise from the potential of a
The importance of this effort cannot be overstated.
As Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon (2002) and the Gaza Strip (2005)
proved, territorial concessions carry real risks.
adequate assurances that Israel will be able to defend its borders after a
withdrawal from the West Bank, there is no chance that a two-state solution will
be achieved. As Kerry said in Israel last week, “If Israel’s security can’t
increase as a result of an agreement, it’s very difficult to make an
But Allen’s effort, like the interim arrangement with Iran,
is just the beginning. The real work lies ahead if Iran is to be kept free of
nuclear weapons and if a realistic framework for a two-state solution is to be
In September, President Obama told the UN General Assembly
that his two foreign policy priorities for the coming year were to advance a
resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to curtail the Iranian
nuclear threat. We are encouraged that the administration appears as determined
as ever to see these goals through, and in a way that will enhance, not
endanger, Israeli security.
Peter Joseph is chairman of the Israel Policy
Forum. Charles Bronfman is a member of the board of the Israel Policy Forum and
chairman of its advisory council.