Judging from their reactions to the deal that world powers signed with Iran in
Geneva early Sunday morning, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President
Barack Obama live in different worlds.
Diplomacy, Obama declared in a
message to the nation announcing the accord, “opened up a new path toward a
world that is more secure.”
Netanyahu begged to differ, telling the
cabinet Sunday that “today the world has become a much more dangerous place,
because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step
toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
Same world, yet
diametrically opposed risk assessments by two very close allies.
the nuclear element, one of Jerusalem’s main concerns is that Iran – once the
lynchpin of another US president’s “axis of evil” – is suddenly cleansed,
receiving a stamp of approval as a legitimate member of the international
community in good standing. Iran under President Hassan Rouhani has – in the six
months since his election – undergone a revolutionary rebranding, a rebranding
Israel could only dream of, from pariah state to “constructive”
Or, as Obama enthused, if Iran “seizes this opportunity” to prove
to the world that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes, then
“the Iranian people will benefit from rejoining the international community, and
we can begin to chip away at the mistrust between our two nations. This
would provide Iran with a dignified path to forge a new beginning with the wider
world based on mutual respect.”
Really? How about Iran’s part in Syrian
President Bashar Assad’s massacre of tens of thousands of people? How about its
continued development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear
warheads that were not even mentioned in the Geneva agreement? How about its
role in exporting terrorism around the globe? How about its stoning of women
accused of adultery, hanging of homosexuals and gruesome rate of executions? How
about the anti- Semitic ranting of its leaders? Does all of the above really
render the world a safer place, as Obama said? This agreement shows that Iran
can indeed do all of the above, yet still get to be a member of the
Israel’s concern about a nuclear Iran has never
only – or even primarily – been that the Iranians will use a nuclear bomb on
Israel, but rather that even having the weapon or the weapons capability will
magnify its power in the region and embolden it and its proxies.
a deep concern that the Geneva agreement will indeed bolster Iran in the
Iran is already a nuclear threshold state, as is any state that
can enrich uranium to 5%, has 18,000 centrifuges (nuclear-armed Pakistan has
only 6,000) at its disposal and can “break out” with a bomb in five
But if before Saturday night Iran was a nuclear threshold state
with leper status in the world, now it is a nuclear threshold state with
UN Security Council resolutions on Iran called
for it explicitly to suspend its enrichment; this agreement says go ahead and
enrich, just not beyond 5%.
The agreement gives Iran considerable
Will the US or other Western countries push Iran on
the Syrian issue, knowing that if they push too hard, Iran may walk away from
the nuclear agreement? After investing so much time and energy into forging an
agreement, none of those involved will want to do anything that could lead to
its falling apart.
Two weeks ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry,
following an inconclusive round of talks in Geneva, was asked in a BBC interview
whether Hezbollah or the conflict in Syria came up in his talks with Iranian
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“I think we spent 30 seconds on
Syria,” Kerry said tellingly.
And the regional ramifications do not only
touch on Syria (notice that Damascus praised the agreement to the moon), but
will also have ramifications on the diplomatic process with the
Firstly Iran – suddenly let off the ropes – will once again
be free to do what it can to torpedo any possible Israeli-Palestinian
accommodation, as any pressure on Iran to demonstrate “good behavior” in order
not to scuttle a potential deal with the West is now off. Expect, therefore, a
sudden upsurge again in Iranian support for Hamas, a group looking for a new
patron following their split with Damascus and the fall of the Muslim
Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in Egypt.
The agreement will also have
ramifications on the Israel-Palestinian front for a couple of other reasons.
First of all, Israel will feel no compulsion now to repay a tough US or
international stance on Iran with concessions to the Palestinians, since from
Netanyahu’s point of view there was no strong stance on Iran.
discussed so often in the past, “Bushehr for Yitzhar” – the US stops a nuclear
Iran symbolized by the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, and in return Israel gives up
settlements symbolized by Yitzhar – has lost currency, for from Israel’s
perspective the world is letting Iran keep Bushehr.
Also, any agreement
with the Palestinians will necessitate Israel taking calculated risks. But
Israel now will be much more risk averse, with Iran suddenly emboldened and
enjoying new-found international legitimacy.
In addition, any possible
future agreement with the Palestinians would undoubtedly necessitate ironclad
security guarantees from the US. Considering the way Washington handled the
Iranian file since Rouhani’s election in June, does anyone really think
Netanyahu is going to place Israel’s security in the hands of US guarantees? A
safer world? Maybe seen from Washington, a long way from Iran and the Middle
But from Jerusalem, close to Iran, and in the eye of the storm?