Some 10 days ago, in front of about 50,000 Basij militiamen, Iran’s Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei referred to Israel as the “unclean rabid dog” of
the region and predicted its demise. His words were greeted with chants of
“Death to America,” and “Death to Israel.” That was a pretty routine
development, actually – just another day in the neighborhood.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in Moscow at the time, took angry note of the
“The Iranians deny our past and repeat their commitment to wipe
the State of Israel off the map,” he told a gathering of local Jewish leaders in
his Moscow hotel, located in the shadow of Red Square. “This reminds us of the
dark regimes of the past that plotted against us first and then against all of
Senior officials in the prime minister’s entourage barely hid
their frustration – not necessarily with Khamenei’s words, which were considered
pretty much standard fare from the Supreme Leader – but with the world’s
failure, with the exception of France, to immediately condemn them.
Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the remarks the next day in the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, calling them “inflammatory” and “unnecessary,” and
adding that “at this moment when we are trying to negotiate what can and can’t
be achieved, the last thing we need is names back and forth.”
in the day, when Israel’s irritation became clear, did Samantha Powers, the US
ambassador to the UN, call the words “abhorrent”
during a CNN
Israel knows full well what Khamenei thinks about it – it also
knows what Washington thinks about these types of statements. What miffed
Jerusalem was the sense that with the peace train roaring into the Geneva
station (this all took place just as the Geneva talks that led to the interim
agreement with Iran
were set to begin), none of the members of the P5+1 driving
that train – the US, China, Russia, France, Britain or Germany – were going to
let anything happen to upset the journey.
Khamenei could make abominable
statements, but the muted response from the world indicated to Jerusalem that
everyone’s mind was already made up: This train was bound for
Echoes of this were also evident on Tuesday, when Iran
publicly disputed the details of the agreement – formally known as the Joint
Plan of Action – that the White House made public on Sunday.
been released by the website of the White House as a fact sheet is a one-sided
interpretation of the agreed text in Geneva,” Iranian Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham was quoted as telling the Farsi press. “Some of the
explanations and words in the sheet contradict the text of the Joint Plan of
Action, and this fact sheet has unfortunately been translated and released in
the name of the Geneva agreement by certain media, which is not
But even these disputes, these discrepancies, were summarily
papered over by parties involved in the negotiations. These differences were
dismissed as each side just trying to spin the agreement to their advantage for
their domestic audiences.
In Jerusalem, this all brought back bad
memories of Yasser Arafat’s memorable May 1994 speech at a mosque in
Johannesburg, just after the signing of the Oslo Accords and just before Israel
handed Gaza over to Palestinian administrative control.
speech, Arafat called for a jihad over Jerusalem (though he said later he meant
a “jihad for peace”) and indicated the Oslo Accords were only a tactical move
that could later be done away with.
The backers of Oslo explained away
his words by saying that he did not really mean them and that they were only
intended for domestic Islamic consumption.
The problem was, as events
such as the second intifada later proved, those words did seem to reflect his
Former National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror alluded to
the problem in an op-ed he penned this week for The New York Times. The six
powers negotiating with Tehran, he wrote, “have shown that they wanted an
agreement more than Iran did. The party that was targeted by the sanctions has
achieved more than the parties that imposed them.”
And if you want an
agreement so, so bad, chances are that when you get it you will then be blind to
Or, as former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller wrote
in Politico this week, “No matter how imperfect, negotiators and US officials
get very attached to their negotiations and agreements. Those who labored to
produce this interim agreement will become very invested in their handiwork and
move to defend it vigorously.”
Miller, who was a major player in the Oslo
process, said he’s “seen this movie” before and even been an actor in it, having
“succumbed to these same sentiments several times over the years. The process –
with all its historic resonance – will acquire a legitimacy and authority that
will steel the administration against arguments that point out its
Even if Iran “fudges some aspects of the deal,” Miller
wrote, “there will be great pressure and temptation to try to work things out
even at the risk of not strictly enforcing the agreement.”
And this is
exactly the type of development that Israel will be carefully watching, and
warning about, in the coming weeks.
After weeks of shouting from every rooftop and behind every microphone against
the agreement, once it was signed, Netanyahu quickly shifted gears. True, he did
not embrace the agreement, still telling the Likud faction on Monday it was a
“bad deal,” but then he announced that an Israeli team would go to Washington to
discuss what a permanent agreement should look like.
What was agreed upon
in Geneva is an interim deal that restrains Iran’s nuclear progress in certain
areas, in exchange for sanctions relief, and gives the P5+1 and Iran time to
negotiate a comprehensive deal without worry that while the talks are
continuing, Iranian centrifuges are spinning the country to a nuclear
And it is that comprehensive agreement that Israel will now try to
impact. Which raises the question of what this Israeli engagement will look
like, or deal with. Obviously, officials say, it will be an Israeli attempt to
ensure that the comprehensive agreement includes elements that Israel believes
are essential to halting – not just restraining or freezing – Iran’s nuclear
weapons program. It will also, however, include Israel nudging the P5+1 not to
surrender to the temptation to turn a blind eye to Iranian infractions or a less
than full implementation of what was agreed.
During this engagement,
Israel is also expected to raise another issue that it feels has been lost in
the conversation over Iran’s nuclear program – and that is Iran itself: Iran the
exporter of terrorism, Iran the enabler of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran
the serial trampler of human rights.
Much was written in the West this
week about how the Geneva agreement, and the US-Iranian secret talks that gave
birth to it, heralded perhaps an end to the US-Iranian Cold War that lasted
since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the takeover of the US embassy
Any analogy with the US-Soviet Cold War, however, is faulty. The
USSoviet Cold War ceased to exist when the Iron Wall came tumbling down and the
Soviet regime became a historical footnote. The Cold War did not end while the
Soviet Union was subjugating its people.
But those now advocating an end
to the US-Iran Cold War are doing so without any fundamental change in the
Islamic Republic’s regime: it continues to repress its own people and export its
violent brand of Islamic revolution around the world. Iran, in short, has not
changed, it is the same Iran. What is changing dramatically is the West’s
perception of it.
Officials in Jerusalem said this week that Israel was
dumbstruck by the degree to which the Iranian nuclear dossier, and attempts to
deal with it, have been so completely isolated from the wider regional context
and Iran’s singular role as negative actor in the region.
CONCERN over the years about a nuclear Iran has not only been that if it gets a
nuclear weapon it may actually use it, but rather about how much more mischief a
nuclear Iran could cause; how much more damage its proxies – Hezbollah, Islamic
Jihad, Hamas – could unleash knowing that they had an Iranian nuclear umbrella
Israel has also warned that this becomes a problem not only
when Iran assembles a bomb, but even as early as when it becomes a nuclear
threshold state, meaning a state with the capacity to build a bomb when it makes
the decision to do so – a position that Iran, according to Intelligence Minister
Yuval Steinitz, is already in.
Yet in the recent talks, Iran’s role in
Syria, and with Hezbollah, has been left entirely out of the
Kerry, in a BBC interview three weeks ago, when asked how
Iran’s role with Syria and Hezbollah were factoring into the discussions, said
forthrightly, “Well, we’re not there. We’re not in a larger
discussion. We’re not having a geopolitical conversation right
Kerry was asked in the interview, which followed an inconclusive
round of talks in Geneva, whether Hezbollah or the conflict in Syria came up in
his talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
“I think we spent 30
seconds on Syria,” he said.
Which, from Israel’s perspective, is
problematic. Granted, the main concern is Iran’s nuclear program, but all the
talk with Iran, the new atmosphere, is creating a sense in Jerusalem that Iran’s
other activities are being overlooked, if not legitimized.
While in the
past the US administration, at least during the first year of Obama’s
presidency, drew linkage between Iran and solving the Palestinian issue, today
it is carefully delinking the nuclear issue from Iran’s behavior in the region;
partly – sources in Jerusalem suspect – so as not to endanger some diplomatic
agreement on the nuclear issue. All of this, of course, will impact on another
key issue, and that is the negotiations with the Palestinians.
come back to the region this week, and in his talks with Netanyahu the focus
will not only be Iran, but also the Palestinians, the State Department
When he was last here three weeks ago, deep divisions between him
and Netanyahu emerged both regarding the Palestinian track and the
Following this week’s agreement, those divisions are likely
only to deepen.
Any agreement with the Palestinians will obviously
necessitate Israel taking serious security risks.
to take those risks as a nuclear-threshold Iran has its fingers deep inside
Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, will likely be less than if an agreement had been
reached that dismantled Iran’s nuclear weapons capability altogether. As a
result, if the Kerry-Netanyahu meetings were uncomfortable in early November,
chances are that this time they will be even more so, on both the marquee
issues: Iran and the Palestinians.
Asked if Netanyahu should not be
reticent about publicly fighting with the US and Obama over any of this, one
senior diplomatic official replied that if Netanyahu does not speak up now –
even against American policy – on an issue as cardinal to Israel’s security as a
nuclear Iran, then when exactly should he speak out?