Iran's Arak heavy water reactor 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If the Israeli prime minister and his self-appointed advocates across the ocean
took their historical analogies seriously, they would know that the surest
recipe for war with Iran lies not in appeasement but in humiliation. After all,
though Neville Chamberlain’s policy toward Nazi Germany proved fatefully
ineffective, the real seeds for the rise of Nazi Germany and the eruption of
World War II were sown not in Munich but in Versailles – in the humiliating
terms the victorious powers imposed on Germany at the end of World War
In fact, the problem with Chamberlain’s policy toward Hitler was less
the policy and far more Hitler. To argue otherwise may prove to be politically
self-serving but is, and always has been, morally and logically specious:
Morally because to place so much of the blame on Chamberlain is always to a
certain extent to exonerate Hitler; and logically because the 1938 Munich
debacle was never so much a case study of appeasement as of its
To be sure, only time will tell whether the deal struck in
Geneva will pave the way for a comprehensive agreement that will bring about
greater stability for Israel and its Arab neighbors. But one thing is certain:
Its success will largely ride on its ability to have provided the Iranians a
measure of appeasement.
For Munich notwithstanding, appeasement can be a
highly useful diplomatic tool – one that the players of power politics can wield
to great strategic advantage. In fact, we all paid tribute to one of its
greatest successes last week when we honored president Kennedy.
rarely recognized as such, Kennedy’s legacy is the appeasement he prudently
employed in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Recognizing the risk that
Khrushchev might well opt for a nuclear war rather than bow down to an American
dictate, Kennedy secretly offered him a face-saving deal: In return for the
removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba, the United States would remove its
missiles stationed in Turkey.
It was a bold and pragmatic gesture, at the
core of which lay a measured, strategic concession. Had the terms of the deal
been made public at the time, Kennedy no doubt would have been finished off
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Unfortunately, not only has Binyamin Netanyahu been
excoriating the emerging deal as appeasement, but he has been recklessly touting
in its stead a politics of humiliation. As he put it in a speech before the
Jewish Federations of North America the other week (and in a much-cited tweet
the following day), the international sanctions regime “has brought Iran to its
knees” – which is why, he went on to argue, Western powers should be able to
extract from Iran a better deal than they just cut in Geneva.
This is a
tragic mistake – and one that the Israeli leader should have learned not only
from European history but also from Israel’s own. Simply put, Israel has never
bought itself peace or security by humiliating its adversaries; the opposite is
closer to the truth. The Arabs’ humiliation in the 1967 war should have rested
that case forever. After all, it was only after Egypt and Syria could claim to
have regained their honor in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 that they were ready to
offer Israel real stability – whether in the form of a formal peace treaty (as
with Egypt) or in four decades of a peaceful border (as, until recently, in
For this reason, Netanyahu’s demand that Iran completely
dismantle its nuclear program is wrongheaded whichever way we look at it. First,
because the Iranians will never acquiesce to it; and second, because even if
they did, the deal would amount to such a shameful national surrender that it
could boomerang in various ways. A humiliating deal would exacerbate Iranian
grievances against the West and embolden hardliners to oust President Rouhani
and his relatively pragmatic coalition from power. A humiliating deal is one
that Iran would more likely violate or possibly even abrogate. It is a deal that
would set the stage for Iran to seek to reclaim its lost honor and pave the way
for the very war that the deal was designed to preempt.
Only a measure of
appeasement will give Iran a way out – and the world at large the prospects of a
diplomatic triumph. Branding the deal as appeasement, therefore, is not only to
fail to condemn it, but it is to hail it for the bold pragmatism that is
necessary for diplomacy to win the day.
Yonatan Touval is a senior policy analyst with Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
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