Iran nuclear talks in Geneva November 9, 2013 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Christophe Bott/Pool )
Is this the 1950s all over again? In that first decade of the existence of the
State of Israel, its best friend and sole arms supplier was France. Meanwhile,
the United States under Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles maintained a
remote relationship with the Jewish state and after the Suez crisis in 1956,
applied strong pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Sinai.
began to change in the 1960s. France distanced itself from Israel after the Six
Day War. President Charles DeGaulle claimed he was offended Israel had gone to
war when he asked it not to; in truth, however, French foreign policy was
changing. And, at the same time, the US-Israel relationship had warmed up, and
it wasn’t long before America became Israel’s major arms supplier and
Ever since, meaning for decades, the US-Israel relationship has
grown and deepened, while France remained a somewhat distant friend and sometime
critic of Israel. That is why the news out of Geneva surrounding the nuclear
conversations between Iran and the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program has been so
Leading into the talks, which brought together the foreign
ministers of six countries, were reports that an agreement might be reached, and
in response the fury of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at what he called “the
deal of the century for Iran” and a “bad deal” for the world. And then things
came to a halt, with the talks concluding without the deal that many had
expected to happen. Why? Not because the United States had toughened its stance.
On the contrary, taking into account Israel’s reaction during the weekend, it
appears that if anything the US may have softened its position on both what Iran
has to do to curtail its nuclear program and what relief on sanctions would be
offered Iran in return.
Rather, it was France among the participants
which voiced objections to the proposal under consideration.
opposition focused both on what was left undone – the absence of a disabling
clause on the Arak plutonium plant and clear terms to prevent future uranium
enrichment – as well as on a premature reduction in sanctions in light of steps
to be taken by Iran.
It seems it was the French, not the Americans, who
prevented that bad deal from going through; this was recognized by Iranian TV
which accused the French of being Israel’s representative at the
The world appears to have been turned upside down.
and indeed, all peace-loving people around the world should express their
gratitude to France for its principled stance. But for Israel and its
supporters, the events of the weekend offer very little solace.
security will never again depend on France, a nation struggling to deal with a
stagnant economy and whose role as a world leader has continued to
What used to be referred to as German-French joint leadership
in Europe is now largely attributed to Angela Merkel and Germany alone. French
hard-headed realism on the nuclear issue should be encouraged and applauded, but
that’s not where Israel’s future lies.
So we come back to the distressing
part of the news out of Geneva: that it is not the Americans who stood in the
way of a bad deal. It took the French to save the day, at least for
It has not been a good week for American-Israeli relations with open
squabbles over both Iran and the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. As disturbing as
the critical comments by Secretary of State Kerry about Israel’s conduct in
negotiations with the Palestinians were, there is a history of those kinds of
incidents between the parties and I’d like to think it is a manageable
Far more disturbing are the developments with Iran which seem
to reflect a weakening of American resolve, a desperation to find a solution
(maybe any solution?) to avoid a military conflict and a hesitation, at best,
about America’s continuing leadership in the world.
The many signs of
this in recent months – regarding Syria, Egypt and Iran – are things to worry
about. Surely, the Israelis are manifesting angst. So are the
What can be done to turn things around? Prime Minister Netanyahu,
by his most explicit criticism yet of his American partner, is clearly seeing
himself in Winston Churchill mode, preaching about the dangers of a policy that
is being hailed by one and all as leading to peace but, in fact, bringing
conflict ever nearer.
But if Netanyahu, like Churchill, is being
described as a warmonger, then it is unlikely his sending up alarm signals alone
will turn the tide.
Here the French role, in conjunction with that of
Israel and Saudi Arabia, could be critical. All three nations are on record now
as expressing concern about a premature arrangement with Iran that will ease the
economic pressure and still enable Iran to break out quickly to a bomb. While
these three governments are not in the habit of publicly working together, a
concerted effort by the three to bring the United States away from this path of
least resistance would have a better chance of succeeding than Netanyahu’s
We are entering a period of time that may be the most
dangerous the world has seen since the fall of the Berlin wall. Let us hope that
France, Saudi Arabia and Israel can rise above past differences to bring the
international community back to sane policies in the face of the threat of a
nuclear Iran.The author is national director of the Anti-Defamation