Pax Americana and Israel II

To make his mark in history, Netanyahu needs to stand firm.

To believe some recent media columns, US Secretary of State John Kerry is the new Metternich and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton a latter day Talleyrand after securing the late November Joint Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program.
Harvard political scientist Graham Allison, renowned for his classic work on the Cuban Missile Crisis, praised the Geneva accord in American football terms, claiming that it had pushed the Iranian nuclear program from the red zone back to the relative safety of the 30-yard line.
Unfortunately, given the hazy timeline for starting and concluding the agreement, the defending team will be penalized for personal foul-ups while Iran will remain immune to delay of game penalties. By the time we have finished, it will be first and goal to go for the mullahs. The coach bearing the twin diplomatic Cinderellas, Kerry and Ashton, will have reverted to a pumpkin.
This purported “triumph” is a sequel to the recent “success” in Syria that leaves Bashar Assad in power after forcing him to renounce mass destruction by chemical weapons and limiting him to retail butchery by conventional weapons and starvation.
Yet another famous victory by today’s standards was achieved when the US State Department, overcoming its “deep concern,” directed American air carriers abroad to comply with notification requirements issued by China. This includes airspace over islands claimed by China but administered by Japan since the 19th century. Those uninitiated in Barack Obama’s “new diplomacy” mistakenly believe that the hoops-shooting president just moved his Asia pivot foot by making a mockery of the US-Japan Security Treaty. Never mind. We will soon be inundated by rapturous opinion pieces proclaiming another master stroke.
Buoyed by such rave reviews, the Obama administration is being prodded to go for broke and impose a settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict. For example, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland believes that Obama is on a “diplomatic roll” (rather than being diplomatically rolled) and suggests that he should move on from Geneva to Jerusalem and press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into an agreement with the Palestinians.
In terms of Israeli public opinion, this is hardly the most propitious moment to push for a deal. Not only the usual suspects like myself, but even people of more dovish coloration don’t subscribe to this triumphalist narrative and are dismayed by what went on at Geneva and the US-Iranian back-channel double- cross that preceded it.
The idea that the United States could effectively compensate for any “prudent risk for peace” that Israel takes has taken a severe hit. The US has effectively relegated itself to a morally pretentious status reminiscent of the EU, adopting a high moral tone, but collapsing when confronted by China, Russia’s Putin and now Iran’s Khamenei. With military options effectively off the table, the Obama administration is no longer a credible guarantor for any agreement.
This, of course, will not deter the save-Israel-from-itself brigade or the Israel-wants-to-be-raped school that salivate over an Obama diktat to all the parties. Freedland recognizes that Netanyahu in his present mood “won’t like it,” but quoting an anonymous Israeli source he expects the prime minister to cave in if “he can show he was forced into it by someone or something bigger.”
Such “optimism” is not baseless. Netanyahu has backed down before. For example, his decision to refrain from an Israeli attack on Iran in the autumn of 2012 after mistakenly confiding in Obama. He should take a lesson from his mentor, former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was willing to stand up to George Bush the elder fresh from his genuine Desert Storm military and diplomatic triumphs. Bush presiding over the end of the Cold War was in a stronger diplomatic position and enjoyed greater confidence in Israel than Obama does.
Netanyahu also realizes that surrender would mark an ignominious end to his political career. While Labor could be a coalition substitute for Bayit Yehudi, it cannot compensate Netanyahu for the loss of his political base in the Likud.
To make his mark in history, Netanyahu needs to stand firm.
If he wants to be remembered as another Churchill, now is the hour.
Contributor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva