Iran deal analysis: Playing tuba in a string quartet

Netanyahu doesn’t want the accompanying music to be soft and gentle. He wants it loud and harsh.

Iranian flag (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian flag
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Iran nuclear agreement was signed last week, the UN Security Council endorsed it on Sunday, and the chances of the US Congress overriding a veto by President Barack Obama on the matter in two months are slim.
Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s other leaders and emissaries, continue to scream and shout about the accord.
Surely Netanyahu realizes that another television interview, or another well-argued point, or another loophole discovered in the 100-pluspage accord is not now going to get the world to scuttle an agreement that was years in the making, and which Obama is dead-set on pushing through.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu seemed to indicate that if Congress did vote to override the veto, and the US didn’t lift its sanctions on Iran, then there might be a chance that the Iranians would scuttle the deal. The Iranian parliament is not set to ratify the accord until after Congress deals with it – apparently so it can save face and also reject the deal if the US lawmakers do. So the possibility of Iran walking away exists, but it is a very long shot.
What does the Iran nuclear deal mean for Israel?
Yet Netanyahu still loudly speaks out. For these efforts, he earned the epithet “obnoxious” over the weekend from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. One can only imagine the names he is being called inside the White House and the State Department.
But it would be a mistake, diplomatic officials in Jerusalem explain, to see Netanyahu’s and Israel’s protestations as solely aimed at the unrealistic goal of bringing the accord to a full halt.
Netanyahu continues to speak out, because after the Security Council endorsement and after the Congress vote, Israel will still be stuck with a radical, extremist Iran, and wants to keep it on the international agenda.
Israel wants to ensure that people do not forget what Iran is and stands for, and whom it supports.
Jerusalem wants to stress that Israel has serious problems with certain elements of the deal, in the hope that maybe those problems can be fixed – if not through renegotiating the whole agreement, then perhaps through congressional legislation to plug specific holes, similar to legislation Congress recently enacted to battle BDS efforts.
And of course, there is life after Obama. One serious Republican US presidential contender, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, has said he would rip up the Iran deal on the first day of his presidency, and another – former Florida governor Jeb Bush – has said that if he were elected, he “would begin immediately to responsibly get us out of this deal.”
It is difficult to imagine the candidates making such statements if Israel had not responded – and continued to respond – so angrily to the deal.
Netanyahu, with his uncompromising rhetoric about the agreement, is also sending a message to those chomping at the bit to do business with Iran.
No sooner had the world powers and Iran said “I do” in Vienna than Germany’s Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel went to Iran to scope out the business landscape. France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will not be far behind; he is planning to go there next week.
Netanyahu wants them all to feel bad, and to remind them with whom they are running to do business, and that they should not throw their principles out the window for a quick euro. (This apparently had some impact on Gabriel – at least at the level of rhetoric – since one of the first things he said on arriving in Iran was that Germans could not accept Iran’s questioning Israel’s right to exist – a statement the Iranians scoffed at.) Israel’s battle with Iran did not end with the signing of the agreement last week. Facing a world that may now have a tendency to see Iran in a softer, more forgiving light, Israel wants to make sure that this does not happen, and that in the eyes of the world, the country remains a pariah engaged in subversive activities around the globe.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, spoke a bit disingenuously when he said Sunday at a press conference following the Security Council’s endorsement of the deal that he hated to be the one “to spoil the party.” Not true – Israel wants to spoil this party.
The natural tendency after an accord like this – which has been characterized again and again as “historic” – is for the world to want to accompany it with a sweet serenade, music soft and gentle.
But Netanyahu doesn’t want the accompanying music to be soft and gentle. He wants it loud and harsh.
He doesn’t want the harmonious sounds of Mozart, he wants the dissonance of Shostakovich. So he strikes a cacophonous note. He is playing tuba in a string quartet.