The world from here: Israel’s public diplomacy is crucial on Iran deal

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli cabinet ministers reflect the magnitude of Israel’s challenge over the next six months.

Iran nuclear talks delegate at table 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Fabrice Coffrini/Pool )
Iran nuclear talks delegate at table 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Fabrice Coffrini/Pool )
In the aftermath of the interim deal between the Iranian regime and the P5 + 1, the dissonance between the smiles on the faces of Iranian and Western negotiators and the frowns of concern of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli cabinet ministers reflect the magnitude of Israel’s challenge over the next six months.
Netanyahu told his Likud faction on November 25 regarding a possible final agreement with Iran that “This accord must bring about one outcome: the dismantling of Iran’s military nuclear capability,” while reiterating that “Israel will not allow Iran to gain a military nuclear capability.” This restated Israeli red line will have to be supported by a first-rate public diplomacy effort.
As simple as the interim deal sounds to some, its numerous components and the technical aspects of Iranian uranium enrichment and nuclear military development leave much room for confusion among international lawmakers, opinion shapers and publics as to the dangers of the Iranian “nuclear puzzle.” While second nature to Israeli officials, many in the international community, from diplomats to shapers of public opinion, are unclear on distinctions and relative dangers among spinning centrifuges, dangers of various levels of uranium enrichment, levels of plutonium in Arak’s heavy water reactor, weaponization and ballistic development.
The Iranian regime has also proven itself a strong public diplomacy player.
President Hassan Rouhani’s “smile offensive” won over adherents. Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif’s sophisticated You- Tube and Twitter campaigns, in which he asked all countries and particularly his negotiating partners in Geneva to trust the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, also won Western support.
The Iranians have also understood that good messengers are necessary but insufficient as part of an overall public diplomacy offensive. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Basij paramilitary forces have reportedly created a cyberspace council that has launched online “cyber battalions” that engage in pro-regime public diplomacy campaigns, as well as removal of anti-regime content.
Grand Ayatollah’s Khamenei insult to America and delegitimization of Israel on the eve of the accords signing when he said, “those heads of the Zionist regime, who are really like wild animals that can’t be called human” was a sophisticated soft power “punch” meant to weaken Western negotiators and corner Israel. Former United States UN ambassador John Bolton, writing in the Weekly Standard, urged the Netanyahu government “not to fall prey to the psychological warfare successfully waged so far by the ayatollahs.”
Notwithstanding their recent success, the Iranian regime may still become Israel’s best ally in undermining the interim nuclear deal. Former UN ambassador and Iran expert Dore Gold told The Wall Street Journal that “We are going to see Iran do what it has done in the past; fudge its commitments and attempt to violate the deal.. and there will be an understanding that Israel was not crying wolf.”
But Israel must do more than wait for Iran to trip up. Judging by recent efforts, it has raised its public diplomacy bar.
Senior government ministers led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon conveyed unified, clear and simple public messages in English, warning of strategic and existential dangers that a nuclearizing, terror- sponsoring Iranian regime continues to pose. Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent US media interviews on Iran, one of which even kept CNN’s Christiane Amanpour slightly off balance, are a good example of upgraded messaging. The same messages are effective and should be branded under the interim agreement.
Israel’s public diplomacy efforts via ambassadors, Jewish and Israel-friendly organizations, friends and colleagues also helped shape the debate in Congress, which continues to call for close monitoring and tougher sanctions against Tehran. An expanded public diplomacy effort by Israel must continue to shape the international discourse on Iranian compliance with the interim agreement as part of a broader international campaign to expose the Iranian regime’s race for regional and nuclear supremacy and its leadership support for and sponsorship of international terror.
Israel has made substantial strategic and tactical improvements in its public diplomacy capabilities over the past five years. It has established an infrastructure with smart and seasoned professionals in the areas of national information and combating delegitimization, in addition to the daily yeoman’s efforts of Foreign Ministry professionals. However, the current intensified challenge requires a major upgrade of Israel’s public diplomacy infrastructure similar to what the United States did in 2011 when it established the Center of Strategic Counter- Terrorism Communications in the White House, which was created to counter Al-Qaida’s and other radical Islamic terror groups’ propaganda.
Israel’s ability to convince the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to dismantle Iran’s nuclear capability in a final agreement poses a major challenge for Israel. It requires a substantial investment in and expansion of the Prime Minister’s Office’s public diplomacy infrastructure, manpower and initiatives to upgrade efforts and capabilities both off-line and in cyberspace’s social and media networks in battling the increasing dangers of a nuclearizing, terror-sponsoring Iranian regime that has gained both legitimacy and time under the current interim deal.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and foreign policy fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as secretary general of the World Jewish Congress from 2011 to 2013.