So its not the deal of the century

The deal is neither good nor bad. It is an interim deal. As such, it was both predictable and almost unavoidable, and as the idiom/cliche goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani address UN 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani address UN 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)
Sometimes, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory isn’t smart politics.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could and should have declared a partial, cautious, reserved victory, but a victory no less. Predictably he did not, choosing instead to lament, complain, put on world display his differences with the US and warn against “a bad agreement” – an improvement over his “deal of the century for Iran” statement.
Substantively Netanyahu is right. In terms of policy, he could have dealt with the agreement differently.
The prime minister who devoted years to explaining that radical Islam combined with nuclear capability is a global issue got what he demanded: a global agreement to curtail the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, it is imperfect, replete with question marks over whether Iran is to remain a “breakthrough nuclear power,” but that is the nature of agreements borne out of negotiations.
If the issue of a nuclear Iran were not such a serious, implication-laden issue, we’d be excused for being amused by the exaggerated, overhyped pendulum of hysteria and jubilation emanating from both sides of the debate.
One the one hand, the P5+1 (aka “The Geneva Six”) tell the world that this is a major step forward, that Iran’s military nuclear ambitions have been curbed, and the deal’s advocates are all over the place extolling its historic significance and momentous achievements – exuding false, premature and dangerous jubilation.
On the other hand, there are Israel and (less publicly) Saudi Arabia, which both warn that the deal is capitulation – that it is a display of spineless weakness that smacks of appeasement and would easily and inevitably allow Iran to retain its “breakthrough/threshold/ turn-key capacity” – exuding false, premature and dangerous hysteria.
From a strategic Israeli perspective, it is strange that Israel does not try to own the agreement and perpetuates an “OMG, we’re doomed” approach.
If someone had told Israel a year ago that by November 2013, Syria’s chemical stockpiles would be subject to international inspections and destroyed by virtue of an enforceable Security Council resolution and that Iran would sign a deal designed to curtail its nuclear program, that someone would be dismissed as a lunatic entertaining fantasies.
But this is the new geopolitical reality, one that Israel should endorse – observing it closely, skeptically and vigilantly, but surely not outright rejecting and vilifying it as the end of the world as we know it, which is exactly how official Israel has been sounding in the last week or so.
Listening to Netanyahu’s attitude, reactions and statements, one cannot escape two unequivocal trends: While he is making extraordinarily incisive and important points on the potentially perilous pitfalls of the agreement, he is at the same time isolating Israel. He is “Israelizing” the Iran issue after years of successfully alerting the world that a nuclear Iran is a broad-regional, even global issue, not an exclusively Israeli one. Most importantly, he is publicly, visibly and vociferously exposing and perhaps deepening a rift with the US. That is a critical self-inflicted dent.
The deal is neither good nor bad. It is an interim deal. As such, it was both predictable and almost unavoidable, and as the idiom/cliche goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
The validity and endurance of the deal will be tested through verification, compliance and time.
US President Barack Obama called as early as 2009 for “engagement with Iran.” A policy was never crafted because Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his ludicrous, outlandish and incendiary statements on all things Israel, made dialogue impossible.
But in fact, the US under president George W. Bush made an offer to Iran in 2003 – an offer that Netanyahu would have endorsed. Iran, naturally, refused. As a result, the number of working centrifuges grew exponentially from 160 to approximately 18,500 today. The amount of enriched uranium grew in the Obama years from 2,000 kg. to 9,000 kg.
This is not to say that the Geneva deal is “good,” but these are figures that demonstrate what the absence of any negotiations created and what could have transpired and evolved had this agreement not been reached.
When Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in June, it became clear that a deal would be in the making.
In retrospect, we now also know that the US and Iran conducted back-channel negotiations in the last three months. Israel either was not apprised of or had no influence on this process, both bad signs of a strained relationship.
Netanyahu’s raison d’être as prime minister is to prevent a nuclear Iran.
He is genuine, honest and historically conscious regarding this topic. No games, no spin, no distractions.
Which is exactly why he is at fault for failing to prioritize. When you incessantly confront the US president, bicker and complain and accuse him on issues such as “settlement expansion” in the West Bank, you lose credibility, you lose open channels, you lose the ability to conduct a discreet and intimate dialogue with your greatest and only real ally.
And on what do you confront Obama? Issues that are not vital or existential, such as settlement expansion. An understanding could have been forged as early as 2009- 2010, but Netanyahu chose to challenge the president and all but endorse his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, in 2012.
You also cannot tell the world that sanctions don’t and will never work, yet accuse the world of appeasement when it considers easing some sanctions as part of a negotiated deal.
In an ideal setting, Israel should have had a much greater say in the agreement because, the faults above notwithstanding, Netanyahu is making poignant and critical points regarding the agreement’s quality and fundamental flaws: the short period between Iran’s “breakthrough” capability and acquisition of military nuclear capability; the fact that it is not dismantling centrifuges; the fact that it maintains the right to enrich uranium.
Overall, Netanyahu’s prime objective now is to develop a working dialogue with Obama in order to have some influence over the longer-term deal with Iran. Choosing to try and undermine the (done) deal, weaken Obama and consequently further “Israelize” the Iran issue is not smart policy. An interim deal, good, bad or ugly, is in place. Think forward.
The writer is a former Israeli consul- general in New York. He was the advisor to four foreign ministers and is a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum.