Foxman: What’s wrong with this picture?

We are entering a period of time that may be the most dangerous the world has seen since the fall of the Berlin wall.

Iran nuclear talks  in Geneva November 9, 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Christophe Bott/Pool )
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.
All this 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 ally.
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 startling.
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.
The French 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 talks.
The world appears to have been turned upside down.
Israel, 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.
Israel’s 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 diminish.
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 now.
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 situation.
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 Saudis.
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 eloquent pleas.
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 League.