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Netanyahu resurrects ‘no partner’ excuse for Iran deal

The Israeli government is pulling out all of its usual tricks. It is clear from Netanyahu’s demands that a nuclear deal include recognition of Israel’s right to exist and that it address Tehran’s support for Hezbollah and Iran, that the Israeli prime minister will never accept any deal with the current Iranian regime — much like his approach to the two-state solution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

One might be tempted to think that disagreements about technicalities and tactics aside, Israel and the United States are on the same page about the overarching goal of nuclear negotiations with Iran. They are not.

The goal of the United States and the other P5+1 states is simple: reach an agreement in which Iran willingly gives up any nuclear ambitions and implements tangible mechanisms to reassure the world it is doing so. In other words, to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

Israel, or at least Benjamin Netanyahu and those he has enlisted to his cause over the past 20 years, wants something entirely different. Netanyahu wants Tehran to change its entire regional strategic thinking — to throw its allies to the wayside and to embrace its enemies. He wants regime change.

That gaping divergence of goals and worldviews has been on full display in recent days as both the Netanyahu and Obama administrations went on the offensive to attack and defend the most basic precepts of the preliminary nuclear deal, respectively.

Speaking on primetime Israeli television Monday night, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes rebuffed the interviewer’s question as to whether the United States genuinely believes that as a result of the agreement, Iran will “suddenly become the local nice guy,” referring to its expanding sphere of influence in the Middle East, often times attained with the help of violence.

“The question is will they be supported in all that behavior in the region backed by a nuclear weapons capability,” Rhodes responded. In other words, the United States is not trying to change what Iran is, at least in the short term, but it believes it can change what weapons it possesses, thereby limiting the threat it can pose the region and Israel.

President Obama used much clearer words in response to Netanyahu’s surprise demand that the nuclear deal include Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

What Israel is demanding, Obama told NPR, “is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.”

Israel doesn’t really want regime change to be part of a nuclear deal. It doesn’t really need or want Iran to recognize its right to exist, not as a Jewish state or as anything else. What is taking place is Netanyahu is adapting the “no partner” lexicon he long ago coined as an excuse for not seeking a two-state solution with the Palestinians — or rather, one of his excuses.

Does Israel want any deal?

Responding to the Obama administration’s attempts to sell the Iran deal to skeptics in the U.S. and Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made some technical arguments about what he described as the deal’s flaws. But he also went far further.

The nuclear deal doesn’t even mention Iran’s involvement in Yemen, or its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, Ya’alon told Channel 2 in response to Rhodes’s interview Monday night.

That argument should raise serious questions for anybody who believes Netanyahu when he says he is not opposed to a deal in principle but that he wants a better deal. Making demands about recognizing Israel, Iran’s support for terrorist organizations and other non-sequiturs in relation to a nuclear deal is to say that a nuclear deal is not enough.

What Israel really wants is a different Iran. Of course any deal that delays or eliminates any nuclear weapons program is good for the region, is good for Israel and is good for the world. Israel knows that. Netanyahu knows that. But his decades-long campaign against Iranian nuclear proliferation has not really focused on Iran’s nuclear program. It has been about the Iranian regime, about the mullahs, about the ayatollahs, about irrational actors and messianic fanatics — “the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam,” as he described it a few years ago.

There never was and there never will be a nuclear deal with the current Iranian regime that Netanyahu will or can accept. Doing so would mean deflating the larger-than-life boogieman he has so scrupulously crafted for decades. It’s much easier to find red herrings, to explain why the other side can’t be trusted, or why they are not even a partner worthy of building trust.

Iran, to Netanyahu’s Israel, is not an equal — it is not worthy of equality. For if the world recognizes Iran’s right to a peaceful civilian nuclear program, of its right to live without sanctions, what is next? Do they also have a right to “keep all options on the table?” And more significantly, if Iran and Israel are equals, worthy of being treated equally as sovereign states, what does that say about Israel’s “right” to nuclear weapons?

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    1. Lo

      What PM Netanyahu is doing right now is ridiculous. It’s as if the Premier of Moldova demanded that Nixon recognize and endorse Marxism-Leninism before he’d allow Leonid Brezhnev to sign the SALT I agreement.

      Israel is NOT a world power and it has no standing in the current discussion. If it wants to pursue bilateral agreements with regional powers, let it do so. I don’t think they will play ball until the Palestinian question has been resolved, but that’s Israel’s prerogative.

      What is absolutely clear is that the US+1 should not scrap an agreement that has a real chance of succeeding because of the narrow desiderata of a belligerent state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        David Horowitz of the Times of Israel points out what a farce the deal is:

        http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-unfolding-farce-of-obamas-deal-with-iran/

        Horowitz points out that

        “The Iranians’ latest contention is that the deal gives them the right to start using their most sophisticated centrifuges — the IR-8s — which can enrich uranium 20 times faster than their current IR-1s. And therefore, that smiling, avuncular Foreign Minister Zarif and his nuclear expert colleague Ali Akbar Salehi told Iranian MPs on Tuesday, Iran will start operating the IR-8s on the first day that the deal goes into effect.

        Needless to say, that makes a mockery of the entire deal.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Lo

          David Horowitz! Who’s up next? Judith Miller? David Brooks? Or how about just cut to the neocon chase and bring out Donny Rumsfeld?

          Even if the deal is suboptimal (which it is not), why should I or any other American put Israeli (and Saudi) interests before our own? It serves us to limit Iran’s nuclear program in a way that is palatable to both them and the other world powers (which don’t include Israel or Saudi Arabia). It does not serve our interests to fold our arms and pout until Tehran magically decides to dismantle their entire nuclear program and quietly become a secular democracy. It is directly contrary to our interests to engage in a military confrontation with Iran.

          If Israel (or Saudi) think the deal is bad, fine. Let them go negotiate bilateral agreements with Iran. I don’t think the Iranians will want to play ball with them, but that’s a bridge Israelrabia (see what I did there?) can cross when they get there.

          But if Israel is actually completely powerless in this situation (which it is, unless you guys want to first-strike Iran with those shiny SLCMs you’ve got, then you and your Arab buddies should sit down, suck on your thumbs, and let the fucking adults of the world conduct their affairs.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            The “fucking adults” just decided to allow an Islamic fundamentalist state to get a nuclear weapon as long as it doesn’t happen on the watch of a president that will be out of office in two years. The president admitted as much publicly. The Horovitz article convincingly destroys the idea that the “fucking adults” are acting in the way “fucking adults” should act. Instead they are acting like gutless cowards that have conceded on all issues because the other side knows that they are gutless cowards. Obama can claim that Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons on “his watch” and all he had to do in order to achieve that is to sign a deal that both grants an aggressive Islamic theocratic regime in Iran nuclear weapons within 15 years and turns it into a regional superpower.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Different justice for whites and coloreds: if you’re white you get a trial, if you’re colored no trial is needed, you just get sent to prison:

      https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/17890-israel-orders-administrative-detention-for-palestinian-mp

      Israel’s policy of “administrative detention” allows it to hold Palestinian prisoners indefinitely without trial or charge. Administrative detention orders can range from one to six months in length and can be extended by Israeli military courts by up to five years.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Yes, exactly, this is why Netanyahu is lately coming right out and saying that the Iran deal is terrible because it “legitimizes” Iran. He wants to keep Iran delegitimized (at the same time that he rails against any critics of Israel as “delegitimzers”). As the outrageous savagery in the Yarmouk camp against Palestinians attests it is in the USA’s and the whole world’s interests to make diplomatic contacts with and bring in from the cold and yes, partially legitimize, a stable power hostile to the butchers of the Islamic State. Let Saudi Arabia scream all it wants. What are they doing to stop Islamic state? What did they do to stop al-Qaida? It’s high time the USA had a recalibrated balance of power and interests and avenues for cooperation with regional players–including Iran. As Peter Beinart recently argued along those lines,the deal bids to accomplish three things:
      -reduce American dependence on Saudi Arabia.
      -empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis their repressive state.
      -ending the cold war with Iran may make it easier to end the civil wars plaguing the Middle East.

      As Lo says, the USA should not “scrap an agreement that has a real chance of succeeding because of the narrow desiderata of a belligerent state.”

      There is also the argument that Iran is an authoritarian rather than a totalitarian state (no matter how many times Republican senators try to label it totalitarian) and for that reason the carrot of reduced sanctions will make it hard for the mullahs to backtrack against the wishes of its population and relatively liberal political forces. Bringing Iran in from the cold can harness liberalizing energies of a population that is for the deal and does not want to go backwards. Heightened sanctions at this time would work against all of the above. Bombing Iran would be a disaster with respect to all of the above.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jello

      But the problem with the whole argument that you are making is that Obama himself admits that the deal will not prevent Iran from getting nukes. It would just postpone the moment. Worse yet it would give Iran billions in additional resources to pursue its goals in the region and would prevent the US and the Western powers from doing anything about it for fear that Iran walks away from this ‘deal’. What is being signed is not a deal that prevents Iran from getting nukes. It is a deal that empowers Iran and grants it immunity from Western pushback for the life of the deal or as long as the Iranians choose to honor it. As such it is important to consider exactly the kind of regime the deal is being made with because that is who will be empowered in the region as a result.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lo

        Hate to break it to you, Jello (actually, I don’t) but there’s never going to be a way to completely ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. You can’t bomb the knowledge how to build one out of people’s heads. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is hardened to the point that only a first-strike nuclear attack can demolish the major elements of the program. As far as the details of the deal, shipping out 97% of Iran’s enriched uranium is a pretty good place to start.

        Also, what does it say about the sanctions regime that even under some of the most stringent and punitive sanctions levied by the international community against a state, Iran has managed to progress to the point of a 2-3 month breakout? If you aren’t a neocon or Likudnik, it says we have been barking up the wrong tree for 20 years.

        Regarding Iran’s actions/role in the region: ever wonder how Iran’s ascendancy started? Hint: it has something to do with the U.S.’s dissolution of the main regional rival of Iran. Baathist Iraq was a massive threat to the Iranians and held dominion over the numerically-superior but subjugated Shiites of Iraq. We upended that in 2004 and we see the consequences playing out today.

        From an American standpoint (the only one that matters vis-a-vis the current negotiations), why should we be the country to hold back Iran? It’s not like the GCC states and Israel have been incredibly useful allies, what with the GCC countries funding our biggest Sunni headaches in the region and Israel openly defying a sitting U.S. president. Why should we even countenance the idea of fighting a major war with Iran in service of these “allies?”

        “BUT HAMAS AND HEZBOLLAH!”

        Not our problem. If Israel hadn’t occupied Lebanon, there’d be no Hezbollah. If Israel had reached a true modus vivendi with the PLO c. 1988, there’d be no Hamas. Again, why should we [Americans] care about the inevitable consequences of Israeli foreign policy?

        “BUT TURRISTS!

        One man’s freedom fighter, etc. And then it’s not like we haven’t embraced groups that used asymmetric violence against a population to spread a political message before. The US signed the checks for an entire constellation of right-wing terrorists throughout the Cold War. Israel was chummy with the Phalangists in Lebanon, and I’m sure they were just reasonable, peace-loving people.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          There is a big difference between Iran potentially secretly producing a nuclear weapon in 30 years while under sanctions and Iran being given an international license to do it in 12 and economic prosperity to boot. And no, Iran can not produce nuclear weapons without the facilities at its disposal and those facilities can very much be eliminated without resorting to nuclear weapons. That the United States can do overnight.

          That Iran managed to reach a breakout window of two-three months demonstrates that Israel was correct to be concerned and the various alternative analysis that were produced by various “experts” were politically motivated nonsense. Up until a couple of months ago it was accepted wisdom on these pages to declare that Iran was at least a few years away from a nuclear bomb. Now it appears to be accepted wisdom to declare that this deal will “ensure” that Iran does not get nuclear weapons. Some modesty and integrity would be nice.

          Neocons and Likudniks never argued that sanctions would work to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. They argued either that sanctions would bring Iran to the negotiating table (and they did) or that Iran can only be stopped from achieving a nuclear weapon with military force (and clearly they were right since negotiations have only paved Iran’s path to nukes).

          Iran started funding Hamas and Hezbollah long before the American invasion of Iraq, so there goes the argument that Iran’s actions/role as an exporter of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism started then. Hezbollah blew up US marines in Beirut in 1983. I would say that this qualifies as being before the US invasion of Iraq.

          There are a lot of things that you can argue are not the US’ problem. And yet, the US made commitments to its allies and friends in the region and has now abandoned them. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that American allies do not see eye to eye with the country that has betrayed them. This is especially the case after the US spent the past 10 years at least insisting repeatedly that the independent actions of allies were unnecessary because the US would ensure that we would never arrive at precisely the situation we are currently in. Clearly the current US administration agrees with you and is perfectly happy to ignore its commitments and obligations and to abandon its allies for a deal that will inevitably leave an Islamic fundamentalist state with a nuke and in a stronger regional position. Good for you.

          Frankly I have a hard time understanding why so many people are so happy about the Obama administration empowering an absolutely horrid regime in Iran to continue to export the most vile ideology to other countries in the region while presiding over an theocratic dictatorship at home. Congratulations. The Ayatollahs in Iran will now have tens of billions to spend on exporting the Islamic revolution to their near abroad while being one tiny decision away from developing a nuke. And all this with absolutely no concern for Western intervention because heaven forbid the Iranians decide that such intervention undermines this “deal”.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            To accuse the United States, which has done so much for Israel and given it so much, of “betraying” it is offensive. That kind of hyperbole is really unfortunate. Betrayal because it has not bombed Iran? When Israel’s own Mossad chief thinks bombing Iran is “the stupidest thing I ever heard” and most of its military high command also thinks bombing Iran is unwise. The USA betrayed Israel by not starting another Mideast war? Enough American soldiers have not died in the Middle East? You want to bomb Iran? Go ahead. What’s stopping you? Obama thinks it’s unwise to do so, unwise for the U.S. and unwise for Israel. There is no shortage of Israeli strategists who agree. That does not make Obama a betrayer of an ally. It is offensive to hear that when he has done so much for Israel’s genuine security. Do you think Obama works for Netanyahu? Do you think the U.S. congress works for Netanyahu? You must from the way you talk.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            Yes, it is offensive. It is also true. The United States has betrayed Israel and America’s other allies in the region by selling them all out to Iran in return for nothing. Iran will still get the bomb and it will get sanctions relief and it will continue to spread its Islamic fundamentalist grip on the region.

            When Israel was capable of using its military to destroy the Iranian nuclear program it was told that it should not because the United States would prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Now Israel can not and the US has now signed an agreement that assures that Iran will have nuclear weapons.

            Betrayal is the correct word.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jeff

            What is stopping Netanyahu from bombing Iran? You have already mentioned them – Mossad and the IDF high command.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            What was stopping Netanyahu from bombing Iran was the baseless belief at the highest levels of the Mossad and the IDF that the United States would step in to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. The United States is vastly more capable of using its military to do so and many of the high brass preferred to cling to the belief that it would do so and as such Israel need not act. It was a convenient self-delusion since proven naive. That self-delusion was reinforced by persistent American reassurances that it would indeed act if we ever got to where we are – with Iran at a two-three month breakout window. Now, after the American betrayal, it might be too late for Israel to act unilaterally for both political and military reasons.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Eric Yoffie (Haaretz) thinks Obama is not convincing on the Iran deal (but doesn’t offer a better idea) but then says:

            “But there is a lot of blame to go around. And American Jews are sophisticated enough to know that some of those yelling the loudest contributed mightily to the current mess—including Republican hawks and even Israel’s leaders.

            Let’s begin with the administration of George W. Bush and the national security hawks—generally known as the neoconservatives—who inspired its hard line on foreign policy. These are the people who led America into the Iraq War, the most disastrous American foreign policy decision of the last quarter century. More than 4,000 Americans died in this war [LINK: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/%5D and trillions of dollars of American tax money were squandered. A war intended to bring democracy to the Middle East brought chaos instead, and a despotic Sunni regime was replaced by an oppressive Shi’ite one. The result was not the model Arab democracy that Americans had been promised but a Sunni rebellion that eventually gave birth to the fanatics of ISIS. The only real victor in all of this was Iran, which was empowered by the removal of a dangerous Iraqi enemy and by the installation of a friendly Shi’ite government in Baghdad. Iran became a major regional power and the threat that it is today as a consequence of America’s catastrophic decision to invade Iraq.

            And then there is the role of Benjamin Netanyahu, who was elected prime minister of Israel in 2009. After sounding the alarm on Iran, he never acted as if preventing an Iranian bomb were his real priority. He should have spent the next six years in a non-stop effort to build a relationship of trust with the U.S. president. He should have set aside his obsession with settlement building, declaring that nothing would interfere with his commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran. He should have developed closer ties with the Sunni states of the Arab League, potential allies on the Iranian threat, even if that meant starting talks based on the Arab League’s Peace Initiative. He should have cultivated personal connections with both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, avoiding partisanship at all costs. And if had done all of these things, it is reasonable to think that his advice would have been sought, his counsel heeded, and his contribution to the negotiating process considerable.

            But Netanyahu did none of these things. Bizarrely, he did exactly the opposite, offending the key American, European and Arab players at each step of the process. The result was that as the negotiations reached a critical stage, Israel was excluded and her legitimate concerns were brushed aside. This political bungling was not merely unfortunate; it was a tragedy with major security implications.”

            Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Efraim Halevy, a former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, claimed on Tuesday that Israeli opposition to the emerging deal could run counter to the Jewish state’s interests.
      “I think we find ourselves in a moment of national paranoia,” he told publicly-owned Channel One television. “It is not appropriate to our reality, our ability.”
      “We are the strongest country in the Middle East, and the strongest country in the Middle East should not be saying every day that it is in danger of destruction,” he said. “Israel cannot be destroyed and it is about time that the citizens of Israel understand that, internalize it and behave appropriately.”

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      CIA Director John Brennan:

      “The individuals who say that this deal provides a pathway for Iran to a bomb are being wholly disingenuous, in my view, if they know the facts and understand what is required for a program. I certainly am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here.”

      On the ability of Iran “to cause more trouble”: “That’s a legitimate issue, concern and argument but that’s why I say what they shouldn’t be doing is trying to pull apart this deal … that’s as solid as you’re going to get…you’re not going to get the Iranians to just totally dismantle everything and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to pursue any type of nuclear capability from a peaceful perspective.'”

      Brennan said it was a hopeful sign that the Iranian regime was willing to engage in eight days of talks in Switzerland, noting that President Hassan Rouhani had “much greater reasonableness.”

      http://www.jpost.com/International/CIA-head-says-critics-of-Iran-nuclear-deal-disingenuous-396497

      Reply to Comment