Yuval Steinitz was off to Paris and London on Monday in a last-ditch effort to lobby the Europeans against the very bad nuclear deal being negotiated by the Obama administration. Steinitz, however, admitted that Israel didn’t have a Plan B to the current negotiations, only a Plan A. And Plan A was simple: Stymie the negotiations at all costs. Maybe Bibi’s Plan A will work, and maybe it won’t. But either way, both outcomes hold grave danger for Israel, the region, and the world.
The primary reason that Bibi’s Plan A leads nowhere has been the subject of this blog for the last year and a half. President Obama has shifted the US position in the Middle East toward a pro-Iran tilt. This has happened either because of expedience (the region is just too messy for a hesitant superpower) or extraordinary poor judgment. However you look at it, the outcomes are bad. If the nuclear deal is successful, Iran’s coffers will fill, and its ability to pay for its expanded Persian Empire will continue unabated. The successful scenario offers no regional brake on Iran’s imperial ambitions. In the final analysis, the Obama strategy will most likely lead to an inevitable expansion of the current wars in Syria and Iraq (don’t forget Lebanon and Yemen). And most importantly, the proliferation of nuclear programs in the Middle East will undoubtedly move forward exponentially. Obama’s exclusion of the regional dimension has only become more and more magnified as time goes by. Meanwhile, Obama has totally alienated his regional allies by allowing Iran to advance its hegemonic aspirations.
However, if Bibi’s Plan A is successful and the nuclear talks do stalemate, where would that leave the situation? The problem lies with the very structure of the talks themselves. Absent a regional dimension, yet without a mechanism to dismantle nearly the entirety of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Iran seeks to maintain itself as a threshold nuclear power within an advancing framework of aggression. In the absence of a nuclear deal, Iran wouldn’t necessarily break out toward a bomb immediately or anytime soon. Because, unlike Israel and the Sunni Arabs, Iran does have a Plan B. Instead of rushing headlong forward, advancement on nuclear work could continue at a slow but steady pace. Over time this would lead to advancements in efficient centrifuge design, secret virtual bomb configuration, and heightened intercontinental missile accuracy. All the while, the Islamic Republic would maintain the Ayatollah’s “Fatwa” against weapons of mass destruction, even as its stranglehold on Arab capitals proceeds on course. Obama would be disappointed that he couldn’t tout a nuclear agreement legacy, but the deviousness of the Iranian strategy would escape his purview. War with Iran (by Obama) would be out of the question.
And why would that be? Because Obama is averse to hostility and envisions himself as the Peace President. He got the US out of the Iraq War (with grave consequences for the region). And now he’s attempting to achieve the same result in Afghanistan. The last thing Obama wants is a messy confrontation with Iran in the last nineteen months of his presidency. Of course the Iranians know all this, and they keep pushing Obama for a deal more to their liking. Without either a Congressional or international pushback, the Iranians might sign an Obama nuclear sweetheart deal. But I believe there has been a pushback, and it has probably caused Iran’s Supreme Leader to draw back toward his Plan B (which was explained above).
The pushback is the most recent of the Congressional letters signed by a whopping 367 members of the US House of Representatives. That amounts to a bipartisan eighty-four percent of the lower legislative body and means that, without a really good nuclear deal, all of the American sanctions will remain in place indefinitely (deal or no deal). This letter certainly must give the Iranians pause. But whether or not the Ayatollah signs on the dotted line, without an Israeli Plan B the choice for Israel remains war or the status quo.
However, if I’m wrong (quite possibly) and the Ayatollah does go forward with a nuclear deal, he’s probably gambling that the deal will never see more than a couple of years anyway. Congress will probably never lift its sanctions (giving the Ayatollah an out and someone to blame) or a new Republican president will renege on the deal by executive fiat. Either way, Israel and the region will be stuck for at least the next two years (and maybe a whole lot longer) with an Iran as an emerging nuclear threshold state and an expanding imperial power. Only the most hawkish of the Republican Party’s presidential contenders would ever risk war with Iran. Certainly this issue of war or peace would develop into a major campaign divide between the parties. Either way, Israel would once again become entangled in the middle of a US partisan political divide. Bibi’s ill-conceived Plan A certainly has major negative political complications for the US-Israel strategic relationship.
But there’s more. Israel cannot live with an imperial Iran that is also a threshold nuclear power. Neither can the Sunni Arab states. But would Israel really attack Iran and its nuclear facilities? Up until this moment, Bibi really wanted the US to do the job for him. The US has far greater military capacity. But what about the fragility of the world economy, the geo-political divisions across the superpower divide, and the increasing risk of escalation both within and outside the region? Without an understanding between the US, Russia and China, a war or naval blockade against Iran could become the explosive spark to ignite an even bigger conflagration. Israel is already isolated throughout the world, and her relations with the Obama administration have deteriorated over the last two months. The last thing Israel needs is another source of disharmony between itself, the world and the White House. I could be wrong, and maybe a Republican Congress or president would go along with Bibi on a war with Iran. But I wouldn’t want to test the proposition if I were the prime minister. Not unless there was no alternative.
So we have Bibi without a plan and Obama without a clue. What to do? We all must pray that somewhere in Israel or the Jewish diaspora there is a published Plan B (see my blog of February 27, 2015 — Netanyahu and the Memory of Sadat). An Israeli Plan B must provide an alternative to all the questions posed above. I’m certain such a plan exists; it just hasn’t seen the light of day, at least not at the corner of Balfour and Smolenskin. And as far as Obama goes, he was raised on a far-left ideology that was hostile to Israel and he is attempting to drive the majority of his party in the same direction.
Bibi’s lack of a long-term plan or strategy is certainly helping Obama’s far-left cause. Obama must be treated as a lame duck but not in a super-partisan way. The Democratic Party must begin to see him as he is — as a president sorely lacking a foreign policy vision and with a knee-jerk far-left reaction to the State of Israel. Without a Plan B, however, Bibi will inevitably lose the bi-partisan support of the American electorate. The people of the United States must begin to see the Israeli prime minister as a man with a vision. Absent a peace plan with a vision, his final years in office will become one big hell for everyone.