At least one keen observer of the Iran deal is not running for the hills.
Robert Satloff, executive director of The Washington Institute, spoke at length about Iran Wednesday on a conference call hosted by the America-Israel Friendship League.
Satloff’s analysis of the agreement between Iran and the U.S. and European nations was measured and devoid of handwringing. In fact, Satloff even found some silver linings in the deal, which has dominated the news.
This week, President Obama received the political support in the Senate to override any veto of the agreement, which, as Satloff pointed out, is not a formal treaty. Satloff noted that the agreement is an “Extraordinarily rare moment in American diplomacy.” He also said that it comes in a climate of what could be described as a “postmodern era of diplomacy.”
Dr. Charlotte Frank, chair of the executive committee for the AIFL, pointed out a key role Satloff plays in the effort to promote truth in the Middle East, saying: “He is the only non-Arab to host a program on an Arab satellite channel, and that is very important.” Frank referred to Satloff’s role as host of “Inside Washington,” a U.S. government-supported Arabic satellite television channel broadcast in the Middle East.
Satloff returned the acknowledgement, saying: “Ken Bialkin [AIFL chairman] has been a friend and someone I’ve admired for many, many years.”
On the issue of the Iran agreement, Satloff was measured in advising observers not to overreact. While he said the deal has significant problems, there are also opportunities to bolster the West’s position. He specifically mentioned an important element that is still in place: the separate issue of close military and strategic coordination between Israel and the U.S.
“This president [Obama] has upgraded security enhancements to Israel. It’s just objectively true. At the same time it’s also true that relations between Obama and Netanyahu, the strategic relationship is severely damaged. This is one of the baffling aspects of this issue: security is strengthened, while relationships are damaged. Both are true at the same time.”
The AIFL’s Uri Bar-Ner, former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, noted that he was involved in the negotiations that became a treaty between Israel and Jordan. He asked Satloff if Israel, given the heightened security risks from a nuclear-armed Iran, should negotiate for compensation from the U.S., for taking on those risks.
“Interesting that you use the word compensation,” Satloff said. “Of course there is compensation, there needs to be. In the real world, this agreement strengthens the risk, for the Israelis and Arabs alike. Israel’s military and security can be strengthened.”
Satloff also said that while the agreement has “significant gaps” (such as the problematic monitoring issue), there are ways to soften the harsher aspects of the agreement:
- Focus on a set of specific penalties for violations, in conjunction with the Europeans.
- Discourage the Iranians from sending money to Hezbollah, by using the big stick of sanctions.
- Pushback on the problem of the so-called sunset clause, by a much clearer American statement (“not this flaccid statement that no one in the Middle East takes seriously anymore”) that will keep a variety of options on the table should the Iranians not comply with the understanding that they will not pursue nuclear weapons.
- Strengthen the Israelis. Satloff reminded his audience, “With the North Korean negotiations, South Korea was at the table. Israel wasn’t even at the table recently. What we can fix is having the Israelis play a role at the table if Iranian compliance with the deal becomes problematic.”
As a long-time analyst, Satloff has seen the U.S.-Israel relationship up close for decades, and says all parties are somewhat in uncharted territory:
“These seismic agreements can be negotiated by a handshake. Nothing was signed with the Iranians. It isn’t a treaty. My view is that a vote is still very important in Congress, that both houses of Congress actually vote on this issue.”
One of the most extraordinary aspects of U.S.-Israel relations now is the fractured relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Satloff admits being almost awed by the President’s view that he alone has the wisdom with regard to Israel’s security.
“The President is really saying, to Bibi, ‘No, it’s really good for Israel!’ He’s not even saying, I recognize your view; he’s saying, it’s a good deal for Israel.”
With regard to how the Obama-Netanyahu feud is playing out globally, Satloff said that their common enemies are taking note:
“If you are an opponent of Israel, you might be impressed by Israel’s military, but you also see a weakness in the relationship — damage to the strategic relationship — at the top. I believe Israel’s adversaries will take advantage of this in the months ahead.”
Finally, Satloff gave a nod once again to the epic moment we are all witnessing:
“It’s very difficult to think of another moment like this. If you are not baffled by this, then you should see a psychiatrist.”