1977 was one of the most miraculous years in all of Jewish and Israeli history. I was living on a small kibbutz on the old road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, engaged in my first profession (and passion of my life), agriculture. The kibbutz had me doing everything from mechanics to construction projects to milk and egg production. I only followed politics and international relations in the most cursory way; I merely read the headlines in the paper and, at the most, an article or two a day. I was totally engrossed in my blue-collar and cooperative life-style. And I loved the challenge of hard physical work. Working with your body and hands is not what most middle-class people think it is. Yes, it can be grueling, but it can be very creative work that requires considerable mental exertion as well. Farming can be exhausting, yet like everyone else in Israel, I was preoccupied with issues of war and peace, terrorism and the PLO, and the prospect of an international Middle East conference.
The new American president at the time, Jimmy Carter, was not very friendly toward Israel. But more importantly, he wanted to convene an international conference on the Middle East, whereby the principles established in UN Security Council Resolution 242 would be bypassed through a US-Soviet understanding. But the historic Israeli election of 1977 had brought to power, for the first time, a right-wing Israeli government under the leadership of its long-time opposition chairman, Menachem Begin. Begin was not very popular on the kibbutz (to say the least). But he did have one major thing going for him; as a right-wing political icon, he could make concessions to the other side. And because of his politics and personal background, he could make those concessions stick. However, the last thing Begin wanted from the Americans was an international conference dictate involving the West’s arch ideological enemy, the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile in Cairo, President Sadat of Egypt had decided to completely alter his nation’s geopolitical and strategic direction. By the late seventies, it was clear to everyone in the Egyptian military establishment that Israel couldn’t be defeated conventionally, and the Jewish state’s monopoly on nuclear weapons (undeclared) made peace a strategic imperative. After four wars Egypt was exhausted, and the likelihood of recovering the Sinai without direct negotiations with Israel was very slim. The Egyptian president believed that a US-Soviet international conference would probably fail anyway. And this failure would only work to complicate his desire to switch sides in the Cold War. Sadat also understood that Egypt’s close relationship with the Soviet Union had failed economically, and he hoped much closer relations with the US and the West would become a spur to the Egyptian economy.
Events happened suddenly, like in a dream or a movie. Sadat declared he would go anywhere for peace, even to Jerusalem to speak before the Israeli Knesset. It was like the whole nation had gone into collective shock. Within a day or so, it was happening. Life on my kibbutz and all over Israel stopped its normal functioning. The impossible had become possible, the unreal turned real. On the afternoon of the great man’s arrival, everyone on the kibbutz gathered around our two or three television sets to watch the festivities. It was like a miracle, and even to this day its memory still brings a tear to my eye. As Sadat approached the vehicle to take him to Jerusalem, an overwhelming inclination to climb on my tractor, and head to the cotton fields adjacent to the old highway to Jerusalem, came over me. I acted on that inclination, and within minutes I was there. I remember waiting, the only person from the kibbutz in a field surrounded by cotton. It didn’t take long. The official entourage approached, and I stood up and waved. Sadat actually smiled at me. It was a broad smile. And then as he passed, the famous man, making world history, quickly dropped his smile and gave me (in my blue kibbutz work clothes) a dignified salute.
Now it is almost four decades later, and the memory of that day has never left me. Such courage mixed with such complicated politics. And the lasting results are all part of Sadat’s incredible legacy. A foreign leader acting in America’s, Egypt’s and Israel’s best interest at a point when President Carter didn’t even perceive where the best interest of his country lay. There is an important message in the Sadat example today, and it involves Prime Minister Netanyahu. Again an American president is about to make a grave mistake, and only bold action can alter his course. President Obama perceives Iran as a potential partner and a moderating force for the region. Within a decade or so Obama appears comfortable with an Iranian nuclear program without restriction. This project is as wildly naïve as any in the history of US foreign policy, maybe even world history. And it must be stopped.
But how? This prime minister (or the new prime minister) must show the courage and vision of Sadat and bring forward a new nuclear and regional plan for the Middle East. From the very beginning of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, it became clear that an enrichment component would need to be part of any successfully negotiated deal. Everyone understood this, even Israel. Of course Israel was led to believe that the enrichment program would be kept to a token minimum of a few hundred unsophisticated machines. But now it has become clear that in order to get a nuclear deal, only a bad deal is to be initiated. So instead of token enrichment, the Iranians will achieve, within a decade or so, an industrial-level program. And this industrial-level program will go hand-in-hand with an advanced missile development project and other aspects of militarization not curtailed by any agreement.
The US is about to disappoint Israel, Egypt, Jordan and all its Gulf allies. The prospect of nuclear weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East has now become the new reality. Washington under Obama and Kerry (Clinton is still to be heard from) is about to “sell Israel down the river”. So the stage of international diplomacy is in need of another Jerusalem-Sadat moment. This time, however, it is Israel who must set this new agenda. The ball has been placed in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s court, and it is up to him (or his successor) to drive toward the goal and defeat the delusional legacy of this American president, a president who believes Iran wants to moderate its long-term Islamic expansionist project and partner with the US in a Shah-like regional hegemony.
To stop Obama, a nuclear-weapons-free zone needs to be proposed by Israel. The Jewish state’s nuclear program must come out of the closet. A new order must be established in the Middle East, and the cooperation of all the world’s powers is essential. This concept — of a cooperative global project to ensure a regional zone of peace — becomes the next logical step to cripple a severely limited ten-year P5+1 negotiated nuclear deal. In other words, Obama’s “legacy project” must become (through bold Israeli diplomatic action) a mere temporary interim construct, leading to a nuclear-weapons-free zone. If this horrible deal goes forward, it must be circumvented. And a nuclear-weapons-free zone is the only way to do it. At the end of the ten-year period, Iran would be forced to decide in which direction it wanted to go. If it chose the path of an unregulated industrial nuclear program, the sanctions consequences could be re-imposed, and immediately all other options would remain on the table (including military action and/or a naval blockade).
The following is the basic structure of a total regional peace plan that was first proposed at a Jewish-American synagogue in February 2012 and published on this website. I dedicate this peace plan to the memories of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.
1.) A Zone of Peace shall be established among the states of the Middle East and Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation may move uninterrupted. 2.) All foreign navies shall be banned from the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. 3.) All foreign air forces shall be denied the right to bases throughout the Zone of Peace. 4.) No state in the Zone of Peace may attack another state. 5.) If such an attack should occur, the UN Security Council would automatically come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended. 6.) If such an attack should occur, the states within the Zone of Peace would come to the aid of the aggrieved state. 7.) Only sovereign states would be allowed to possess military equipment. Non-state militias would be outlawed. 8.) Nuclear enrichment would be outlawed within the Zone of Peace and a strict verification regime under the auspices of the IAEA be established. This regime must go beyond the Additional Protocol Plus and the 3.1 rule. The production of plutonium would be prohibited. 9.) All states in the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states. 10.) All states within the Zone of Peace must sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone must begin no later than 24 months after all states have finalized mutual recognition. 11.) All states within the Zone of Peace shall pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states will also pledge not to conspire with other states for the purpose of such hegemony. 12.) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict shall be decided through negotiations among the parties themselves without coercion or outside interference. Genuine compromise and goodwill must become the principles upon which these negotiations rest.