Netanyahu’s EU Gamble on Iran – Will his “Fix It or Nix It” call work on countries who have invested Billions?
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year starts tonight (Wednesday). Unlike New Year for many non-Jewish readers that involves copious amounts of alcohol, over-priced taxis, horrendous bar queues, Auld Lang Syne, and the ubiquitous “before the network” crashes text messages (and of course celebrating with families and friends), the Jewish New Year marks a period of intense reflection on the past year, and represents– in the ten days leading up to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, an opportunity to make right on past mistakes.
It was in this spirit of reflection on past mistakes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a speech on the Iran deal.
You might have missed it given the headline grabbing ‘we will obliterate North Korea’ from the American President that drew audible gasps at his use of such undiplomatic language in a forum where –quite literally – decorum is placed above all other political virtues.
The message from Israel to the Iranian regime, whilst not employing the diplomatic sledgehammer favoured by Mr. Trump, was still blunt, to the point, and delivered in an oratory that few, other than Netanyahu, have the skill to deliver.
The core message, endorsed by Washington, is that the Iran Deal, brokered under the previous administration was bad. So far, so what? This is hardly a new message, and prompts many of us to say “Well, no s&*t Sherlock”.
What is new however is the concerted effort to unpick something that has been ratified and accepted by many leading countries in the Assembly, especially EU states.
What this speech represents, when taken with Trumps words on the Iran deal, is the first real political and diplomatic effort to “nix or fix” the deal. When two significant players open the book on the deal again, particularly the US which is the single largest funder of the UN, it means something.
It means that some sort of compromise is needed. “There’s a new Sheriff in town” Mrs Haley said on her appointment to the UN. On the Iran deal it is clear that she is the Deputy and that Trump is the Sheriff. Such unambiguous language, when coupled with Bibi’s message sends a clear signal: We are not playing around.
Both leaders have pinned their colours to the mast in such an overt way that it leaves no wriggle room for a ‘compromised’ climb down. In short, its high stakes stuff.
But with other countries notably France – which despite president Macron’s message last night that there were some changes and improvements that could be done – having invested Billions in Iran since the deal was signed, it will be a tough ask to unpick, particularly as EU politics works on the consensual, rather than unilateral model favoured by both Trump and Netanyahu.
It is here, in these fundamentally different approaches where the real battle lies now. It’s one thing preaching to the Trump and Republican choir – a largely friendly and reciprocal audience, but quite another to convince EU Countries, whose decision-making processes in the EU can be labyrinthine, and to whom big industrial giants like France’s Total or Germany’s BASF, have, or are actively considering investing Billions in Iran, to change course significantly.
Add to the mix that the EU’s foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, was seen – head covering and all – over the summer addressing Iran’s parliament, and given that Angela Merkel seems extremely likely to be elected again on Sunday in Germany, meaning her de-facto leadership of the EU will continue, and that she will be concerned with little else other than legacy and acting as a counterweight to Washington, and this particular political bush from which the Americans and Israelis wish to pick from, looks a little bare.
It will take a lot of effort to move Europe on Iran, but it’s not impossible, depending on what leverage both men have in their arsenals. Will the renewed efforts at peace-making between Israel and the Palestinians and giving Europe a meaningful role to play at the negotiating table where they have previously just enjoyed crumbs be the trade-off? We will have to wait and see.
What is clear though is that, despite this uncertain course ahead of him on the Iran deal, a clearly emboldened Netanyahu can smell an opportunity in the air for a rewrite on a deal that was the political equivalent of a thorn in his shoe and that was steamrollered on him by President Obama despite his best objections.
And ever the Machiavellian, if he can secure a significant rewrite and claim responsibility for it… well let’s just say it would be a useful shield against the proverbial slings and arrows being levelled against him in domestic politics, and a useful weapon in his political arsenal ahead of elections in 2019.
Smart Guy that Netanyahu, smart Guy.