If Prime Minister Netanyahu were an American, he would be a neo-con. However, he is not an American, and somehow all his advisers continue to push him in a political direction that appears to be out of touch with the American people. I’m not referring to the interim deal or the drive for increased sanctions on Iran after the next six-month negotiating period. Congress is certainly in agreement with Netanyahu that six months is all the time to be allotted for a final deal to be concluded. This is not the issue. The issue is straightforward. What happens after six months without a deal, or a deal that Israel feels it cannot live with?
At the Saban Forum in Washington, President Obama suggested strongly that the final nuclear deal with Iran will most certainly allow for some level of fissionable enrichment. The president presented this opinion as the only realistic outcome. PM Netanyahu, on the other hand, stated unequivocally that any measure of nuclear enrichment by Iran is a danger to Israel and the whole world. So what will happen after six months? If there is no deal, harsher sanctions will kick in. This is now a given. But the notion that the US, at the initiative of President Obama, is going to go to war over the issue is just plain wrong. That leaves Congress to decide whether it wants to declare war on Iran. The declaration of war is certainly a Congressional prerogative under the US Constitution. But like the Syrian crisis last September, the American people’s appetite for another Middle East war is extremely limited.
At Saban, PM Netanyahu also emphasized the necessity to roll back Iran’s regional involvement with terrorism and its support for the Assad regime in Syria. The PM’s strong emphasis was in sharp contrast to the American president’s tepid remarks on the subject. The US regional position is murky at best. While Washington deeply desires a new relationship with Tehran, for Obama the nuclear issue and the regional balance of power are (at best) out of sync and (at worst) completely disconnected. Netanyahu sees things differently. For good reason, he presents Iran and its nuclear program in apocalyptic terms. The regional dimension is used by Netanyahu as a warning to the West that to trust this rogue regime is an example of the utmost naivete.
Obama believes that the naivete rests solely within the terms of the nuclear deal. The president appears to have given up on the full implementation of the six Security Council resolutions (zero enrichment). To expect a zero enrichment regime is unrealistic, according to President Obama. His Iranian strategy is to increase nuclear breakout time. For him, Iranian regional hegemony is less important than the current negotiations. Obama appears to believe that by addressing the regional dynamic, the nuclear negotiations could falter. His emphasis rests primarily on the nuclear side of the equation and is couched in a realistic or rational language. He believes that a nuclear deal is possible without necessarily solving the great regional issues. The regional issues and Iran’s genocidal rhetoric, which are of great concern for the Sunni Arab states and Israel, are not necessarily Obama’s concern. The president believes that the permanent positioning of US naval and air assets will deter Iran from hegemony. But what the president doesn’t understand is that without solving the regional problems, his nuclear policy will only heighten tensions. In other words, whatever the scope of the enrichment, its mere presence within a region at war could escalate the situation as it attempts to alleviate it. Furthermore, the presence of US Central Command only works to strengthen the Iranian hardliners and makes a nuclear deal that much more difficult.
As a neo-con, PM Netanyahu is counting on the “big stick”. He expects a zero-enrichment outcome but offers nothing in return. He plays the AIPAC card without an Israeli card. He believes that increased sanctions and a robust military option will cause Iran to capitulate (he is dead wrong). His international strategy is incoherent because it centers almost primarily on Washington. He misreads the foreign policy direction of both US political parties. He offers the Russians no reason to end their military support for Assad in Syria. He is dragging his country into a vast regional war because he lacks a diplomatic alternative to military strike. In short, Israel’s only strategy is Iran’s complete surrender. Unfortunately, the lessons of 1914 will most likely be played out in the Middle East in the late spring or summer of 2014.
On the other hand, President Obama is attempting a foreign policy legacy to prove his Nobel Peace Prize wasn’t a fluke. The “peace president” is, in fact, a cold warrior without a new vision. His NATO policy drives Russia away from cooperation on Syria. His “Asia Pivot” worries his Middle East allies while it alienates the Chinese. His nuclear deal with Iran will most likely fall short by somebody’s yardstick. The Sunni Arab states don’t trust him because they sense weakness.
Meanwhile both Israel and the Arabs fear an Iran-US rapprochement at their expense. The Turks don’t understand his Middle East endgame and fear that his lack of a Syrian strategy will cause regional “balkanization”. His “realistic approach” to Iranian nuclear enrichment risks the complete decapitation of the NPT. Finally, Obama’s meek response to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, after his genocidal rhetoric toward the State of Israel, was a bitter disappointment. Certainly a Jewish-American President would have stood up against a return to racist policy directed at black people. Obama should have demanded an Iranian apology.
The Saban Forum revelations point toward a world rapidly becoming far more dangerous than at any time in the last twenty-five years. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the uni-polar structure, with the US as the world’s only superpower, has now become outdated. Simply put, the US needs a foreign policy that partners with Russia and China to prevent both regional and global hegemony. In the Middle East, Israel needs to dramatically rethink its own nuclear policy of undeclared supremacy. Without these two adjustments, many of the bad potentialities, listed above, could very easily become real. It is time for both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop talking past each other and begin the hard work of a zero-enrichment, anti-hegemonic, nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.