Let me begin this at the end: I am not sure whether the agreement reached last night in Geneva is a good deal or a bad deal for Israel. Maybe I am a bit slow, BUT I have always been a little slow to jump on bandwagons. That being said, after listening to the Israeli radio shows all day, I know that I am tired of people comparing this new agreement with Iran to the infamous Munich agreements. I am equally weary of hearing comments and posts such as, America has “stabbed Israel in the back.”
Comparisons of the new Iranian understanding to the Munich Agreement: There are a few clear comparisons between the Munich agreement and the new agreement with Iran. First, the effort to forge the new Iranian agreement was led by group of countries (especially by the United States) who are weary of war. The same was true in 1938, as the Europeans were still traumatized by World War I. Of cours, in the case of Europe, the accord was negotiated 20 years after that war’s end; and in this case, one of the traumatizing wars is still going on today.
Second, both agreements have been hailed as “historic”.
Third, in both cases, we have examples of leaders who clearly have cheated in the past on agreements. Thus, it is easy to question whether the Iranians are planning to honor their part of the deal, or merely use it as an opportunity to cheat in order to achieve their goals.
Finally, and probably most importantly, the Munich agreement was an important link in a chain of events the eventually led to the extermination of European Jewry. There is a palpable concern that this agreement is a step toward allowing the Iranians to build nuclear weapons (which they will then use to exterminate ISRAEL.)
All of these arguments are valid — to a point. However, let’s look at where the historic comparison fails:
First, Hitler gave in on nothing in the infamous Munich agreement, only a pledge not to demand more. In this case, whether you think the Iranians have agreed to enough or not, they have clearly made serious concessions. Furthermore, if they do not cheat, their nuclear program is going to be there delayed. In addition, their ability to develop a bomb IS being set back (forcing them to degrade the stock of 20% uranium that they currently possess). Furthermore, the Iranians are agreeing to a much more intrusive inspection regime. They have also agreed to stop developing a Plutonium reactor. Is this enough? Could there have been additional concessions? Probably. However, these are clearly significant.
The second major reason the agreements are not similar: once Czechoslovakia gave up the Sudetenland there was no turning back. They were giving up their major defensive border area, in return for a promise there would be no attack later. Here, the West is giving up money, in return for actual concessions by Iran. The money is important, since according to some reports Iran was reaching the point of running out of foreign currency — something that might have crippled the regime. Those reports, however, have been disputed. Allowing for the influx of money cannot be compared with giving up the Sudetenland
These comparisons and differences lead us to a few main questions:
Will this agreement strengthen or weaken the Iranian regime? There are two diametrically opposed views on this topic. On one hand, there are those who believe that more engagement with the West will weaken the regime. According to this side, Western engagement will result in greater diversity of opinion and weaken the Ayatollahs. Those opposed point out that sanction relief will clearly help the Iranian economy, and as such will strengthen the regime. I lean towards the second view. This is not comparable to the former Soviet Union where the common folks were unaware of how the rest of the world were living until the rise of Glasnost. Iranians are not cut off from the world. More ‘engagement’ with the West is unlikely to change the status quote.
The second (impossible-to- answer) question we Israelis must ask is: to what extent does the Iranian regime to truly compare to that of Hitler? It is clear that Hitler’s obsession with the Jews drove many of his military and political decisions; the Jews were not an afterthought, they were central to all of his plans and desires.
Are the Iranians as obsessed with us as was Hitler or are we merely a convenient tool for the Teheran regime to use to garner support– both at home and abroad? My sense has always been that the later is the case. However, I am not willing to bet my life on it.
Finally, it has to be asked whether America has actually stabbed us in the back? Israelis have no sense of how war-weary the United States has become. After fighting two wars, one of which has gone on for 12 years, the American public has been utterly worn down, and is exceedingly reluctant to engage in another war. The opposition generated in the United States when President Obama mistakenly turned to Congress for approval for of his proposed attack on Syria shocked us (and I think, quite frankly, stunned the President as well). Attacking Iran will be infinitely more complicated, and costly. Thus, we should not be surprised that Obama is going to to grasp at any straw, to avoid initiating another war. We have been reluctant to attack Iran. We should not be surprised that the US is as reluctant, if not more-so.
So, what should we do? First, we need to recognize that this is an interim six-month agreement. If the Iranians do not violate the deal, it clearly buys the West — and Israel — an extra six months– and more likely a year to reach a final agreement, (and continue building David’s Sling, the Arrow and the rest of our defensive systems). We need to concentrate our efforts on making sure that the final agreement is the best that can be attained, as well as making sure that the Iranians do not cheat in the meantime.
FIinally, we need to change our tone. I cringe every time a government spokesman is heard on television or on the radio screaming about “the sky falling”. This goes against everything Zionism stands for. We are not defenseless Jews who must beseech the world to save us. We are a small, but strong country that will never allow itself to become Czechoslovakia of 1938. We need to keep in mind that while those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, the truth is that history actually never fully repeats itself. There are important lessons to be learned from history, but we must work to comprehend those events in the context of changing circumstances.