Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

About the Iran Deal

My jury is out about all this. I am no expert and have heard the arguments by people I respect, like Congressman Adam Schiff, as well as people I don’t, for the deal’s necessity and about the folly of the US withdrawal. I take seriously, in particular, that so many Israeli intelligence officials thought that the deal was bad but– .

On the other hand, see the cogent arguments made by Timothy Stanley, an historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph (“Trump is Exactly Right About Iran’s Misdeeds,” CNN, May, 9, 2018). The title is unfortunate because Stanley’s article is not just a catalog of Iran’s “misdeeds,” which advocates of the Iran deal do not dispute. It is a reasoned analysis of why the deal’s demise is better than its continuation in the form we knew it as of two days ago.

The Iranian regime has not invested the economic benefits of the deal domestically. It has not applied them to improve life there, as Iranian civilians hoped and expected, and which was Obama’s and Kerry’s argument: that engagement with the world and economic benefits would moderate the aggressive hostility of Iran to the rest of the world (if not to Israel, to which the hostility and aggressiveness are ideological, irrational, and implacable, but that was not Obama and Kerry’s concern); and that all this would give Iran an incentive not to pursue a bomb once the deal’s sunset provision allowed that.

But we know where the Iranians have actually put the resources they’ve gained since the signing of the deal. Some of those “resources” were fired at us last night; others are in Yemen; Gaza; a whole lot are in Iraq, and heavens, in Iranian-missile-loaded southern Lebanon (pointing at us). The Iranian economy is on the rocks; its currency has lost so much value as to approach worthlessness.

I see some possibilities in all this. I listened carefully to the statement yesterday by Federica Mogherini, speaking for the EU. She very clearly said that the EU will act on its strategic interests, and (looking right at the camera), on its ECONOMIC interests.  The Europeans have been eyeing the starved, antique, Iranian infrastructure– ancient civilian planes, e.g.– very hungrily; all kinds of deals are in the works and hoped for. Europe has vital economic interests at stake. Hence, the instantaneous assertion, as indication grew that the US would in fact, pull out of the deal, that the EU would stay in. This very much includes Britain, whose need for deals is only enhanced by its exit from the EU and loss of automatic access to Europe’s markets; by the tremendous hit to London as a financial center entailed in brexit.

This gives the EU and Britain serious motivation to pressure and cajole the Iranians keep Iran’s nuclear program still. I can see France’s Macron, in particular, playing good cop to Trump’s bad. The two of them may not have set that up deliberately in their meetings last week in Washington, though that’s not impossible, either. But in any case, it makes a lot of sense to play out that way. Trump’s move has shifted the balance in favor of Iran stiffing its bomb plans, even if the Iranians continue to bluster about and threaten it.

The Iranians can rail, burn US flags (what a pathetic, puerile spectacle in their Parliament yesterday), but I see active, not to say, frenetic, consultations between the EU and them coming.

Of course, Rouhani could get ousted by a coup by his political rivals, who opposed the nuclear deal, whose failure is all over his face and strengthens them. Note his body language during his statement after Trump’s. That was one very unhappy, deflated, man. And Israel is doing its best to make the Iranian adventure in Syria very costly. The Israeli Defense Minister, Lieberman, just announced that Israel’s extensive strikes last night against Iranian installations in Syria, following Iranian rocketing of the Golan, has all but wiped out those installations. Very, very failed investment. On the heels of Trump’s blow.

So I’d keep my eye on meetings between the EU and Iran. On Macron, in particular, is my bet. Because, to quote Clinton (the other one), this may end up being (at least heavily if not entirely), about the economy, stupid.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
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