If a bad deal with Iran is signed, Israelis should blame only one person

For six years, Israelis have lived under governments led by PM Binyamin Netanyahu. In four electoral campaigns he has prioritized security and the need to stop Iran advancement toward nuclear weapons, promising Israel will be safe if he is elected. For more than 20 years he has been talking about stopping Iran’s nuclear plans inside and outside of Israel, in television shows and in newspapers.

The US and the West are about to sign a deal with Iran, which Netanyahu claims is a bad deal.

What did we get from all of his rhetoric? Nothing. And what has he done to avoid reaching this point? Effectively nothing.

It is very photogenic to literally draw red lines in the United Nations General Assembly podium or to give beautifully crafted speeches in the US Congress without the approval of the White House. But it would have been more helpful to us to have less show and more working behind the scenes to influence the outcome of these negotiations.

But Netanyahu did the opposite. He alienated the relations with President Obama and the American administration, which simultaneously isolated Israel furthermore from the west. But let us not give all credit to Netanyahu. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon titled US Secretary of State as “messianic”; and Ron Dermer — our ambassador in Washington DC — is making of Israel a partisan issue in the US, which is the worst possible diplomatic outcome of any Israeli administration ever.

But here is the reality as I see it: Netanyahu could have had stopped a bad deal, by being more of a statesman and less of a populist. Israel has often had to choose between the right and the smart thing to do. Maybe the right thing is, indeed, to openly challenge our allies for signing a bad deal, and even risking destroying our long-standing alliances. But the smart thing (and more effective strategy) is to work behind the camera and not in front of it and to do good and smart diplomacy with the US and the west for two reasons. First, so that Israel would be kept in the loop of the negotiations. Second, perhaps more importantly, so that Israel would have bargaining power on these negotiations to avoid a deal that is harmful to Israel’s security.

Most Israelis, on both sides of the political spectrum, are very worried –and legitimately so — of a deal with Iran that could pave the way to legitimize their nuclear ambitions. I don’t know if Netanyahu is in reality as concerned as he says he is, but it must be clear now for everybody that he definitely has not delivered what he promised. And thus, if this deal is signed, he is the one to blame.

About the Author
Dany Bahar is a fellow in the Brookings Institute in Washington DC. He holds a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University.
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