Obama has won, and so too have the Iranians. It’s time for Bibi to move on and propose an alternative vision for the Middle East. He has ten years in which to develop a way forward that can capture the imagination of the world community.
If he is opposed to the certainty of Iran getting the bomb sometime after 2025, he needs to express that opposition in a positive diplomatic manner. Or he can continue to rage against this US president, but his chances of overriding a possible Obama veto are very slim. In a matter of hours the Democratic Party will begin to rally around the president, and if Bibi continues to preach only to the Republicans, he will be shooting himself in the foot. After his winter speech to Congress, Netanyahu can no longer afford to be perceived by the Democrats as a partisan hack. This is certainly not in Israel’s interest.
Yes, the Iran nuclear deal is flawed. And yes, sometime in the next ten years, one or more of the Sunni Arab states will probably be in possession of a nuclear bomb. This Obama deal is certainly not a permanent construct. In fact, it has a very short sunset clause. So the time to act is now. The Middle East will undoubtedly become a nuclear weapons nightmare region sometime in the next thirteen years. President Obama has admitted that many of the initial prohibitions adopted within the framework agreement will be gone by the time that today’s infants celebrate their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. Of course he didn’t mention the Bat or Bar Mitzvahs, but for today’s Israeli parents, grandparents, their extended families, and the new infants themselves, the stakes are enormous.
All of Israel, united as never before, must ask itself whether it intends to live in a region on the verge of nuclear proliferation. As I predicted over three months ago, there are only two choices — either the Middle East is going to be a nuclear-weapons-free zone, or it’s not. The Obama nuclear deal means (hopefully) that the region will stay an Israeli nuclear monopoly for at least a decade. This would give the nation plenty of time to act upon a brave and truly revolutionary new diplomatic proposal. But in reality, all the Obama nuclear deal does is provide the Jewish state with a short breathing space. Because within a decade or so, the Iranian nuclear threshold will be reduced to a matter of a few weeks, not a year or nine months.
Within its short sunset clause period, the Torah lifespan of a child, Israel must decide if it needs to admit to its own nuclear arsenal. Does Israel want to live in a region with hair-trigger nuclear containment, or does it want to propose an alternative?
The Iranians are counting on Israeli belligerence. But a military-air solution to the Iranian nuclear program would certainly run huge risks. Israel cannot afford to confront the P5+1. Instead, a policy of Israeli diplomatic struggle against Iranian support for Assad, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad should be ramped up in the aftermath of this deal. Iran’s regional feet (its behavior) should be held to the fire. This strategy would be non-partisan and directed sharply toward all of Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike.
Throughout the Iran negotiations the administration claimed that it is unrealistic to combine the nuclear portfolio with the regional dynamic. For over two years I have argued the opposite, that it is unrealistic to divide the two issues. Now that there is a nuclear deal on the table, Iran’s regional behavior must be rolled back, or the Obama nuclear deal will be nothing more than an appeasement device in order to avoid confrontation. This will mean that Israel needs to work closely with its Sunni Arab neighbors. Their support for an Israeli regional alternative is a must.
But for success to be achieved, there must be a large regional diplomatic context. Hegemony within the region must be disallowed and clearly outlawed. The age of empires is over. Nuclear threshold capacity cannot be used to advance hegemonic designs through terrorist proxies and/or rogue states. Syria needs to have a future that allows for political legitimacy and religious pluralism. Iraq also needs democratic reforms and must become a large neutral buffer state, neither pro-Sunni nor pro-Shiite.
Individual national governments within the region must pledge not to conspire with other states for the purpose of hegemony. The declaration of genocide, whether against states or against peoples, must be taken seriously by the UN and its Security Council. Non-state actors must be disarmed. This agenda will be a tall order and will require the leadership and cooperation of the world’s major powers.
In this context, Iran’s support for Assad must end, and it is vital that the P5+1 and the UN Security Council put some force behind ending the wars in both Syria and Iraq. If conventional arms are to flow to Iran within the next five years, as Obama has conceded, the present regional conflict cannot be allowed to linger without end. No longer can the Middle East afford to be in a constant state of war. A conventional attack on any country must be met by a firm understanding that everyone will come to the aid of the aggrieved state. That includes the permanent nations of the Security Council along with all the countries of the region. Meanwhile, the elimination of foreign military forces within the region during peace time must become a necessary component to assure all nations that outside powers are also not fostering their own hegemonic designs.
This would make for an excellent diplomatic context in which to declare support for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Without such a context, such a zone is impossible. Ten years is a good time frame to undo the current damage inherent in the Middle East’s clash of prospective empires. A nuclear-weapons-free zone must be anchored within a solid zone of peace.
Without such a context, nuclear weapons technology and weapons proliferation will become certainties. For all nations to survive in the future, regional cooperation is a must. This is certainly true in the Middle East, but Europe and Asia are also not without nuclear risk. If nuclear war were to start in the Middle East, it would quickly spread to Europe and beyond.
Israel needs an alternative. And Israel needs a unity government in which to propose its alternative. Raging at the world will not work. To get where we all want to get, Israel will need vision and friends. If peace is our destination, a peaceful region must be envisioned and acted upon. When all the nations of the Middle East can see a plan of action to end war and establish diplomatic relations among nation states, then and only then can we say with authority that such a negotiation is truly historic. Politicians can pretend progress; yet the truth of history rides not with postponing nuclear weapons but rather with eliminating them. A true alternative vision for the region is not something that ends with the beginning of adolescence, but lasts from generation to generation. This is the Jewish prayer, and this is the Jewish hope.