Will Herzog Rise to the Occasion?

Israel can only rely on itself. The American strategic relationship lies in tatters. The Iran nuclear deal has become a fiasco of retreat and capitulation.

This is all thanks to Barack Obama and his neo-isolationist Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton has become the proverbial “fence-sitter”, afraid to move toward the center for fear of losing votes to the anti-Israel left wing of her party. The American Jewish community has lost its clout, due to a lack of will to punish the Democratic Party (at the polls) for its appeasement of Iran. The pro-Israel evangelical Christian community has neither voice nor presence in the Democratic Party. Even Israel’s good friend, Bill Clinton, remains silent.

All this in the face of the worst crisis in Israeli history, the prospect that an irrational and genocidal Iran will have a nuclear bomb within a decade.

Obama’s litany of concessions has so alienated the Jewish state that the country stands united against his “bad deal” with Tehran. But it’s not just a bad deal; it has become a nightmare deal. Obama has created a situation in which Israel is faced with either armed action or surrendering to a policy of regional nuclear containment.

This is a far cry from what had been promised by both Obama and Bush (43). Instead of a nuclear deal that limited the scope of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to a mere symbol, now nothing will be dismantled.

Obama himself has admitted that within twelve or thirteen years, Iran’s nuclear breakout time will be reduced to less than one month. What had been promised, and what is about to be delivered, have become diametrical opposites. And Israel simply can’t live with this new American-Iranian reality.

This deal might be considered “pragmatic” within the liberal think-tank community in Washington D.C. But to so loosely monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities — while allowing for continued centrifuge research and missile development — is completely unacceptable. And in Tel Aviv, which will be exposed to the crosshairs of those Iranian nuclear missiles, something must be done now, not in a decade or so. In other words, something dramatic needs to change right now!

But Obama will never listen to Bibi Netanyahu and his right-wing government. And it’s Obama who must be forced to listen. He must be separated from the Congressional wing of his party, separated from Hillary Clinton, but at the same time offered a promising fallback position so both he and his political party can then reunite and not feel humiliated. There is only one man in Israel who could do that, and his name is Isaac Herzog.

If Israel truly feels existentially threatened by the current Iran nuclear deal (and it must) then Israel needs to be united against the deal.

Only a national unity government, with Herzog as foreign minister, can possess the left-wing clout to deal with the Democratic Party in total. However, Herzog’s presence within the inner security cabinet can only be the beginning. Herzog needs to be given a major leadership role, and as foreign minister he must become Israel’s point man on the entirety of the Iran nuclear file.

At this stage, and on this issue, it is vital that Netanyahu (of his own volition) take a back seat to Herzog. Because, most importantly, it is the Israeli left which must send a very strong message to Obama and his Democratic Party. Israel must protest in the strongest possible way that the Iran nuclear deal is flawed and unacceptable to a united Israeli nation through its united leadership.

Israel must show Obama that it can’t be taken for granted any longer. Herzog is the only man capable of explaining Israel’s establishment position on the Iran nuclear deal, and Herzog is the only man capable of shocking the American administration back to its senses.

The extreme shock — through the action of Herzog as the left-wing Labor Party’s foreign minister — would be for the Jewish state to recall its ambassador from Washington D.C. This must be done not as a final resort, but in principled protest over the Iran nuclear deal. Such an Israeli action would shake the American scene. It would be like an earthquake in US-Israeli relations. But it is Obama’s policy that has made such a step necessary.

Israel cannot afford to “wait out” this administration as it goes forward with its nightmarish Iran nuclear deal. Congress, the Democratic Party, the media, all the 2016 presidential candidates, and most importantly, the American people, must be shown in the strongest possible way that Obama’s Iran policy is flawed and cannot go forward.

But an Israeli national unity government must also provide the American people and their Congressional leadership with an alternative to Obama’s flawed deal. This is where the idea of a regional super-structure for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East can become the Israeli alternative to simply sanctions or war.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pacifist. And while maintaining a strict sanctions regime remains important, and keeping “all options on the table” has to be a vital lever against an Iranian nuclear breakout, a proposal for regional peace would be the best possible alternative for everyone, including Iran.

This Zone of Peace idea is especially important in the case of the Israeli left and the US Democratic Party. Because as described by this blog on many occasions, the zone expands the context of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and places the onus of true compromise within the criteria of a region-wide balance-of-power agreement.

If Herzog could lay out the structure for an international Middle East Zone of Peace, whereby the final step could become a nuclear-weapons-free zone, Israel’s position would be neither extreme nor even right-wing. In fact, when juxtaposed against the Obama policy of Iranian appeasement (without a regional context other than hope), the Zone of Peace for the Middle East becomes the realistic alternative to an administration pipe dream. This would be especially true if supported by the entire UN Security Council as well as Germany and India.

Israel is running out of time. Obama keeps conceding to the Iranians, and only the Republican Party seems to care. Even a great legislator like Senator Corker (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) has become appalled by the level of capitulation.

The Israeli security establishment has failed in its overly rosy assessment of the American administration. Israel needs an alternative to the certainty of the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East. Unless Jerusalem is ready to accept the nuclear containment of Iran as its strategy — in all its varied gray areas and uncertainty — or is willing to attack Iran, then it must conceptualize an alternative strategy.

Only a national unity government can be the proper forum in which to present such a policy. It’s now up to Netanyahu and Herzog to initiate such a policy and such a government. Bibi is ready. But still one very important question remains: Will Isaac Herzog rise to the occasion?

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).