Walking a Fine Line

It is an established fact that Israel faces an enemy that is weeks — or, at best, months — away from obtaining nuclear weapons. It is also a fact that Iran has made no secret of its desire to wipe Israel off the map. (Even if the current, more “moderate” Iranian president doesn’t say so openly, the fact that he won’t desist from continuing his country’s nuclear program in order to ease crippling economic sanctions says it all.)

This is why a prime minister who is deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of some eight million citizens, including more than two and a half million children, could be, in the words of The New York Times, “hysterical” about an agreement that would allow Iran to continue pursuing its nuclear ambitions.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is indeed frantically pushing all the buttons he can — including lobbying Congress and European leaders and appealing directly to the American people — in order to prevent a “first-step” diplomatic agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. The concern is that once sanctions are eased, the world will be only too happy to do business with the Iranians and overlook violations of even the minimal restrictions that Tehran agrees to.

Those concerns are extremely valid and fully understandable.

As Secretary of State John Kerry remarked, “The prime minister should express his concerns and he has every right in the world to publicly state his position and defend what he believes is his interest.”

However, there is room to express concern that Netanyahu and his government have gone too far in attacking Kerry — and, by extension, the Obama administration — for their handling of the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

Granted, Kerry’s recent warning to Israel that the failure of the peace talks with the Palestinians would lead to another intifada, which implied that the Netanyahu government was responsible for holding up progress in the negotiations, was highly inappropriate and counterproductive. Kerry was, in the words of a senior Israeli official, “providing legitimacy to Palestinian behavior that deviates from the framework of our agreements” and raising questions about his ability to serve as an honest broker.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Kerry, now serving as secretary of state, assures Israel that the accord he is cooking up with Iran will reduce the risk to Israel, many are finding it difficult to accept his assurances at face value.

Israel can’t sit by quietly as an agreement is being reached that puts it in grave jeopardy, but it also cannot afford to strain ties with its most reliable friend and ally.

While Netanyahu’s goal may be to get President Barack Obama to take the reins of U.S. foreign policy back from Kerry, he is playing a dangerous game by doing so publicly and vocally. You don’t attack the secretary of state without attacking the president.

The West is not above blame. It was legitimate to exclude Israel from the talks in Geneva, since Iran would have refused to attend them. But if the Netanyahu government were briefed fully and in real time and if its opinions on the deal were given the weight they deserve, considering Israel’s vulnerability to Iranian nukes and its expertise in defense matters, there would have been no need for a “hysterical” Netanyahu to push so many buttons.

Instead, Israel is patronizingly kept in the dark, leading it to suspect that Washington has a secret track with Iran in which agreements are being reached that undermine Israel’s national security.

The relationship between Israel and the United States is of great importance. If, chalilah, it is strained to the point of rupture, the Iranians will have already gone a long way toward achieving their goal. Israel would be further isolated and its security — economic and otherwise — would be further compromised.

It would be beneficial for Israel to recognize this reality and concentrate on behind-the-scenes, old-fashioned shtadlanus.

At the same time, the United States, which has been a steady, trustworthy ally, has to understand the valid concerns of its only democratic, reliable ally in a volatile and hostile region.

A country that is marking 40 years since a surprise attack that cost the lives of nearly 3,000 soldiers, a country whose citizens huddled inside bomb shelters some 20 years ago while Iraq struck with 39 Scud rockets, cannot afford to take chances with a nuclear-armed Iran.

It’s ironic that France is the country with the moral clarity to take a stand against a wishy-washy agreement on Iran. Who would have believed that a French president would come to Yerushalayim, as Francois Hollande did this week, and state unequivocally that “Iran needs to answer not in simple words and not with futile assurances, but with measurable acts”?

It’s at times like these when Jews around world internalize the eternal truth that we can rely on no one but Avinu ShebaShamayim.