These are anxious times for people who care about Israel. The United States has led world powers into a nuclear agreement with Iran, a country whose leaders routinely proclaim the desirability of Israel’s demise. President Barack Obama insists the deal will make Israel safer. Israeli leaders from all major parties disagree. Discussions surrounding that difference of opinion between the United States and Israel sound increasingly bitter no matter how often we hear it described as a “family argument.”
For those watching with concern and trying to figure out where the truth lies on the nuclear agreement, the spectacle surrounding the disagreement is as great a source of distress as worries about the deal itself.
Israel seems poised to lose regardless of whether the Iran nuclear agreement is good or bad for its security.
Already the relationship between the United States and Israel is wounded, and the wound is deep. The question is what kind of a scar it will leave.
The fault for this diplomatic and strategic debacle, harmful to both countries, lies with the two nations’ leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who unwisely and undiplomatically chose to make Israel the public standard bearer of the battle against Iran’s nuclear program; and President Obama, who speaks as if he didn’t understand that the rhetorical daggers he is throwing at Israel will have a profound and lasting impact.
For those watching from other countries it is a striking sight to see this spectacle. It makes America’s allies seem vulnerable. This public battle is not good for America. For Israel, it’s potentially disastrous.
Regardless of the merits of the nuclear agreement, Obama’s arguments in its defense have included shocking claims. He dismisses all criticism as driven by unscrupulous, dishonest warmongers.
That is an insult to the many intelligent, knowledgeable, experienced people who have legitimate concerns about various aspects of an agreement about which there is much room for debate. Instead of acknowledging that there are areas that genuinely merit discussion, Obama has smeared the countless people who believe the deal is not quite a slam dunk.
And this president who has stood by Israel on other issues crucial to its defense seems to relish pinning much of the blame for what he describes as warmongering and dishonesty on Israel.
An honest assessment would acknowledge that honorable people can differ on this complicated matter, because the agreement has strengths and weaknesses and the stakes are extraordinarily high.
The deal makes it harder for Iran to get a nuclear weapon over the next decade or so. But it makes it easier to do it afterward. And it unquestionably fortifies Iran’s financial, diplomatic and strategic position from the outset.
This is not a black-and-white proposition.
Among the many people, in many countries, who find much to criticize in the pact, is the former chief United Nations weapons inspector. There are top military men, diplomats and world leaders. It’s not just Israel, despite what Obama says. The president is insulting every member of Congress who questions the wisdom of the agreement, accusing them of doing it only for partisan reasons or worse. He is being dishonest when he claims that only Israel objects.
And that is where this chapter could prove most damaging to Israel. The contest is becoming so deeply partisan and so emotionally enmeshed with Israel, that when all the voting and vetoing are done, the traditional bipartisan support for Israel may not survive.
Even if Obama is right and the deal keeps it from obtaining nuclear weapons, no one doubts Iran will be strengthened. The Islamic Republic is already reaping political, economic and strategic benefits.
In fact, the deal has already started unspooling the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Sanctions are probably already beyond repair. At this point, after the negotiations, there may be no better path forward.
Many of those concerned with Israel’s long-term safety — including strong Obama supporters — are in a quandary, wondering what to hope for.
The nuclear agreement leaves many reasons for concern. But if the deal is defeated in Congress, it is unclear whether there is any chance that negotiations can be restarted and a new agreement reached.
Despite Obama’s claims to the contrary, opponents of the deal do not want a war.
Obama owes critics of the agreement an apology, and he should reframe his argument in defense of the deal. The agreement has serious problems, but it is the agreement we have. Obama should explain how he will counteract those problems. Respect those who disagree, not as disloyal but as genuinely, legitimately concerned. As he has noted time and again, one negotiates with friends, not with enemies. But listening to him defend the deal, you would never know that in this case Iran is the foe.