Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Iran Deal: Good for America, not so much for Israel

Peter Beinart has an important observation (Haaretz 7/15) about the Iran deal we should keep in mind:
America has a vital interest in preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon... [a]nd America has a vital interest in avoiding another Middle Eastern war, since the last one cost the U.S. dearly. These aren’t just Barack Obama’s priorities. They would have been Mitt Romney’s too. And this nuclear agreement, while imperfect, achieves them better than any alternative. .... Netanyahu’s proposed alternative to the current deal — increase global economic pressure until Iran capitulates — is utterly detached from reality. 
But ... [the U.S.] does not have a vital interest in keeping Iran weak. Yes, Iran is supporting some nasty organizations and regimes: Bashar Assad, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and (along with some Sunni benefactors) Hamas. But none represent a direct threat to the United States. None are likely to commit a terrorist attack on American soil. The people most likely to do that are Sunni Jihadists organized or inspired by groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. The groups, in other words, that Iran is fighting against. 
This isn’t to say America wants Iran to dominate the Middle East; it doesn’t. It wants a stable balance of power between Iran and its Sunni (and Jewish) foes. But keeping Iran, and its proxies, weak is not reason enough for America to torpedo a deal that peacefully limits Iran’s path to a bomb. 
Israel’s interests are different. ....  Netanyahu, like most other Jewish Israeli politicians, believes Israel has a vital interest in keeping Iran weak. What scares them about the nuclear deal is that it legitimizes Iran’s regime internationally and ends sanctions, which gives Tehran a lot more cash. If Netanyahu torpedoes the Iran nuclear deal, he may not have a plausible alternative for keeping Iran from the bomb. But at least he denies Iran’s regime the money and legitimacy that enhances its power. 
....When Americans lie awake worrying about terrorism, they think about ISIS and Al Qaeda, which Iran fights. When Israelis lie at night worrying about terrorism, they think about Hezbollah and Hamas, which Iran funds. Netanyahu and his Republican allies can talk all they want about how Iran is the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism. But the terrorist groups that will benefit from Iran’s enhanced power — Hezbollah and Hamas — pose a much greater threat to Israel than to the United States.
As Chemi Shalev (Haaretz Washington correspondent) has noted, Obama understands this very well. In yesterday's news conference, Obama characterized the opposition to this deal as "Netanyahu and the Republican leadership." That is a politically smart characterization for Obama to adopt. First, it has the merit of being correct. Second, it allows him to highlight the fact that the U.S. interest is not aligned with the Israeli interest on this issue. If he can make that case to the American people, the "Republican leadership" will all of a sudden find themselves in an awkward position. 

When John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to Congress last March, behind Obama's back--breaching foreign policy protocol in the process--many noted that this introduced Israel as a partisan wedge issue in American politics. This is a new phenomenon. Since 1967 U.S. Israel policy and Israel advocacy in Congress have been remarkably bi-partisan. This bi-partisanship looks to be coming to a crashing halt. If it turns out that the Republican leadership takes sides with Israel to kill this deal... and, a crucial if, if Obama can convince the American people that the deal is in America's interest, well .... then Wow!