Will Israel Prevent A Deal With Iran?

Trita Parsi downplays the idea that the Iran-Israel standoff is ideological and existential:

Along those geostrategic lines, Paul R. Pillar expects that Israel will try to stop a deal between the US and Iran:

To understand Netanyahu’s posture one needs to realize that it is not only, or maybe even primarily, about a possible Iranian nuclear weapon. It is partly a matter of heading off any rapprochement between Iran and the United States, which would weaken the Israeli claim to being America’s sole reliable and important partner in the Middle East. It is partly a matter of sustaining the Iranian nuclear issue as the regularly invoked “real threat” in the region that serves to divert attention from matters the Israeli government would rather not talk about or be the subject of international scrutiny. And it is partly a matter of Netanyahu riding a topic he has made a signature issue of his own in Israeli domestic politics and a basis for his claim to tough-guy leadership.

It is pointless to talk about how an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 could be fashioned to win Netanyahu’s acceptance, because such acceptance will not be forthcoming. Anyone interested in the peaceful resolution of differences with Iran needs instead to view Netanyahu—and the Israeli Right of which he is a part, and those in the United States who unthinkingly and automatically follow his lead—as irredeemable spoilers and to think about how their efforts at spoiling can be countered.

I don’t discount the genuine existential fears that many Israelis have about an Iranian nuke. On the other hand, fear is not a strategy. It can lead to irrationality. The Israelis, after all, have a massive nuclear deterrent, and democracies have long lived in the shadow of potential nuclear war – and the dangers from the 1950s to the 1980s were very real. We lived with a nuclear Stalin and Mao. We live with a nuclear Pakistan, for Pete’s sake. Many senior Israelis in the military and intelligence sectors are not fazed by the Iranian “threat”. Many have argued that their main concern is not that Iran would nuke Israel – which would include some of the most sacred sites to Islam – but that the very threat could precipitate emigration or a collapse in immigration to the Jewish state.

But the real threat, as Pillar notes, is that a US-Iran rapprochement could isolate Israel, denying it its unique relationship with the super-power in the region. But, of course, from the perspective of the US, it’s a good thing to have good relations with both Israel and Iran.

Few alliances are more dysfunctional than the current US-Israel relationship. Another regional interlocutor – of far greater strategic importance – would help normalize the US-Israel relationship, and certainly make a deal on two states for the Palestinians and Israelis more feasible. I suspect that Netanyahu’s hyper-ventilating about Iran is ultimately about his goal of controlling the West Bank for ever, rather than genuine fear of annihilation. Gershom Gorenberg previews Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu next week:

Netanyahu’s goals next week are to get Obama to commit himself to conditions for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program that Tehran will reject and to avoid paying with any concessions to America’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian talks. Syria will also be on the agenda. As always, Netanyahu will try to get Congress to take his more hawkish stance against the president, with encouragement from AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group. But there are contradictions—logical, strategic, political, and personal—in Netanyahu’s stance that weaken him even before the conversation with Obama begins.

First, the logical problem: Netanyahu categorically insists that any relatively moderate rhetoric from Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, is “spin,” obscuring his intentions. The problem is that Netanyahu also insisted that all extreme statements from Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were precise expressions of what he planned to do. By this measuring stick, all Iranians have the same policy and can be trusted only to the extent that they are as crude as Ahmadinejad. Negotiating with Iran is therefore a dangerous waste of time.

Methinks the bluff is wearing thin.