As Peter Beinart observed in Haaretz (July 15, 2015) Israel and the United States (and the other members of the P5+1) have conflicting interests at stake when it comes to the Iran deal. Meanwhile, many in Congress are behaving like they represent Benjamin Netanyahu instead of the American people. When will voters get the message?
The P5+1 have negotiated with Iran in order to take an Iranian nuclear bomb off the table indefinitely, and to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region. Israel and the Saudis have a different interest. For Israel and the Saudis, the primary goal has been to keep sanctions in place indefinitely in order to cripple Iran as a regional competitor.
The goal established by the P5+1 for these talks (taking an Iranian nuclear bomb off the table indefinitely) seems to have been achieved by the deal that has been negotiated. Iran promises to forgo its ability to produce nuclear weapons and to permit the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor as necessary to verify compliance. Some are raising concerns that Iran might attempt to secretly develop nuclear weapons in breach of the agreement. But this is not a concern that can be solved by any agreement. Ultimately any agreement must presuppose the good faith of the parties and must rely on the professionalism and skill of the IAEA inspectors to detect cheating if it occurs.
So why all the protest from Israel against this deal which pretty effectively takes the nuclear issue off the table for more than a decade? And why do so many in Congress assume that Israel’s protests are serving the interests of the United States?
The key to understanding Israel’s opposition is that when Netanyahu brandished his cartoon nuclear bomb at the UN General Assembly in September 2012, he was not so much concerned with Iran achieving a milestone of enriching enough uranium to be able to build a few nuclear weapons—as North Korea has managed to do. After all, Israel is a nuclear superpower in the Middle East and it is reported to have more than 200 nuclear warheads, which it can launch from hardened land installations, bombers, or submarines. Israel has no realistic fear of an Iran potentially armed with a few nuclear warheads. Netanyahu was more broadly concerned with Iran as a regional rival.
Iran as a Regional Rival
Israel wants to maintain the sanctions regime in order to keep Iran weak as a rival and potential supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel perceives each of these parties as long term military and terror threats. By contrast, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Hamas pose no substantial threats to the United States, and never will.
Under no circumstances can Iran become a rival to the United States economically or militarily; by contrast, however, with sanctions lifted on Iran, Iran will become a stronger power in the region and will be a bigger rival to Israel and Saudi Arabia. If Iran becomes a stable strong power in the region, this does not pose a threat to the United States or Russia, or Europe, or China. On the other hand, Israel and Saudi Arabia perceive this as a threat.
The United States has no interest to keep the Iranian economy debilitated and its people suffering under strong international sanctions for decades to come. Israel does. Israel likes to portray itself as a philanthropic, caring, and generous country whenever a natural disaster occurs. But Israel’s rejection of negotiations and its push to enlist the world to punish Iran, a country of 77 million, so it can maintain an advantage over this regional rival indefinitely into the future, presents another face: it’s the face that Israel shows to the world with its imprisonment of 1.8 million people in Gaza and its 48 year military occupation of 2.7 million people in the West Bank.
ISIS and Al Qaeda
The United States has a vital interest to combat ISIS and Al Qaeda groups who are fighting in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. As we know, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens affiliated with Al Qaeda. Iran shares an interest with the United States to fight these groups. Israel does not; in fact, Israel has supported the Sunni rebels in Syria.
Netanyahu wants to Repeat the Mistake of 2003; do We?
Back in September 2002, Netanyahu testified in Congress making the case that the U.S. must bring about regime change in Iraq because Saddam Hussein was on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons. Egged on by the media and our inflamed sense of justice we took Netanyahu’s advice and went to war.
Netanyahu was manifestly wrong about Iraq, as were all his neocon friends who were clamoring for war in 2002-2003. Today, many of these same people are urging Congress to reject the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached by the P5+1 with Iran. Netanyahu believes this is in Israel’s interest; it’s not in the United States interest.
For a summary of Netanyahu’s speech to the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2012 regarding Iran’s nuclear threat see The Guardian.
It’s time for Congress to stop listening to Netanyahu, to stop elevating Netanyahu’s interest over America’s interest. AIPAC promises to spend $30 million lobbying Congress to choose Netanyahu’s perceived interest for Israel over the United States interest. It’s time for Congress to say “No” to AIPAC. It’s time for Congress to say “Yes” to America.
Indeed, this push on the Iran deal is making strange bedfellows of Peter Beinart and Pat Buchanan, who share initials but not much more. Buchanan, the GOP elder statesman, arch-conservative, adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, and Fox commentator, agrees with both Beinart and Obama. He provides some avuncular advice to Republicans in The American Conservative:
Rejecting the Iran Deal Would be GOP Suicide
From first reactions, it appears that Hill Republicans will be near unanimous in voting a resolution of rejection of the Iran nuclear deal. …. But before the party commits to abrogating the Iran deal in 2017, the GOP should consider whether it would be committing suicide in 2016.
For even if Congress votes to deny Obama authority to lift U.S. sanctions on Iran, the U.S. will vote to lift sanctions in the UN Security Council. And Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, all parties to the deal, will also lift sanctions. A Congressional vote to kill the Iran deal would thus leave the U.S. isolated, its government humiliated, unable to comply with the pledges its own secretary of state negotiated. Would Americans cheer the GOP for leaving the United States with egg all over its face?
And if Congress refuses to honor the agreement, but Iran complies with all its terms, who among our friends and allies would stand with an obdurate America then? Israel would applaud, the Saudis perhaps, but who else? And as foreign companies raced to Iran, and U.S. companies were told to stay out, what would GOP presidential candidates tell the business community?…
“Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons is resolved diplomatically through negotiation or it’s resolved through force,” said the president, “Those are the options.” Is that not pretty much where we are at, even if the GOP does not like it?….
And how is Israel, with hundreds of atom bombs, mortally imperiled by a deal that leaves Iran with not a single ounce of bomb-grade uranium?
Buchanan clearly thinks this is a done deal, that Republicans will come around, and that we are listening to hysterics on The Hill. Charles Krauthammer, who is a hysteric, seems to agree. We can only hope.
The close bond between the Republican Party in the United States and the Israeli government is obscuring this very real conflict of national interests. The fact that the Republican leadership, and many Democrats, are ready to elevate the conflicting interest of two foreign countries (Israel and Saudi Arabia) over America’s interest in knee-jerk fashion, is disturbing. It’s time to recognize that the United States interest in this deal with Iran is not the same as Israel’s interest; it’s time for Congress to stand up for America’s national interest.