Monday, November 11, 2013

Après Obama le Deluge

by Dan Margalit

Four days ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon were surprised to learn, during U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit, that the West was planning to unfreeze some $3 billion held in American banks to give to Iran. On Friday, it emerged that the Americans were willing to make even bigger concessions -- they are ready to gradually lift various economic sanctions. 

Netanyahu warned of a "bad deal," even a terrible one. France shares his view, and possibly the American Congress as well. Britain understands the problem, but the British government has already suffered embarrassment -- on the Syrian issue -- so Prime Minister David Cameron is now careful to adhere to U.S. President Barack Obama's point of view. 

Fortunately, the famous Hebrew proverb "grasp all -- lose all" hasn't been translated into Persian. The Iranians demanded that the West lift the sanctions on the oil industry and there was some friction. In the meantime, the West began listening to the voices coming from Israel, the American Congress and the French Foreign Ministry. On Saturday, the powers continued to negotiate with the Iranians in Geneva, but the pens are not poised to sign anything yet. 

So how much weight does Israel's opposition to this budding deal with Iran, which in essence refuses to slow down its nuclear momentum, actually carry? 

During the term of the previous Israeli government, Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and most of the members of the forum of eight top ministers, played their cards close to the chest. They gave the impression that Israel could launch a military attack on Iran's nuclear program at any minute. As long as this was a credible possibility, the West was terrified and agreed to impose real sanctions on Iran as long as the Israel Defense Forces refrain from taking action. In this, Israel was gloriously successful. 

This veiled threat, simulating a game of diplomatic poker, is no longer in effect. Speaking on public television on Friday, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit pointed to reckless remarks by President Shimon Peres, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former Shin Bet security service director Yuval Diskin and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as a factor in the gradual decline of the power of the Israeli threat to launch an independent military attack. What a shame. 

After all, it is entirely obvious that the Western business world is turning a blind eye and wishing for renewed trade with Iran, and that every country is ready to compete with its neighbors. Finance ministers across the globe have told Israel's Finance Minister Yair Lapid as much. Everyone understands that it would be dangerous to crack the dam, unless there are countries in the enlightened world that don't care whether Iran becomes a nuclear power. 

Obama is a short-term president. His bonds will be cashed in within three years. If Iran refrains from developing nuclear weapons in that time frame, then he will have done his job and he can say: "après moi le deluge" (the flood will come after I'm gone). But the world is worried about Washington's short-sightedness. It is not just the West that is concerned, but all of the U.S.'s allies in the Middle East as well. 

The deal is "very bad" because it brings the Iranian ayatollahs closer to their nuclear goal. It is a terrible deal, because it leaves the U.S. allies in the Middle East -- Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Egypt -- vulnerable and horror-struck.

Dan Margalit


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