Tough decisions that ain't easy
The best feature of the Iran deal—and maybe its only good feature—is that there is a deal, showing that the Iranians are willing to deal.
The weakest points from an Israeli perspective are the Iranians, the U.S. administration, and the U.N. agency charged with inspection, none of which are particularly trustworthy.
Some may object to an Israeli perspective. Primary for Americans, Europeans, Russians, and Chinese is what is good for them. Yet an Israeli perspective is legitimate in itself, especially for Israelis, and in this context may claim wider legitimacy. Remember, Iranians at the very top of that country saying that Israel has no legitimate right to exist.
The combination of that bombast, plus Shiite aggressiveness and the prospect of atomic weapons is more than enough justification for worry, and for action if Israelis decide to act.
Among the worries are different assertions of what is in and what is not in the agreement, and that elements included in the English version do not appear in the Farsi.
The deal does not restrain the Iranians from continuing to develop missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads, not only to Israel, but also to Europe and America.
There is also a misleading American sales pitch that sanctions remaining in place prohibit firms from doing business with Iran.
That does not square with the news that the deal frees as much as $7 billion for Iran to use now. If American and European firms cannot legally deal with them, the Chinese, Russians, and South Koreans may find their way, perhaps serving also as way stations for European and American companies.
Commentators attributed an initial spike in the NYSE on the first day of business after the signing to investor optimism about the deal. Some are calculating what Americans can expect by way of a drop in gasoline prices.
For Israelis, Americans’ fascination with the price of gas tells us how easy it is to abandon us. Are we worth as much as a dollar a gallon?
The deal is for six months, may be extended, and leaves some tough bargaining about anything more complete. We can expect some static about this deal not closing all it was supposed to close, and assertions that it is natural to expect internal Iranian problems of communications and administration.
Given the Iranian record, we should also expect to hear about hidden facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency has a sloppy record of inspection and reporting. It overlooked for years what Iran and Syria were building.
North Korea must also affect our judgment.
Alan Dershowitz says that Obama made a “cataclysmic error of gigantic proportions... (and that Israel) has the absolute right to prevent a country that has threatened its destruction from developing nuclear weapons... That’s a right in law, it’s a right in morality, and it’s a right in diplomacy.”
The British foreign minister has warned Israel not to take the law into its own hands. Obama has said that Israel has a right to be suspicious, but he is praising himself for choosing diplomacy over force. He promises to consult with Israel about the final agreement with Iran.
The Americans have announced that they will provide Israel with advanced weaponry. Currently there are military exercises involving Israel, the U.S., Greece, and Italy.
With all the bad and good, should we expect any better from this White House on Iran than the Americans are getting from Obamacare?
There is also a stalemate with the European Union that may cost Israel some 300 million euros for research grants and investments if it does not accept EU dictates about facilities over the 1967 borders.
In this season of Chanukah, we have heard from Israelis and overseas Jews that it is a time to be bold, and support Benyamin Netanyahu in his role as the present day leader of a Maccabean army.
That is nice symbolism, but we should remember that the Maccabeans turned bad after a few years.
It would be most heroic to send the planes eastward, tell the Europeans to stuff their euros, end European and American aspirations by annexing the West Bank, tell Mahmoud Abbas to behave himself in Ramallah and John Kerry to stay in Washington.
The day after all that we could celebrate.
The day after the party would be difficult.
Remember the prime lesson of politics. Every day you have to eat something smelly.
But how much?
Is it better to exercise the care appropriate for a small country with limited power, and to weigh carefully the costs and benefits known and unknown, or to choose heroism fueled by religious legend?
It ain’t easy.
Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.