Aside from the concrete threat that Iran’s military activities pose to the Jewish state, the Israeli government has two major problems with what is emerging from Vienna as an imminent return of world powers to the nuclear deal with the mullah-led regime in Tehran.
The first is that the ruling coalition in Jerusalem is comprised of parties that supported the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, spearheaded and heavily pushed by the administration of former President Barack Obama.
Members of these factions continue to live under the illusion that the Islamic Republic’s progress on the ballistic-missile and uranium-enrichment fronts during the past three-and-a-half years is the fault of former President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018.
These fantasists are the same people who were livid when their nemesis, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dared to cross Obama by appealing to the U.S. Congress to nix the deal. They are also the ones who considered Trump’s election and subsequent close ties with Netanyahu government to be harmful to Israel.
Yes, as Trump proceeded to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance through a series of measures aimed at enhancing Israeli sovereignty and security, his and Netanyahu’s detractors considered this to be detrimental to bipartisanship in America. It was a ridiculous position, given the steady move of the Democratic Party away from its traditional support for Israel. It’s an even greater fallacy today, with the radical “Squad” wielding so much influence.
This brings us to the second problem that the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who’s slated to be replaced in August 2023 by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, is facing vis-à-vis the impending nuclear deal. Bennett, a fierce opponent of Netanyahu’s supposedly from the right, has been asserting publicly that Israel “will not accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”
He reiterated this on Sunday at the summit in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“Israel will always retain its freedom of action to defend itself [and is] building unprecedented military capabilities,” he said.
But he also stressed that Israel isn’t against “any deal per se,” claiming that “even those who supported the [original JCPOA] … are afraid of [the one being negotiated] right now.”
Lapid echoed the sentiment on Monday when addressing the same gathering of Jewish leaders. He questioned the Biden administration’s promise that it would seek a “longer and stronger” agreement with Tehran this time around.
Like Bennett, he also made sure to boast about his government having done a “good job” of restoring bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.
To illustrate, he pointed to the way in which Israel is “working very well with this administration on many issues,” such as the Abraham Accords, the economy, Syria and others. He conveniently omitted to mention that Israel’s laudable peace and normalization agreements with neighboring Arab states are the fruit of Trump-Netanyahu labors.
But then, Bennett had already failed to acknowledge that his remarks on a dangerous deal with Iran and Israel’s potential need to go it alone were copied and pasted from Netanyahu’s playbook.
Mimicking and taking credit for the policies of their predecessors isn’t the sole cause for pause, however. This is what politicians do for a living, so to speak.
No, the real concern arises from Bennett’s protestations and Lapid’s actual belief that U.S.-Israel relations benefit from a coalition in Jerusalem that embraces bipartisan (i.e., Democratic) support from Washington.
This ridiculous premise was given a boost last week, during House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Israel with a group of Democratic Party representatives. Israeli officialdom’s fawning over her, which went well beyond the call of duty and decorum, was not only cringe-worthy; it revealed how Israel has reverted to groveling in gratitude for helpful American moves that are squarely in American interests. Funding for the Iron Dome air-defense system is but one example.
Whatever Bennett’s true thoughts on the matter happen to be, the above is par for the course for Lapid. Indeed, it’s clear that he was serious when he explained to the Conference of Presidents that though Israel and the United States are in dispute over the JCPOA, “We disagree in a manner that helps us (A) work with them on the results of the disagreement, and (B) on other issues.”
Referring to another disastrous Iran deal as if it were merely a minor bone of contention that bipartisanship can solve is outrageous. It’s particularly egregious when coming from Israel’s top diplomat who’s scheduled to become its next premier.
But at least it doesn’t require reading between the lines to doubt Team Bennett-Lapid’s threats to prevent the ayatollahs from going nuclear.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”