(May 5, 2021 / JNS) It shouldn’t surprise anyone that all the old chestnuts about critics of Iran from the Obama years are being resurrected in a desperate attempt to put lipstick on the pig of a nuclear agreement the retreads are trying to rejoin. In their version of the big lie, Arabists Daniel Kurtzer, Aaron David Miller and Steven Simon regurgitate the claim that Israel is trying to drag the U.S. into a war with Iran.
To understand the mindset, consider that shortly after the article came out, Miller showed off his Arabist bona fides (yes, Jews can be Arabists) when asked about the prospective nomination of Thomas Nides as U.S. ambassador to Israel. He praised the former Obama deputy secretary of state as someone “capable of the kind of detachment that is critically important to finding the balance in the U.S.-Israel relationship between protecting Israel’s interests and protecting ours.” Put directly, Nides is someone who shares Miller’s belief that U.S. and Israeli interests conflict.
This is at the heart of the trio’s argument in favor of the Iran deal, which they maintain is in the U.S. interest and that Israel is trying to undermine. Like the notorious anti-Semitic screed, The Israel Lobby by professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer who more openly also blamed American Jews who opposed the deal, they suggest that Israel is risking an escalation “to open conflict” because it has the chutzpah to take measures to prevent Iran from getting a bomb and protect its population.
Of course, this ignores the fact that Iran has been in “open conflict” with the United States, Israel, our Gulf neighbors and the West since the revolution in 1979. It was not Israel that provoked Iran to send agents to plant a bomb to blow up opponents of the regime in Paris. It was not Israel that provoked Iranian proxies to launch ballistic missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq. It was not Israel that provoked the Iranian drone attack on Saudi oil facilities. And it was not Israel that provoked Iranian speedboats to harass U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.
Never mind facts, the Arabists cling to their belief that Israel is the root of all evil in the Middle East and that its mere existence endangers U.S. interests.
Another hallmark of Arabist thinking is that Israel, a democratic ally, should be treated as, or more harshly, than our enemies. Thus, the trio says U.S. diplomacy must “restrain both Israel and Iran” to avoid being “drawn into a conflict it neither wants nor needs and that undermines its real priorities at home.” They equate a democracy protecting its citizens with a theocracy that threatens them. It’s the old arsonist and firefighter analogy where the Iranians are setting fires but Israel is blamed for putting them out.
Using the appeasement logic of the nuclear deal’s other supporters, the authors argue that neither the United States nor Israel should try to stop Iran from building a weapon or continuing its malign activities by sanctions, assassinations or sabotage because “Iran may become more willing to take risks.” Bizarrely, they say Israel shouldn’t be allowed to “hobble the Iranian program” because it will “frustrate U.S. efforts to re-enter the nuclear deal” designed to hobble the Iranian program.
Instead, the authors believe we should return to the naive view of former President Barack Obama that if we pretend the threats don’t exist, give up all leverage and accept whatever deal we can get with Iran, the mullahs will turn over a new leaf and become our friends.
Typically, Arabists believe they know what’s best for Israel, but they have it backwards. Israel, which has a far greater understanding of Iranian motivations—in part because Americans refuse to acknowledge the radical Islamic foundation of the regime—is acting in our best interest by trying to prevent Iran from achieving its short-term goal of regional hegemony and short-circuit its long-term goal of restoring the Muslim empire.
Israel has said it will not stand by idly if Biden insists on returning to an agreement that did not prevent Iran from pursuing a bomb. The authors are probably correct when they say, “sooner or later, Israel will likely use military force to try to prevent Iran from weaponizing its enriched uranium,” but weaponization isn’t supposed to be possible under the nuclear deal. Moreover, if Israel acts, it does not necessarily follow that “the United States will be dragged into a conflict.”
Israel’s presumed sabotage of the Natanz enrichment facility, attacks on Iranian shipping and bases in Syria, and alleged assassination of nuclear scientists has not led us to war. If that is really their concern, they should be advocating that Biden maintain maximum pressure on Iran, use America’s own military tools to prevent Iran from advancing towards weaponization, and refuse to sign any agreement that does not verifiably cut off all paths to a bomb (unlike the 2015 nuclear deal that ignores the military facilities where bombs might be constructed), constrain Iran’s sponsorship of terror and end its development of ballistic missiles. That is how you prevent war—not throwing up your hands and saying since Iran won’t agree to our terms, we should drop them as Obama did.
Kurtzer and Miller’s attitude towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not surprising given their equally ill-conceived ideas about the Palestinian issue. Like some left-wing critics, they suggest Netanyahu might escalate tensions with Iran to distract from his domestic problems. They immediately contradict themselves, however, by acknowledging that he “is too responsible to lead his country to war solely in order to escape his legal troubles” and then backtrack in the next sentence by suggesting that he would act irresponsibly because he would benefit from doing so.
Say what you want about Netanyahu, he has kept Israel out of a war during his term in office and has carefully calibrated Israel’s response to Iranian provocations in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. One example is the attacks on Iranian ships (which reportedly became known because of Biden administration leaks). Israel has sabotaged several, though did not sink any or cause any casualties that might cause the escalation the authors claim Israel seeks.
The authors insist that Netanyahu must be threatened if his commitment to protect his citizens interferes with their desired appeasement of Iran. Though the Israeli lobby, and the Israeli government, have not called for military action (while the Saudis did), the haughty trio of failed diplomats channel Walt and Mearsheimer’s belief in the nefarious warmongering Israeli lobby. The authors say Biden must “make Netanyahu understand that further escalation with Iran would damage U.S.-Israeli relations and that the administration will not back down in the face of domestic political pressure,” from those pesky American Jews exercising their right to lobby against returning to a deal that threatens U.S. and Israeli interests.
Contrary to their reiteration of Obama’s specious dichotomy of appeasement or war, other options are available. Agree or not with the strategy, Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign did not lead to war and may yet work if maintained. Netanyahu has repeatedly said signing a bad agreement is what could lead to war and therefore it is imperative a tough one, sans loopholes, be negotiated. That can only be done with the credible threat of force.
The Iranians out-negotiated Obama because they knew he was desperate for a foreign-policy achievement for his legacy, no matter how flawed, and that he had no leverage because he was unwilling to use force to protect American interests. Without a convincing U.S. military threat, Iran has no incentive to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Rather than hinder U.S. negotiations, Israel’s muscular approach—and the fear in Iran it produces—strengthens our position.
For our own interests, it may be necessary to use military force against Iran, but contrary to the hysteria of the scaremongers, this does not necessarily mean a “Desert Storm”-type invasion. We have other means to strike the Iranians (as the Israelis have shown) and can do it with less risk if we cooperate with our allies rather than take the defeatist advice of diplomats and their supporters, whose decades of failed policies strengthened Iran and put American interests in jeopardy.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”
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