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columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Time is running out to act against Iran

Once the new nuclear deal is signed, Jerusalem’s legitimacy to act militarily against the Islamic Republic will disintegrate, says former Israeli Navy commander Eliezer Marom.

The Israeli Air Force and U.S. Air Force hold a joint F-35 drill in southern Israel. Credit: IAF.
The Israeli Air Force and U.S. Air Force hold a joint F-35 drill in southern Israel. Credit: IAF.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

With the United States and its P5+1 partners on the last stretch of their frenzied race to sign a new version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, a number of retired Israel Defense Forces generals and current think-tank experts have been taking the opportunity to insist that “a bad deal is better than no deal.”

Take Israel Ziv, for instance. A panelist on Saturday afternoon of Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” the former head of the IDF Operations Directorate argued that the absence of a deal, or violation of it by any of the parties, will not prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold in any case.

He then proceeded, peculiarly, to downplay the significance of the multi-billions of dollars that an agreement would grant Tehran for the development of its nuclear capabilities, while at the same time stressing that the money would be spent on terrorism. Indeed.

Nevertheless, he added, a deal would buy “crucial time” for Israel. Whatever that means.

Though all other participants in the discussion—with the exception of former Israeli Navy commander Vice Adm. (ret.) Eliezer Marom—conceded that a deal is just around the corner, and that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, they clung to two absurd claims.

One was that former U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018 was a mistake, because it enabled Tehran to hone its nukes unmonitored. You know, as though the mullahs were allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to uranium-enrichment sites.

The other was that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s staunch stance against the deal, and famous address to a joint session of Congress in 2015, did nothing but anger outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama and cause him to abstain from, rather than veto, a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel.

The purpose of this distortion, other than to kill two birds (Trump and Netanyahu) with one stone, is to defend the interim “anybody but Bibi” government’s policy of kowtowing to the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden. Prime Minister Yair Lapid, like his immediate predecessor and “alternate,” Naftali Bennett, had set out to illustrate that once Netanyahu was no longer at the helm, Israel would enjoy full bipartisan support in America.

To this fruitless end, Bennett vowed last year to Biden that Jerusalem would make no military or other moves without first informing Washington. Lapid, of course, took up that torch and ran with it.

The trouble is that it’s not a reciprocal arrangement. Perhaps this explains why Lapid has had trouble reaching Biden by phone of late. The latter leader clearly isn’t interested in being coached, yet again, about the safeguards that have to be included in the deal to make it palatable to Israel.

Meanwhile, Lapid has been trying to perform some kind of pointless balancing act. On the one hand, he announced on Wednesday that “[if] a [nuclear] deal is signed, it does not obligate Israel.”

During a briefing with foreign correspondents at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, he said, “The Iranians are making demands again; the negotiators are ready to make concessions, again. This is not the first time this has happened. The countries of the West draw a red line, the Iranians ignore it and the red line moves.”

He was referring to Tehran’s response to what the European Union dubbed last week as the “final draft” of the agreement, telling Iran to “take it or leave it.”

However, as he pointed out, “The Iranians, as always, did not say, ‘No.’ They said, ‘Yes, but,’ and then they sent a draft of their own, with more changes and demands.”

After listing a number of reasons that the imminent agreement is a “bad one,” he concluded, “We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. We are not prepared to live with a nuclear threat above our heads from an extremist, violent Islamist regime. This will not happen, because we will not let it happen.”

On the other hand, he was taken aback, and even peeved, by similar comments made on Thursday by Mossad chief David Barnea. Apparently, Barnea’s wording and tone weren’t to his liking, as they may have been construed by the White House as too critical.

Yet all Barnea did was call the deal a “strategic disaster” for Israel and state that the United States “is rushing into an accord that is ultimately based on lies.” Nothing inaccurate there. But Lapid is worried about offending Biden—and even more averse to sounding anything like Bibi.

It is thus that he made sure to tell the foreign press: “We have an open dialogue with the American administration on all matters of disagreement. I appreciate their willingness to listen and work together. The United States is and will remain our closest ally, and President Biden is one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”

With friends like these, Lapid would do well to shut out voices such as Ziv’s and heed Marom, who rejected the “buying time” excuse. Once a deal is signed, he said, Israel’s legitimacy to act will disintegrate, so the window is quickly closing.

Asked if he meant that Israel should actually launch an attack on Iran, he was unequivocal.

“Yes,” he said, as his fellow panelists removed their heads from the sand just long enough to shake them in disgust. No wonder Iran and its proxies in the Palestinian Authority are attempting to block a Netanyahu victory in the upcoming Knesset elections.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ” 

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