Israel won’t strike Iran alone, no matter how much it hates the nuclear deal

July 15, 2015
An Israeli F-16 fighter jet takes off at Ramon air base

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet takes off at Ramon air base in southern Israel during routine training, October 21, 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The day after a nuclear deal with Iran was announced, the sun rose high above Jerusalem’s shimmering hills just as it does every July, as if the ancient land shrugged off two decades of apocalyptic warnings from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and decided to go about its usual routine.

Israeli officials across the political landscape decried the “very bad deal,” as Netanyahu termed the agreement, which the United States and five world powers hope will curb Iran’s weaponization of its nuclear program. But no one, not even the prime minister, rattled the sabers of war.

“An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites is no longer a relevant scenario,” wrote Amos Harel, military analyst for the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Once the agreement was announced late Tuesday night, Netanyahu’s first, brief statement ignored the nuclear issue entirely and asserted that “the world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday.”

“The leading international powers have bet our collective future on a deal with the foremost sponsor of international terrorism,’’ the statement said. “They’ve gambled that in 10 years’ time, Iran’s terrorist regime will change while removing any incentive for it to do so.”

It was not a frivolous sentiment for the leader of a small state on permanent war alert with two of Iran’s ruthless proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, on its northern and southern borders.

In an interview with the New York Times a few hours later, President Barack Obama responded soberly (if testily) to the charge. “What’s been striking to me is that increasingly the critics are shifting off the nuclear issue, and they’re moving into, ‘Well,’ ” the president said, slipping into his opponents’ characters, “ ‘even if the nuclear issue is dealt with, they’re still going to be sponsoring terrorism and they’re still going to get the sanctions relief and so they’re going to have more money to engage in these bad activities.’ ”

“That is a possibility,” the president acknowledged. “And we are going to have to systematically guard against that and work with our allies, the Gulf countries, Israel, to stop the work that they are doing outside of the nuclear program.”

The difference in perspective is essential.

If Iran represents a challenge — and, possibly, a future nuclear power — to the United States, for Israel, Iran is an implacable foe that strikes on every level and on every platform, from its flagship nuclear program to its support of Mideast Islamist groups, from cyber warfare to its sponsorship of attacks against Israeli targets worldwide.

Israel views the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy as a force that curtails it on all fronts.

“Israel is like the little child who is pointing its finger and saying, ‘The king is naked, this agreement is naked!’ ” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister responsible for nuclear affairs.

The grim ping pong between Washington and Jerusalem was so intense that, had relations between the two allies not already been at a nadir, it would have been tempting to speculate that the United States and Israel were playing a coordinated game of good cop, bad cop.

The American gambit, made explicit by the president, is to separate the nuclear issue from all other “odious” Iranian activities and hope for a nuclear-bomb halt for 10 years. In Israeli eyes, those are 10 years in which Iran will invest in all sorts of odiousness, including, but not limited to, the nuclear.

Iran has two paths to the bomb, Netanyahu told NBC.  “One is if they keep the deal, and the other is if they cheat on the deal. They can cheat on the deal because inspections are not instantaneous. … In fact, you don’t have inspections within 24 hours; you have 24 days before you can inspect any site that you find suspicious in Iran.”

“Twenty-four days. Can you imagine giving a drug dealer 24 days’ notice before you check the premises? That’s a lot of time to flush a lot of meth down the toilet.”

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, slammed Netanyahu’s recalcitrance and defended the deal as “responsible.” He said, “Israel should also take a closer look at it and not criticize the agreement in a very coarse way.”

Worse, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who will be in Jerusalem on Thursday, betrayed his lack of sympathy for Netanyahu’s hard line: “The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv. The answer, of course, is that Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran. Israel wants a permanent state of stand-off, and I don’t believe that’s in the interests of the region.”

The significance of the statement is not principally in its uncommon public expression of exasperation but in the seemingly offhand reference to Israel’s commercial capital. It is almost unheard of for a representative of an Israeli ally to use Tel Aviv as shorthand for the state, which claims Jerusalem as its “eternal, unified capital.”

The offense to Israeli sensibilities on the eve of a state visit is huge.

Why such fury? Netanyahu is reaping the harvest of the scorn he’s heaped on the West and his brazen alliance with Republicans, which culminated in last March’s controversial address to Congress in which he railed against this very Iran deal.

That bad blood is exposing Israel to a risk that is no less significant than that posed by Iran: the danger of international isolation.

Harel, the military analyst, estimates that “the serious crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations, at whose [base] lies the tense relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, has produced a situation in which the prime minister’s influence over the nuclear talks’ final stages was marginal.”

Israel’s response to the threat posed by Iran’s new stature, he concludes, “depends on achieving closer ties with the United States.”

14 comments

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I agree the won’t strike Iran alone, they had to have the UK and USA to take over Palestine in 1948 and they lined up in the streets without resistance to be shot in WWII and now they go after 92 year olds and act all tough.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Oh by the way, that’s not a “fighter jet” that’s either a Wild Weasel or training version of the F16. Get a clue royters

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Number of Israeli troops who served in Iraq: 0

Number of Israeli troops who served in Afghanistan: 0

Number of Israeli troops deployed to fight ISIS: 0

Number of times per year Netanyahu complains that America does not do enough for him: 278

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

“LetBalanceCome”
1. Your views on the Hollocaust are horrific
2. That’s a F-16i which is an Israeli version of the F-16 and is, in fact, a fighter jet.

Posted by SpaceshipGuy | Report as abusive

With diminished nuclear threat against Israel for a decade, is there really continued need to channeling $3B US tax-payer-dollars to this confident, capable but not helpful ally?

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

@mottjr, the pro-israel lobby spends 500 million dollars per year on U.S. politicians. The 3 billion dollars Israel receive annually in foreign assitance from the United States, represents a 600% return on investment for them. Win-win for all involved (unless you’re a flunkie U.S. taxpayer). It’s free money for Israel and Washington DC!

No wonder Bohner likes Israel so much.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Were Bibi & Barry my only choices, I would pick Bibi every time, in every situation
Barry is a total moron – the USG has not made a single intelligent decision since WWII

Posted by jackdanielsesq | Report as abusive

Two things are vital.The result for new president for America and to see how Iran behaves after agreement practically and not supposedly as Natanyahu does.Prejudicial attitude of either party has no place any more after agreement.In fact the agreement should relieve Natayahu free of any fear at least for the time being.The close of resanctions is vital for Israel.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

Number of nuclear weapons Israel has……to add one post here.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

Israel is a loose cannon that the US needs to distance itself from. Their should be Conditions placed on when we would Defend them. For instance israel were to attack Iran and Iran were to respond this does not justify a US response to defend Israel. Under conditions such as these Iran was provoked into responding and Israel would surely have had in the back of its mind a US backing to such a strike. Under these conditions the US should be able to step back and take a neutral position between both sides on the matter.

Posted by demiboone | Report as abusive

Pakistan has nuclear weapons , bigger Muslim, Israel hating populations….seems no danger?

Posted by Jingan | Report as abusive

Netanyahu’s miscalculated posturing, and unsuccessful derailment process of this significant appeasement action plan, illuminates the untenable position Palestine occupies at the negotiating table, in their intractable conflict with this pariah state. Israel is as unpopular in the future prosperity of the region as Greece is to the EU.

Posted by fyaox | Report as abusive

Israelis are one screwed-up people. They dislike the US but love US money. They even dislike American Jews who make aliyah.
Now that the nuclear agreement with Iran is near completion, Israel is no doubt trying to figure out a way to get the US further involved in Israel’s problems – if that’s possible.

Posted by Slade | Report as abusive

“…seemingly offhand reference to Israel’s commercial capital. It is almost unheard of for a representative of an Israeli ally to use Tel Aviv as shorthand for the state”

It is uniform and normal for anyone and everyone to refer to Tel Aviv as Israel’s political capitol. It is Israel’s capitol, only the Israelis think otherwise.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive