Listening to Prime Minister Netanyahu speak at the UN last night was very difficult. While not a great fan of Netanyahu last night was the first time I truly felt like I wanted to throw something at the TV to shut him up. I felt embarrassed to be an Israeli. Netanyahu no doubt spoke many truths about Iran, and many need to be said, but as he droned on and on about Iran for almost 40 minutes, I felt embarrassed. Why, because at the moment the world and even Israel is facing more immediate problems. The world is worried about the fighting in Syria, the refugees from Syria, the spread of ISIS, that is what the world is worried about, and those things are equally as worrisome to us. Instead he spoke once again about the holocaust and the fact that we will never again be defenseless, but spoke about it from a place of fear and powerlessness.
I have reflected on what made me so angry, and have decided beyond the inappropriate timing of the speech, and the fact that he spent almost all of it discussing Iran something that is clearly a done deal, and certainly does not work to repair our relations with Washington, it was once again his depiction of us as this poor embattled state. What were the terrible things that happened to us this past year. I certainly did not come back here to live in a poor embattled state. It was telling looking at the Facebook pages of some American Jewish friends- there was appreciation for the speech- ” We have to stand by Israel since no one else will”.
I am sorry that is not the country that I know or the country that I want to live in. We are a strong country with probably the most advanced (technologically) army and air force in the world. According to foreign sources we have had nuclear weapons now for almost 50 years and we have missiles that not only launch satellites in orbit, but can actually do it in the wrong direction. ( Most satellite launches are West to East to make use of the spin of the earth, but so as not to worry our neighbors we launch over the Med) . We have a high tech sector second only to Silicon Valley. It is time to end the hand-wringing the fear mongering. Yes, it’s good for the Netanyahu politically, and its good for some American Jewish organization to raise money, however, it’s not true and it ultimately undermines our very security that we are worried about. What country is more likely to be a victim of aggression, the one that depicts itself as poor isolated and almost defenseless, or the one with friends and with an army no one want to start up with? What country is going to get its kids to stay as oppose to emigrate to find greener pastures? What country is likely to get greater and greater foreign investments? It’s time to stop our crying- it’s time to stop talking about poor isolated Israel- it’s time for the chief spokesman for that point of view convert his 45 seconds of silence to permanent silence on the matter.
So today the inevitable occurred, President Obama received support from the 34th Senator for the Iran agreement. There is now no way to override a Presidential veto, and the only open question is whether there will be enough votes to even pass the resolution of disapproval. The result was predictable from the start and anyone who has been reading me these past months know that is what I predicted. To this day I do not understand why either Netanyahu or much of the organized Jewish community walked into near certain defeat. Leaving aside the details of the agreement which are mixed, you do not take on a sitting President in foreign affairs unless your survival is at stake, and despite what some critics argue that is truly not the case here. Like everything else in the Jewish community no one either here, or in the US will take responsibility for the failure and resign.
It is now time to pick up the pieces and try to repair what is left of what use to be a bipartisan relationship. That will be very hard to do. Many bridges have been burned and in my opinion it will be hard to rebuild the consensus on Israel. The events of the last two months have like I predicted strengthened J Street and hurt AIPAC, something that many will be happy about, but it worries me.
A few other thoughts, first about the famous picture about of the Palestinian boy who was throwing rocks and a soldier tried to stop. There have been a number of good pieces written on the event especially by Asher Pfeiffer and by Ben Caspit, but I want to add a personal reflection. It was 40 years ago in November, that I was sent as a basic trainee to guard Joseph Tomb outside Shechem or Nabulas. Back then the territories were not considered as dangerous, since we had been in basic training a mere 2 weeks and were certainly not prepared. But I can still remember 40 years ago Palestinian kids throwing rocks at us, we just ducked since there was little we could do, the really sad part, I was a young man then I certainly am no longer, those same kids are certainly grown men with kids and maybe grandkids, and yet the cycle continues.
One last thought and that is toward Europe and the refugees. Europe is facing one of its greatest crisis. On one hand after World War II strict laws are in place that effectively force Europe to accept the refugees, and there can be no question under international law that the current wave is indeed refugees. On the other Europe is already feeling overwhelmed with its transplanted Muslim population, a population that has among other phenomena brought back anti-Semitism to Europe. Its a no win and everyone is paying the price for allowing Syria and Iraq to come apart. Below is my weekly radio show appearance mostly devoted to that topic.
This weekend it looks like for many Israelis “Hasimon Nafal” which is a term from the time in Israel that pay phones used tokens(the token dropped), so the phrase means that suddenly people started to get it. The get it in this case, is the fact the PM Netanyahu might be steering the ship of state on to the rocks with his policy on the Iran agreement. It started with the President Ruby Rivlin being asked in an interview what he thought of the policy. His answer was that the most important strategic asset Israel has is it’s relations with the United States. The second most important strategic asset Israel has is it’s relations with the United States and the third most important strategic asset Israel has is it’s relations with the United States.
Rivlins remarks suddenly made it ok to criticize the Prime Minister. MK Omer Bar Lev from the Zionist Camp and the former commander of the elite Sayert Matkal wrote a long post on Facebook saying the agreement is not so bad. General (ret) Yossi Kuperwasser who was the commander of the Central Command and military advisor to PM Sharon, on the main Friday night news on Channel 10 stated that what is going on in Washington is a disaster and it will weaken Israel. We must accept the idea that this is done deal, and the Americans do not have to ask us when they enter into an agreement.
Political analysts believe despite the Shumer decision President Obama has the votes to sustain the veto. They are starting to ask the question and what if Netanyahu wins. What then. Of course no one has the answer. Most Israelis still support the PM, but questions are finally being asked.
Two last points, I read Senator Shumer’s statement and he like other critics raises good questions, but of course he does not answer the question what will happen if the Congress overrides the veto, his statement seems more like, it’s a problematic agreement and therefore I will vote against so my conscious is clear.
Which brings me to some of the Jewish supporters. Peter Beinhart had a ridiculous article in Ha’aretz saying that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel. It’s a ridiculous article based that boils down to the fact that until now they have not tried to destroy Israel, therefore they will not in the future. Yitzhak Rabin recognized Iran as a potential existential threat and that was one of his reasons for pursuing Oslo. Supporters of the agreement including J Street need to acknowledge Israelis very real fears that if given a chance Iran would wipe us off the map, but explain why this agreement is the best of some poor options.
Tomorrow I will try to interview of few Israeli politicians and put together a Newsweek article for Monday on the main theme of this post.
So yesterday my article in Newsweek appeared on why the Jewish community and Israel should stop trying to block the Iran deal. I had wanted to publish the article in the Jewish world, but when the Jewish Week did not get back to me, it was simpler just to use it as my weekly column . Its so strange that this matter has turned into such a litmus test, when I am still waiting for one person to show me how opposing the agreement turns out good for Israel. On one of the most important items in Israel’s security, both the agreement and more importantly our relations with the United States, politics are dominating, both Israeli and American. No serious discussion is taking place here. I remain frustrated by the lack of thought.
I am a bit humored by the fact that commentators in the US have been criticizing the hearing on the topics, while in Israel people can only stare in amazement at what seems to be the seriousness of the hearing. Here there have been “public hearings” on the agreement between the government and the gas companies. The hearings were forced by the courts and have not been taken seriously by the government
Yesterday I wrote an article in the Times of Israel, Why I thought it was crazy for the Israeli government to continue opposing the agreement with Iran, and agreement which is less then optimal. Last night I received the E-mail that said that AIPAC and other Jewish organizations are all in, in their opposition. I think it’s crazy and self defeating. Not one person can explain to me scenario how this ends well. But instead like lemmings the American Jewish community and most Israelis politicians keep saying the same thing. What is the alternative- “A Better Deal”. Yes it would have been better to have a better deal, but considering where we are now, that is impossible. After I said it’s a fight we can’t win, he said it’s better to fight and lose then not fight at all. My answer, that is for people not for nations. We should not fight a fight we cannot lose, and even if we win we lose. Not sure what I can do, but I will continue trying to bring some sense somewhere.
So the agreement has been reached in Vienna, and I must say I have rather mixed feelings about it. I have read the full agreement, and I have issues with many items. I have no doubt that with a different negotiator America might have done better. That said the US was never going to get the agreement that Netanyahu wanted. This agreement does freeze the Iranian program for between 10-15 years, and does bring the break out time to a bomb from 3 months to a year. All good accomplishments. Its geopolitical implications however, are bad. The bottom line what was the alternative? Yes maybe a better negotiating team( certainly not Bibi based on his success in negotiating a coalition agreement)might of had a better outcome- but could anyone have gotten the Iranians to agree to a 25 year agreement instead of 15? Could anyone have gotten them to agree to immediate inspections of any and all of their military bases? I truly do not know. The moral implications of negotiating any agreement with the Iranian regime are problematic- but what was/is the alternative.
I do think that Israel will be making a mistake if it actively lobbies Congress. Whatever it wants to do quietly is fine, but I was very surprised by what Lapid said to me on the phone during the interview i had with him today.
This past week talks between the the major powers and Iran on its nuclear program have repeatedly been extended. This past week almost all of the reporters on location have been convinced that an agreement would be announced any day. In my interactions with some of them I heard, its complicated and they are going over ever detail carefully. I have an alternative theory- Before this round of talks began the Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei gave a speech outlying his red lines. Observers wrote them off as posturing, I suspect that this is not the case that Khamenei might have meant what he said. The Iranians I believe were sure that the West would cave, as they have done before, and my sense is that Secretary of Kerry might have been inclined to make further concessions but President Obama was not wiling to do so.
If you are reading this you are probably saying what is he smokin, but hear me out. Two weeks ago I believe that President Obama might have been more flexible- before the recent Supreme Court decisions sealed his place in history. His accomplishments in the domestic arena are set, he does not need this agreement to secure his place in history, a bad agreement could just destroy his future reputation. So neither side is willing to give in, but neither side want to give up- we have a stalemate.
Everything I just wrote is purely speculative- but its as good an explanation of events this past week in Vienna as any