Jewish Journal


Why Israel Failed on Iran

by Shmuel Rosner

November 20, 2013 | 8:22 am

Benjamin Netanyahu drawing a red line at the
UN General Assembly, photo by Reuters

If negotiations in Geneva produce an agreement between the international community and Iran, it will not be an agreement Israel supports. It will be an agreement that most Israelis – government officials as well as citizens – believe will get Iran closer to achieving its goal. It will be an agreement that will get Israel closer to failing to achieving its goal.

Every discussion of a possible Israeli failure should begin by making a distinction between two types of failures. The current failure: the failure to convince the world (namely, the US) not to sign a deal with Iran; and the possible future failure – not yet set in stone – to ultimately halt Iran’s military nuclear program.

Let’s begin with the ultimate goal, the one shared by the US and Israel: stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear military power. Has Israel already failed? According to its own admission, failure has become more likely in recent weeks. Israel claims that the proposed deal with Iran is bad, that such a deal will embolden Tehran, weaken the force of the sanctions and hurt the effort to curb the Iranian nuclear program. Yet, failure isn’t yet a fait accompli. Why?

1. Because Israel might be wrong – namely, it might still discover that its grim assessment of A. the deal, or B. Iran’s true intentions, was erroneous this time.

If the deal is not as bad as Israel believes it is, it will lead to more negotiations, and to a final deal in which Iran will accept reality and dismantle its military nuclear program. Or it can lead to another crisis in negotiations followed by even more determined international action against Iran.

If Israel is wrong about Iran – the new and more moderate Iran presented to the world in recent months – the deal will surely work.

2. Because even if Israel is right, the world might discover it soon enough to correct its course. This can happen for many reasons, chief of which is an Iranian miscalculation of America's intentions.

3. Because Israel might still have the ability to act against Iran on its own. Naturally, the climate for taking such action is far from ideal, and questions about Israel's military abilities keep casting doubt on the seriousness of Israeli leaders’ threats to take action. Nevertheless, if Israel has the ability to act, and if its leaders believe that the result of action – as troublesome as it might be – is still preferable to doing nothing, they might just act. In such case, measuring success, or failure, would have to wait.

So the discussion about Israeli failure should really focus on its failure to persuade the rest of the world not to sign the deal it believes to be bad. For this too there are three possible reasons:

  1. Failure to assess American intentions and sentiments, and too much reliance on American promises. If the US doesn’t make good on its stated intentions and is rushing into a deal that will ultimately end with Iran having the upper hand, frustration with and anger at the Obama administration is understandable, but futile. Israeli policy makers should ask themselves the following:
  1. Did we have a sober assessment of American policies? The Netanyahu government has always been suspicious of the Obama administration, but ultimately it chose a course of working with it and generally relying on the US when it came to battling Iran. Was this because Israel still wasn’t sober enough about US policies, or…
  2. Did we miss better options because of our reliance on American promises? Maybe Israel didn’t have a realistic view of the administration – and maybe it did have one, but a lack of better choice led Israel’s government to play along and hope for the best. Actually, there’s a better way of asking this question: had we known this is what the deal with Iran looks like, would we have acted differently? How?
  1. Israel was Successful in assessing American intentions but failed to develop the tools with which to change the course of US policy. The questions to be asked are the following:
  1. Were we not blunt enough at different stages of the process?
  2. Were we too blunt?
  3. Did we rely too much on the administration\ or congress\ or the lobby\ or public opinion, instead of investing more in alternative avenues?
  1. Israel was Successful in assessing intentions, was successful in understanding that no alternative policies can alter American policies in ways that can make Israel comfortable, yet failed to develop the tools with which to reduce Israel’s reliance on American decisions and actions. The questions in this case are easy:
  1. Does Israel have the tools needed to reduce its reliance on the US?
  2. If it does, why did it not use them? It could be lack of determination, financial constraints, bad management, and many other reasons. If it is, however, because of a wrong assessment of American intentions – we should go back to question 1B.

Why bother with this tiresome breakdown of Israel’s policies in recent years? This has merit because – as we’ve already said – the failure thus far isn’t necessarily the end of the story. Iran still hasn’t acquired a nuclear bomb, and assessing Israel’s options for the road ahead requires understanding the true reasons for its lack of success in pursuing the current course.

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