Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, D.C., outlined Israel’s objections to the Iran nuclear deal in an op-ed Wednesday in The Washington Post.
The op-ed outlines “four major problems”: Iran’s nuclear infrastructure remains intact; key aspects of the deal “sunset” after as little as 10 years; it could lead to a regional nuclear arms race, and it frees up funds, which, based on Iran’s past behavior, are likely at least in part to be funneled into mischief making.
There are responses to these points; see the White House talking points we posted Tuesday.
Nonetheless, Dermer’s is a model argument: These four points are drawn from the deal, from statements by regional actors and from Iran’s history. The op-ed is based on objective data, with nary a straw man.
I come not (only) to praise Dermer, but to be baffled by his boss.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement last night, after his security cabinet unanimously rejected the deal, veered into areas Dermer left untouched: President Barack Obama’s personal motivations and, as Netanyahu depicted it, his own preeminence in keeping Iran down until this deal.
The statement started out reasonably enough, saying that in a phone call with Obama, Netanyahu outlined two objections, also cited by Dermer: nuclear infrastructure left in place and the sunset clauses.
Then it veered into psychoanalysis, twice using the subjective term “desire” (at least in the official translation — “will” might be a better translation of the Hebrew). Netanyahu argued that the most important factor driving Obama was getting to a deal, whatever the deal looked like:
“We were right when we said that the desire to sign an agreement is apparently stronger than anything else; therefore, we did not commit to prevent the agreement. We did commit to prevent Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons – and this commitment stands.”
“Even before I took office as Prime Minister, there was an intention on the part of the American administration to normalize relations with Iran. Afterward, the US began secret negotiations with Iran which then became open. Of course, the desire to make an agreement brought about the result that it did.”
The “intention to normalize” Netanyahu refers to appears to be Obama’s video message to Iranians in March 2009, about ten days before Netanyahu assumed office. Obama’s outstretched hand did not come without conditions — he said he understands Iran’s quest to rejoin the “community of nations” but added that it will not come about through “terror or threats.” (In his announcement of the deal yesterday, Obama also put daylight between it and any plans to normalize: “We will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program and its human rights violations.”)
Twice mentioning “desire,” or “will,” suggests Netanyahu is exercised by the notion that the need to get to an agreement was “stronger than anything else.” But how can this be proven or quantified? Is there a record of Obama or one of his negotiators saying, “We just want an agreement at all costs?” Of course not — Secretary of State John Kerry in fact said the opposite on Tuesday — so it is speculation.
And speculation about personality, no less, about a “desire” that supersedes all else. In the same statement, Netanyahu says it is “absurd” to speculate, as some in the Israeli opposition have, that the “personal relationship between myself and President Obama affected the nuclear agreement.”
And yet Netanyahu has made this very personal, for instance, saying in the statement:
“Over the past two decades, even when I was not Prime Minister and afterwards when I was Prime Minister, I did everything in my ability, everything in Israel’s ability, to prevent Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. This activity embraced many fields. First of all, together with other elements, we led the imposition of sanctions – and afterwards the biting sanctions – against Iran.”
“The pressure that we applied and the actions that we undertook over the years led to the fact that Iran did not arm itself with nuclear weapons and I can safely say that were it not for Israel’s actions, including by governments that I led, Iran would have already armed itself with nuclear weapons.”
Neither Israel nor Netanyahu “led the imposition of sanctions.” Israel has neither commerce with Iran, nor an economy powerful enough to sway others that do trade with Iran. The United States does have the latter, and the idea and structure of sanctions, first conceived in the mid 1990s in the offices of former Sen. Al D’Amato, R-N.Y., has many important players — among them AIPAC; the Bush and Obama administration Treasury Departments; lawmakers like Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., former Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and, on the state level, figures like Ted Deutch in Florida, Steve Grossman in Massachusetts and Josh Mandel in Ohio.
Each and every one of these actors cited American interests in advancing the sanctions regime. The notion that they were doing it at the behest of Netanyahu and Israel is not only counterintuitive, it undercuts the rationale for sanctions.
Both the Obama and Netanyahu governments, over the last six years, have stepped into it when they made things personal.
When it comes to making Israel’s case, Ron Dermer’s op-ed shows that it’s best to stick to the facts and to avoid hurt feelings.