Time To Mend U.S.-Israel Relations


Concluding the nuclear deal with Iran has intensified political arguments not only in Washington but also within the pro-Israel community. Many groups are devoting significant time and resources to opposing the agreement and attempting to prevent its approval by Congress out of a belief that it will leave both the United States and Israel less safe. In view of the political reality however, the energy being spent to fight it is misplaced.  Instead, we must prepare for the day after the agreement goes into effect to ensure that the U.S. and Israel are in the best possible position to confront the new realities that this deal will create in the Middle East

Halting Iran’s nuclear program was the core purpose of the negotiations that led to the agreement. The Obama administration believes the accord represents the best means for achieving a highly effective nuclear arms control agreement for the next decade and a half. But there are reasons to be wary. While Iran’s known nuclear facilities will be constantly monitored and its quantity and levels of enriched uranium capped, concerns remain over Iran’s ability to cheat and create a covert nuclear program outside the scope of inspections. Even assuming that Iran complies with the deal’s restrictions, it will be left with a vast nuclear program on the verge of producing a bomb once most of the constraints on enrichment expire in 15 years.  Moreover, sanctions relief and the gradual lifting of restrictions on Iran’s importation of ballistic missiles and other conventional arms will enable Iran to increase its support for Hezbollah and other regional terrorist proxies.

Despite the regional instability that the agreement could intensify, the campaign to scuttle it is a Sisyphean one. Even if a majority of senators and congressmen have strong misgivings, it will be extremely difficult for the deal’s opponents to siphon off enough Democratic votes to make its rejection veto-proof. In addition, most polling confirms that a majority of Americans, including Jews, support it. While nothing is ever certain, the deal’s passage in Congress and eventual implementation appears assured. Thus, the vital task at hand is to ensure that, in the post-deal world, American and Israeli shared interests are protected. This undertaking, which cannot be pushed off for the next 60 days, should address three primary issues.

First, the U.S.-Israel relationship cannot afford to sustain any more damage as a result of the discord about Iran.  Washington and Jerusalem must now repair ties at the highest levels while continuing to coordinate in the closest possible manner on regional defense, security, and intelligence matters. Israel’s security is harmed when its support is seen as partisan; the recent period of rancor between American and Israeli leaders must be set aside as an aberration rather than a new baseline.

There is no more important component to Israeli security than the relationship with the U.S., and it must be beyond challenge. This will involve an American effort toward not only maintaining but increasing Israel’s clear qualitative military edge and providing an explicit plan to deal with Iranian violations of the nuclear accord, and an Israeli resolve not to sabotage core American diplomatic initiatives. An ironclad American commitment to Israel’s safety and close coordination with Israel and regional allies to contain a newly empowered Iran will both reset the U.S.-Israel relationship in a positive way and contribute toward regional stability.

Second, the forest of the two-state solution cannot be lost in the trees of the Iran deal. There is no better way of guaranteeing Israel’s future as a safe, prosperous, democratic state than preserving the ability to negotiate a separation from the Palestinians when conditions allow. In no way should efforts to counter Iranian regional mischief be conditioned on Israeli movement toward a Palestinian state, but by the same token a strong Israel is more important than ever in the face of a strengthened Iran, and the two-state solution cannot remain on the back burner, given how imperative it is for Israel’s long term security. On a regional level, the Iran agreement provides an opportunity for cooperation between Israel and Arab states to counter Iran and to use such cooperation as a stepping stone toward normalized relations, but tangible and public cooperation will only be possible if Israel demonstrates its willingness to make progress on the Palestinian front. Israel should take advantage of the opportunity that the Iran deal presents to shore up its security, and doing so   effectively will mean devoting attention to the Palestinian issue.

Finally, the squabbling over the Iran deal has opened up large fissures in the American Jewish community, and the wounds will not easily heal should they be allowed to fester. Principled policy differences and heated debate over the wisdom and efficacy of the agreement should not derail the universally shared goals of a strong U.S.-Israel alliance and a commitment to Israel’s security. While there are strongly held differences of opinion on how to achieve these goals, surely everyone can agree that an American Jewish community that has policy debates in a vigorous yet respectful manner makes them more achievable.

We must deal with the world that we have. The international community has reached an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Let us now work together to shape a post-deal environment that advances important U.S. national interests, especially the security of Israel and our other regional allies.

Peter A. Joseph is chairman of Israel Policy Forum; Charles R. Bronfman is chairman of the organization’s advisory committee; Susie Gelman is a member of the board.