Trouble For Israel Over Iran Agreement, And Beyond


The Jewish year ending in a few days was marked by severe erosion in Israel's strategic positioning in a geo-political world in rapid transformation. There are two components in such erosion, an external one globally defining relations between the countries of the world and Israel, and an inner one reflecting Israel's response to these challenges and, unavoidably, also involving the Jewish diaspora. The hook to which we can hang the whole story is undoubtedly the Vienna agreement of July 14 (the anniversary of the French Revolution) between the representatives of the world powers and Iran on the future development of Iranian nuclear capabilities.

The main body of the agreement, which was presented with rather banal rhetoric as "a beacon of hope for the whole world", is obviously no more than a general script of possible future developments over a period of 10-15 years, the management of which remains firmly in the hands of the Iranian side. Nobody, honestly, spoke of certainties. Many have spoken of controls, but minimizing the grotesque inconsistencies with suggested control procedures and mechanisms. It is an agreement based essentially on trust between the parties, more or less like a handshake.

It is highly disturbing that the Western powers are ready to give so much credit to a counterpart with such a well-established record of military and terrorist activity aimed at disrupting the order in the Middle East, and not only. Less surprising are the positions of Russia and China, whose main interest apart from containing Iran's military power is to weaken the American hegemony and hold off the unsteady and creaky behemoth that is the European Union.

It is also highly disturbing that an agreement of essential macro-strategic import like that of Vienna had to devote chapters to individual release from sanctions for some Iran characters famously heading international terrorism. But the crucial points of the agreement are two. The first – that is the consequence – is the practical removal of economic sanctions that had caused serious economic damage and had served to create a minimum deterrent in the face of Iran's aggressive expansionism in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza, and the rest of the world. For the European Union, which must swallow the huge economic hole of Greece's debt, the Iranian new openings serve the desperate need to do business with a rich market remained closed in recent years.

But the real foundational issue is the West's basic renunciation to lead a political strategy that, beyond the protection of its military and economic interests in the short or at most medium-term, include a value judgment, an ethical line toward the opponent. Especially gone is the willingness to fight to defend the West's proclaimed values ​​as well as its own security in case of need. In Vienna, the Western countries have agreed to negotiate without conditions, therefore legitimizing it, with a regime led by a group of fanatic ideologues in uniform who since 1979 are the primary source of Islamic fundamentalism, proclaim the destruction of Israel, whether immediately or in stages, and foment subversion and violence worldwide.

The West has abdicated what once it could at least maintain was its moral prerogative: to be a bastion of democratic values ​​and civil liberties in the face of bullying and dictatorships. The West, led by the United States with its indolent European tail, stated unequivocally its decision to renounce the further use of war in conflict resolution. War should be a very last possible resource, to be avoided if not for dramatic emergency circumstances. But the waiver prior to the use of force, proclaimed in no uncertain terms by the top leaders, destroys any possible deterrent and as a result leaves the field open to Iran, its allies and their machinations.

The similarities with the Munich Treaty that were raised years ago by Ariel Sharon and now with greater insistence by Benjamin Netanyahu are anything but implausible. Israel is left to cook in its own juices while the world gladly moves forward. Prominent members of the Obama administration exceeded all rhetoric limits by proclaiming warmongers the Israeli leaders who overwhelmingly believe the Vienna Agreement to be insufficient and dangerous. The administration added that if a war were eventually to occur implicitly or explicitly because of Israel (and because of the Jews, I add), the same Israel (and the Jews) would be those who suffer the greatest consequences. The mind finds it hard to believe, but a speech with very different tones but a very similar underlying logic had already been pronounced by the unmentionable in the late 1930s.

But beyond the Vienna agreement, which sacrifices Israel's interests to those of the signatory countries, we must take note of a more general process of erosion of the strategic position of Israel on the international arena. Academic and economic boycott increase and expand, and if for now it does not achieve dramatic results it already does create collateral damages. The Hague International Court issues unrealistic and punitive rulings with the same effects. The United Nations every day, in plenary assembly or in committees such as the one on civil rights, take decisions based on obsessive double standards. Apart from the negative predisposition of many nations, religions and cultures, Israel is isolated because no one in the world (and even not a good half of the Israelis) today accept the government narrative about not only the legitimacy but the essentiality of expanding the settlements in the West Bank.

But the protection and expansion of the settlements constitute the cornerstone on which Netanyahu has created his very precarious coalition government. Israel suffers from the dysfunction of a country that, as Henry Kissinger said, does not have a foreign policy but only a domestic policy, to the point of not even bothering to appoint a foreign minister.

Ideology, then, is the key operational factor of Jerusalem's government without anything of that joint analytic and maneuvering capacity of international political mediation and collaboration that might not be the decisive factor but sometimes can help in circumstances of crisis. The crisis of Israel's foreign policy is deep. Netanyahu, aided by bad advisers, has chosen the path of confrontation with President Obama, focusing on his non-reelection in 2012, carrying out a fierce election campaign in favor of the Republican party during the 2014 mid-term elections, appointing a pro-Republican ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, who was almost declared persona non-grata, and appearing at the time of Israel's electoral campaign in front of a Congress that applauded politely but very unlikely will have the numbers and especially the guts to ostentatiously overrule the president on the Vienna agreement. Netanyahu has positioned himself as the bitterest rival of the American administration within the Western world. And after that, if today the agreement were repealed, Iran could continue on its nuclear path without any hesitation and restraint.

To support his choices, Bibi certainly believed that the Jews of the diaspora would enlist unreservedly in defense of what he proclaims are the best interests of Israel. But also on this ground his misunderstanding is as huge as his disappointment. The 2013 Pew survey had confirmed the strong general support of Jewish Americans for the Obama administration. A more recent survey undertaken by sociologist Steven M. Cohen shows that the majority of American Jews approve of the president's position on the Iranian issue. We are witnessing the gradual return of Israel and the Jewish people to strategic powerlessness we thought was over since 1948.

Sergio dellaPergola, a professor emeritus of Hebrew University, is a specialist on the demography of world Jewry. The Italian version of this piece appears in the September issue of Pagine Ebraiche, the monthly of UCEI, Italy's chief Jewish community organization.