On Iran Deal, A Few False Assumptions


Now that President Obama has prevailed in his push for the Iranian nuclear deal, much second-guessing is taking place in our community on whether and how Israel, and major American Jewish organizations, should have voiced concerns about it. And some assumptions about winners and losers in this brutal battle deserve to be questioned.

In much of the media, most notably The New York Times, the official pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, is seen as having suffered a major setback in taking on the president over the Iran deal. And Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is portrayed as the big loser, doubling down his unsuccessful appeal against “a very bad deal” in his controversial speech before Congress in March and then never easing up.

But a case can be made that it was Netanyahu more than anyone else who got Iran to compromise. It was he who brought the international community around to focus on the threat of a nuclear Iran more than a decade ago. It was he who pushed for economic sanctions (which the Obama administration initially opposed), and whose military threats and calls for more stringent requirements in the deal helped convince Iran to make the concessions it did. The Israeli leader gets little credit for playing the key role he did, though. His mistake, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out in an article in The Atlantic, was in misreading the U.S. by thinking it would “choose confrontation over diplomatic compromise” and in insisting that Iran should be stripped of its fangs.

We’ll never know the results of the deal if Netanyahu had given his anti-Iran agreement speech at the annual AIPAC conference in March rather than defying the president and offering that speech before Congress. Perhaps more Democrats who later voiced serious reservations about the agreement actually would have voted against it if the Israeli prime minister had not politically forced them to stand behind their president to show their party loyalty.

As for AIPAC, it miscalculated the power of a fully engaged president to rally his political troops for a cause. But its leaders knew from the outset that they had only a slight chance of defeating the deal, despite the millions they spent to do so. They felt it was important to take a principled stand and point out the serious problems with the agreement. The word in Washington today is that Democrats on the Hill are eager to show that their vote for the Iran deal does not in any way diminish their support for Israeli security. They are expected to promote military aid for Israel and be helpful on other fronts. 

Whether those sentiments apply to President Obama as well will be evident soon enough as the Palestinian Authority seeks a UN vote on statehood in the coming weeks.