For Obama's good fortune, Iran may save his day and finally add luster to his Nobel Peace Prize. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predictably greeted the news of an interim agreement between the West and Iran temporarily freezing nuclear development in Iran by insisting "Israel is not bound by this agreement." For good measure, he added his doomsday hyperbole when he thundered "Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability."
The Israeli Prime Minister is a great admirer of American politics and he plays it at home and here as well. He is a master of the sound bite which he regularly heaps on a supine American Congress (which probably does not understand any other way of talking). He publicly is committed to sabotage any negotiated deal with the Iranian government. He "demands" a freeze and dismantling of Iranian nuclear capabilities, peaceful or otherwise, something we never demanded of other governments, including -- dare we say it -- Israel. He opposes any modest relief from the very effective sanctions against the Iranians -- but those sanctions Netanyahu consistently opposed and belittled.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister fires his barrage of words, if not expletives. He denounced a proposed agreement with Iran as "an exceedingly bad deal," to give "the most dangerous regime of the 21st century the world's most dangerous weapons is a big, big mistake." After he visited (briefed?) with Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, he dispatched his proxy to deliver the message. "In order to get into sync on the strategy, you need trust, and the trust has been eroded," Foxman dutifully said. So, Netanyahu doesn't trust the United States -- or is he just assaulting the current president, who grows more unpopular even outside the reflexive hostile crowd?
Obama's well-publicized 90-minute telephone call to Netanyahu placated him not at all. Immediately afterward, Netanyahu resumed his public posturing. "We've been around for about 4,000 years, the Jewish people, and we're not about to allow Ayatollahs armed with nuclear weapons" to threaten Jews. Shortly thereafter, he warmly hugged French President François Hollande in a manner never used for Obama, and he visited his new BF, Vladimir Putin, urging him not to deal with Iran.
The ever-accommodating New York Times' Thomas Friedman will not disapprove or denounce Netanyahu's repeated interference and public undermining of American policies. He makes light of it or draws parables. Friedman thinks it gives the United States some broad strategic advantage, enabling it to tell the Iranians: "Look, our friends are craaaaaazzzy. And one of them has a big air force. You better sign quick." Diplomacy and negotiations between nations require adults. (As do New York Times columnists.) We have been there, done that. Friedman must admire Richard Nixon's so-called "madman theory" for dealing with the North Vietnamese in 1971, when he similarly conveyed word that the communists better negotiate or he would drop terrible weapons to impose his will.
Benjamin Netanyahu is an old hand at rolling Obama. It is good politics in some Israeli quarters but especially here with the Republican Party that dutifully follows the adage that any Obama enemy is their friend. We heard the welcome news from Geneva Saturday night. John Cornyn, the Senate's second ranking Republican leader, wasted no time and promptly tweeted, "Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care."
Israeli citizenry from across their diversified spectrum know better; they realize that for more than six decades the United States not only has been its trusted friend and ally, but Israel's benefactor, protector, and guarantor. Once again the Israeli Prime Minister busily rallies American Jews -- and most particularly his wealthy, right-wing American Jewish supporters -- to pressure Congress and the media to support his policy of rejecting any diplomatic accommodation with Iran, short perhaps of an Israeli occupation. As always, he is a reliable, dependable ally of the American neo-con crowd which is committed to something they call "the Long War," where we maintain and use American power against real or shadowy enemies. Netanyahu knows that however much he and whatever Iranian counterparts talk of annihilation, it is clear that no American president would tolerate any such possibility. For American Jews to solidly support his adventurism against the perceived interests of their own government is an unimaginable leap of faith. They are not sheep, blindly following the wishes of Netanyahu and his American patrons; American Jews overwhelmingly worship at different alters. Such unequivocal support inevitably would require mass emigration and aliyah -- and that simply is not in the cards. ("It is a nice place to visit, but why would I want to live there?") Divided sentiments and divided loyalties are wholly different.
Richard Nixon lost a war, and no dominoes fell. And the dominoes still stand between Iran and the West. For the first time in over three decades, Iran engaged in civilized give-and-take diplomacy. We start with a six-month interim agreement. Six months, given the past light years, is an incredible breakthrough. We must of course wait to see what "interim" actually means.
The real issue for Netanyahu and other Israeli hardliners, with their congressional supporters here, is Israel's determination to maintain its monopoly as the region's only nuclear power. Netanyahu says nothing, and little is heard in the American media, of Israel's nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister's silence and ours covers the elephant in the room.
Significant, emerging division nevertheless apparently is rising in Iran, and we must exploit it. Iran wishes to develop a nuclear capacity, insisting it would be for peaceful purposes; we for good reason do not want them to have a bomb capability. These are not incompatible, mutually exclusive goals. President Obama, our onetime Nobel Peace Prize recipient, must not appease either the Ayatollah or Netanyahu, who view the other as "an existential threat," anxious to impose its will on the other. Neither posture is in an American national interest.
Stanley Kutler is the author of a forthcoming play, "I, Nixon."