Netanyahu's All or Nothing Game With Iran

The Iran nuclear agreement is a very bad deal, and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee starting yesterday just highlighted it in a big way. It is painfully clear now why so much of it is kept secret. Those who keep secrecy are those who have something to hide, and judging by the revelations of the first day of the hearings, we are in for more surprises. In Jerusalem, the reports from the Hill seem to play to the hands of P.M. Netanyahu who misses no chance to lecture his foreign guests about the bad deal. The last to hear that was the Italian P.M., and the Israeli leader told him that sometimes one country can be right, and the entire world be wrong. Netanyahu referred to one leader being so right -- himself of course -- comparing himself, though he did not say as much, to the legendary Winston Spencer Churchill, the world leader most revered by Netanyahu.

It is left to historians and academics to decide whether Netanyahu fits the shoes of the great British leader, but not too early or presumptuous to remind those who need it that Churchill's grand rhetoric was matched by even grander actions. In the meantime, Netanyahu's seems to lose also the rhetorical battle with the White House, which presents a stark choice, agreement or war. War is not something that the majority of Americans want to see happening, perhaps also the majority of Israelis. Netanyahu though seems undeterred, declaring that no compensation to Israel can make up for the disastrous deal with Iran. He says it as the American side is offering, according to press reports, an unprecedented ''compensation deal'' to Israel, designed to help her face up to the changing regional strategic circumstances. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter just visited Israel offering exactly that. Israeli Defense specialists urge the P.M. to enter serious talks with the Americans, to take it though after hard bargain rather than leave it. But if we are to believe the public rhetoric, this is not going to happen. If this is the case, then Netanyahu will not follow in the footsteps of two former Israeli P.M.s -- Yizhak Rabin in 1975-76 and Yizhak Shamir in 1991 -- who swallowed bitter pills and their pride by accepting huge Israeli concessions in response to American pressures, but were rewarded with lavish American goodies. In both cases, following Israel Interim Sinai agreement with Egypt and the decision not to respond to Saddam Hussein's missile attacks on Israel, the final outcome was not at all bad for Israel. So, instead of cutting losses, reducing tensions and engaging in a fruitful dialogue with the Americans, Netanyahu throws in his lot with Congress. This is a lose/lose battle for him. It is unlikely judging by early statements even of staunch pro-Israel senators [Schummer, Cardin, Boxer for example], that enough Democratic senators will cross the lines and give the Republican majority enough votes to override a Presidential veto. Imagine the opposite scenario, that there are enough votes to override this veto. Then what? The Europeans made it abundantly clear, that they will not reinstate the sanctions on Iran, in fact some European Foreign Ministers have already started an amok run to Tehran. Big contracts are awaiting them, and no one wants to lose them. That includes also American businessmen who may not like Congress keeping American sanctions in place, when all the rest do not.

So, Netanyahu can still have two more options. The first is to enhance Israel's cooperation with those Arab states, Saudi Arabia, but not only, which vehemently oppose the agreement. There are indications, judging by Prince Bandar recent statement to Daily Star in Beirut and reports about a high level Saudi Defense official visit in Jerusalem, that the Saudis are interested. Surely, if Israel's wings are clipped after a bruising and losing confrontation in Congress, it will reduce the appeal of the Israeli option in the eyes of the Saudis. Another consideration to contend with, before the Congressional battle becomes too bloody and damaging. Netanyahu's other option is to follow his own rhetoric. If the entire world is wrong, then take a unilateral action.

This is where Churchill comes to mind again. An action of this kind is indeed Churchillian, but is it likely to materialize? I, for one, think not. If that is the case, then Netanyahu and Israel can be left with nothing, if maintaining the current rhetoric. Not a good scenario.