On Iran, a decisive two months

Some Jewish leaders summoned to the White House last week left dismayed by the US approach and wondering whether Israel is about to run out of time for military intervention

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while walking from the Oval Office to the South Lawn Drive of the White House, after their meeting May 20, 2011, in Washington, DC. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/FLASH90)
President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while walking from the Oval Office to the South Lawn Drive of the White House, after their meeting May 20, 2011, in Washington, DC. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/FLASH90)

Several of the American Jewish leaders summoned at short notice to the White House last Tuesday left the session profoundly troubled by the Obama administration’s tactics for tackling Iran’s nuclear program.

To put it bluntly, the American approach — as outlined to the representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC at the hurriedly convened session — is the diametric opposite of the one advocated by Israel’s prime minister.

Benjamin Netanyahu argues that only a thoroughly credible American military threat, combined with the insistent maintenance of the sanctions that are now truly hurting the Iranian economy — and ideally a ratcheting up of those sanctions — might just compel the regime in Tehran, if it feels its hold on power is starting to slip, to grudgingly, reluctantly begin to contemplate abandoning its drive for nuclear weapons. As Netanyahu put it during his speech to the UN General Assembly on October 1, “We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed, but when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance.”

The message the Jewish leaders heard at the White House, by contrast, was that while the Obama administration recognizes that military intervention could slow or complicate Iran’s progress to the bomb, it does not believe that military might can completely resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis — since Iran has mastered the technology, and will merely redouble its efforts if it sustains a military strike. Therefore, in the administration’s assessment, every effort must be made to reach an agreement via the diplomatic engagement that resumes in Geneva in the next few days.

In addition, the US Jewish leaders were told, the administration is concerned that if the international community is not demonstrably receptive to the ostensibly moderate outreach efforts of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, there is a risk that he will be marginalized by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and this rare opportunity for rapprochement will be lost. Thus, in the administration’s view, the very last thing that the US should be doing right now is imposing more sanctions on the Iranians — discrediting Rouhani, as the administration sees it.

What’s more, President Barack Obama’s team was at pains to point out, if the US is perceived to be adopting too tough a stance against the Iranians, the international coalition facing off against Iran — the P5+1 countries: the US, China, Russia, France, the UK and Germany — might well start to crumble.

This, indeed, was the key message that the administration sought to deliver to the assembled Jewish organizational leaders: Stop lobbying for new sanctions, they were urged. Give diplomacy some time to work its magic. In a couple of months, the White House staffers promised, they’d call in the Jewish notables again, and take stock.

And some of the Jewish leaders did indicate a reluctant readiness, in the face of the administration’s pressure, to ease off somewhat on the sanctions campaign for the next two months, although AIPAC issued a statement on Saturday declaring that there would be “no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts” to secure further sanctions.

In truth, some of the American Jewish leaders left the White House on Tuesday more than just acutely dismayed. They left wondering whether those next two months might constitute Israel’s last realistic opportunity to intervene militarily in Iran. They share Israel’s conviction that Iran has no intention of dismantling its nuclear program, and that it is playing the West.

And they reason that if, at the end of those two months, the US and the other P5+1 countries have sealed or are closing in on the only deal that Iran would conceivably take — one that leaves the regime with enrichment capabilities, however constrained, and thus the capacity to attain nuclear weapons; precisely the type of “bad deal” that the US has promised it will not approve — any subsequent Israeli military intervention would constitute an act of open, all but untenable defiance of the entire, US-led international community.

In contrast to the United States approach, Jerusalem does consider that there is a military solution — a last-resort military solution, it must be stressed — to Iran’s nuclear weapons drive. No, Israel does not believe that it can destroy the rogue Iranian nuclear program once and for all. Rather, it is confident that it could, if all else failed, thwart the Iranians for now. And if and when the Iranians started up the program again, they could be thwarted, again. And again. And again.

As Tzachi Hanegbi, the Likud MK closer than most any other to Netanyahu, told The Times of Israel in an interview late last month, “We don’t know for how long the threat could be thwarted, but the advantage is that you can always act to thwart. You can take action to thwart [the nuclear threat] one time. If, five years later, they advance a program again, you can thwart it once again.” By contrast, “acceptance [of a nuclear Iran] is eternal.”

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